11 episodes

The Guns for Hire podcast is a production of the Atlantic Council’s North Africa Initiative. Taking Libya as its starting point, it explores the causes and implications of the growing use of mercenaries in armed conflict. The podcast features guests from many walks of life, from ethicists and historians to former mercenary fighters. It seeks to understand what the normalisation of private warfare tells us about the world as we currently find it, but also about the future of the international system and about what war could look like in the coming decades. Written and hosted by Dr Alia Brahimi.

Guns for Hire Atlantic Council

    • Science

The Guns for Hire podcast is a production of the Atlantic Council’s North Africa Initiative. Taking Libya as its starting point, it explores the causes and implications of the growing use of mercenaries in armed conflict. The podcast features guests from many walks of life, from ethicists and historians to former mercenary fighters. It seeks to understand what the normalisation of private warfare tells us about the world as we currently find it, but also about the future of the international system and about what war could look like in the coming decades. Written and hosted by Dr Alia Brahimi.

    Mercenaries and Gaza

    Mercenaries and Gaza

    In Episode 10 of the Guns for Hire podcast, host Alia Brahimi is joined by Renad Mansour, an expert on Iraq, Iran and allied groups. As the region convulses from the war in Gaza, they begin by assessing reports that the Wagner Group has been tasked with transferring a Russian air defence system from Syria to Hizballah in Lebanon. 

    They go on to discuss the rivalry between Russia and Iran in the Middle East, what is motivating the non-state actors leading the bid to avenge Gazans, and whether elements of the Iran-backed Shi’a militia that have fanned out across the region can be classed as mercenaries. Alia and Renad also consider parallels between the campaign in Gaza and the violence and futility of the 2003 Iraq war.

    “There will be within these networks and this massive web of [Shi’a] armed groups those that are economically inclined, those that do see economic opportunity in trade or in taking advantage of conflict”


    The Guns for Hire podcast is written, produced and hosted by Dr Alia Brahimi.

    • 49 min
    What's Charlie Sheen go to do with it?

    What's Charlie Sheen go to do with it?

    In episode nine of the Guns for Hire podcast, host Alia Brahimi speaks with the Russia analyst Sergey Sukhankin about the 2019 arrest in Libya of the Wagner Group political operative Maksim Shugaley and the Russian propaganda campaign to free him. They discuss Russian political and media operations in Africa, from Libya to Madagascar, and how Russia fundamentally lacks the ideological and financial enticements of the Soviet Union or of China.

    “This goes back to Soviet times when the Soviet Union was inviting people like [George] Bernard Shaw and many other public figures… Today Russia is using virtually the same playbook.”


    The Guns for Hire podcast is written, produced and hosted by Dr Alia Brahimi.

    • 1 hr 2 min
    Prosecuting the Wagner Group

    Prosecuting the Wagner Group

    Lawfare is the use of legal systems for strategic advantage. One of its pioneers, the international human rights lawyer Jason McCue, joins host Alia Brahimi on episode eight of the Guns for Hire podcast. Jason describes how he first began pursuing the IRA through private civil actions in the 1990s and goes on to outline the application of these methods to the Wagner Group.  Jason and Alia also discuss whether it’s meaningful to designate mercenary groups as terrorists, if private civil actions can form the basis for criminal prosecutions, and how Jason and his law partner were personally sanctioned by the Russian state.

    “Autocrats are looking for a model for asymmetric warfare against democrats and the Wagner model is definitely the model on the table, with its plausible deniability. And it’s really important for us to not only designate it but to litigate it.”



    The Guns for Hire podcast is written, produced and hosted by Dr Alia Brahimi.

    • 47 min
    Tracking mercenaries

    Tracking mercenaries

    As humans share more of their experiences online for the world to see, the blank zones are shrinking. In episode seven of the Guns for Hire podcast, host Alia Brahimi is joined by Eliot Higgins, an award-winning journalist and founder of the independent investigative collective, Bellingcat. Eliot, who was personally sued by the late mercenary leader Yevgeny Prighozin for outing him as the oligarch behind the Wagner Group, discusses the types of online open-source tools used to track mercenary activity, and how anyone with a bit of time and an internet connection can get involved.

    “A mercenary might have a friend who uses social media a lot and they’re featuring a lot in these photographs, for example, and then you can start building out the networks from that.” 



    The Guns for Hire podcast is written, produced and hosted by Dr Alia Brahimi.

    • 37 min
    Semtex teddy bear: The mercenary build-up in Libya

    Semtex teddy bear: The mercenary build-up in Libya

    Host Alia Brahimi is joined by the Libyan security expert and Atlantic Council Nonresident Senior Fellow Emadeddin Badi. They discuss the surge of African, Syrian and Russian mercenaries in Libya since 2019, the major value-add of Wagner Group contractors in terms of utilising Libya's Soviet-era weapons and mortar and sniping capabilities, and how mercenary recruitment networks are used to smuggle migrants to Europe. The working assumption of the international community is that a future elected government will expel mercenaries from Libya, but Emadeddin argues that the mercenaries themselves pose a threat to the freeness and fairness of those very elections.

    “You have smugglers that are actually putting Syrians on [mercenary] rotations to Libya in order for those Syrians to then depart for Europe. So there’s a whole new political economy around migrant smuggling.” 



    The Guns for Hire podcast is written, produced and hosted by Dr Alia Brahimi.

    • 48 min
    Mercenary bloodline: The war in Sudan

    Mercenary bloodline: The war in Sudan

    In this bumper episode on the war in Sudan, host Alia Brahimi speaks with the former US government expert on Sudan, Cameron Hudson, about the mercenary pedigree of the Rapid Support Forces and its transformation from a ragtag Arab militia into an institutional juggernaut. 

    Cameron argues that this mercenary history has had a determinative impact on the conflict: it has generated a cash windfall which allows the RSF to recruit in numbers to rival the size of the national army; it has forged regional relationships that are now central to the RSF’s resupply; and it feeds a detached mercenary mentality amongst RSF fighters that facilitates war crimes and abuses. As mercenaries from multiple Sahelian states flood into Sudan, Cameron also contends that the conflict in Sudan is becoming a pan-African conflict in ways that are not yet understood.  

    They discuss, too, the role of the Wagner Group in the war in Sudan and the status of Libya as a major source of resupply for the RSF. 

    Alia also chats with Professor Munzoul Assal of the University of Khartoum about the danger of two parallel governments emerging in Sudan along the lines of the bifurcation in Libya. Munzoul also discusses, the presence of RSF fighters at the Sudanese border with the Central African Republic where the Wagner Group is deeply entrenched, as well as the clear and alarming possibilities for a regional conflagration.



    The Guns for Hire podcast is written, produced and hosted by Dr Alia Brahimi.

    • 1 hr 6 min

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