From The Independent Online (3 July 2011)
Fred Marafono: South Pacific warrior whose heart belongs in Sierra Leone
The fearless SAS veteran is still angry about what happened in the blood diamond wars. Now, he's putting the record straight. Jonathan Owen meets Fred Marafono
Fred Marafono makes an unlikely African warrior. For a start, the accent is South Pacific, not Sierra Leonean. The skin, though tanned, is not black. And the long white hair tied in a ponytail is more eco-campaigner than militia fighter. But there around his neck is the lion's tooth that confirms his status as an honorary member of the Kamajor – a militia made up of local hunters of the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone.And then there are the eyes – those of someone who has spent a life leading men and being obeyed without question. The eyes of a man who has witnessed victory and horror.
The softly spoken Rotuman, from a tiny island in the Pacific, is a legend within SAS circles. He has fought all over the world, from Northern Ireland to the Falklands.
And he has suffered the loss of some of his "blood brothers" along the way. One was the best man at his wedding: Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba died in the battle of Mirbat in Oman in 1972 – when nine SAS men fought for their lives against an attack by some 250 Adoo guerrillas.
Most of his missions he can't, or won't, talk about. And he is vague about the reason for his MBE, brushing it off as something to do with leading 200 fighters in Yemen. It is clear he regards the lion's tooth as his real medal. "It was given to me by the Kamajors. It's the sign of a fighter," he says quietly.
Fred spent years fighting in the bitter blood diamond wars that engulfed Sierra Leone in the 1990s – characterised by drugged child soldiers and women and children whose limbs had been hacked off.
He's now 70, but could easily pass for a man far younger. Yet he has spent a lifetime fighting, and surviving, violent conflict. And there is no mistaking the casual yet steely grip when we shake hands. I attempt a squeeze and cannot help glancing at his gnarled fingers that feel like stone. I'm relieved that he hasn't followed suit, and we begin.
As we talk, in the Victory Services Club in London, where he is launching a book about his experiences, From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars, he is wary about revealing too much detail. Pouring scorn on former SAS men turned authors such as Andy McNab and Chris Ryan, he says: "To be honest with you, it's tragic ... They expose so much that shouldn't be discussed."
I am struck by his unfaltering gaze. It is the casual watchfulness of a man who has spent more than 20 years as an independent security contractor since leaving what he calls the regiment in the mid-1980s. Some would describe him as a dog of war, or mercenary. The very mention of the word makes Fred bristle.
"You thought of yourself as a security consultant," he says. "At the time we were the bad guys, untouchable ... but now it is acceptable. I cannot stop people calling me a mercenary, but I'm not one." Conscious that it is rare for a former SAS man to break cover, and rarer still for one who has become a freelance operative to grant an audience to a civilian, I go back to the beginning.
He didn't grow up wanting to be a soldier. Instead, Fred wanted to be a vet. But the young Rotuman fell for the lure of an army recruitment poster. "I was young and that was it. I was told I'd be leaving the next day, so I called my parents – my mother cried and then I talked to my father. The next day we were en route to the UK. It was an impulse."
He joined the SAS in 1964, one of just six who passed the gruelling selection course out of an intake of more than 90. After 21 years, mostly in B Squadron, he left and was recruited by the SAS founder David Stirling for his private security company.
Later, Fred became a freelance security consultant and found himself in the middle of Sierra Leone's blood diamond wars. He was recruited by Simon Mann for his private military company, Executive Outcomes, where he developed a reputation as a man with no fear. Over the next two years Mann's mercenaries defeated the rebels, and Fred formed a close friendship with a local chief, Sam Hinga Norman, who was to lead the Civil Defence Forces, largely made up of Kamajor militia, against the Revolutionary United Front.
"We became very good friends because he was there for his people. He said to me once 'Why don't you leave?' and I said 'Chief, if I was to leave you when you most needed me ... I'd carry that burden for the rest of my life and I'd rather not carry that burden.' He looked at me and we laughed and never talked about it again."
When I speculate that he must have accounted for a lot of people, he nearly falls off his chair laughing. He says: "I think I'll leave that to your imagination. I'm not going to boast and brag about killing people. But I never lose a night's sleep about it."
By 1997, Executive Outcomes had left. But Fred stayed, fighting again just months later when a coup was staged against the government. An anger fuelled by the sheer brutality of the conflict had made it a personal crusade.
"When you see what was happening in Sierra Leone, to be honest with you, you're looking forward to killing these people. Animals are better than these people; animals have a code of conduct. But these people had no code of conduct. Putting people in houses and burning them ... the first people that suffer are the old, and then the children and women."
He was able to take the fight to the rebels, as the gunner of a helicopter gunship resupplying pro-government forces. "We were not doing it because of money; we were doing it because it was a mission. If we don't do it, people will die – and die terribly."
I remind him that atrocities were committed on both sides, with Kamajor fighters condemned over torture, killing and even cannibalism.
Fred calmly admits that bad things were done on both sides, but describes the trial in Sierra Leone of his old friend Chief Norman for war crimes as a "betrayal" by former president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. "They were afraid of him – he would have been the next president."
Dismissing the accusations against his old friend as "a load of nonsense", he claims that Chief Norman warned his commanders: "The chief told them, make sure that your people behave because one day it will come back to haunt you. They blamed him and said he instructed them. That's rubbish."
Chief Norman was flown to a military hospital in Senegal for hip surgery in 2007 but died after complications resulted in a heart attack weeks before the verdict was due.
Yet it was no accident, according to Fred. Eyes blazing, voice raised, he claims: "They killed the chief and do you know how they killed him? Hydroperoxide – it opens up the blood vessels and causes a heart attack."
He pauses for breath before recovering his composure, and saying sadly: "Why wasn't the chief on trial in The Hague? Because they had no plans for the chief to survive."
Fred left Sierra Leone in December 2006. Now based in Hereford, he plans to spend several months working in Latin America – he refuses to expand on the detail – before visiting Fiji at the end of the year.
The years of fighting came at a cost. His first marriage broke down, and he missed a large part of his three sons growing up. He has a 14-year-old daughter from a second marriage, which has also failed. With an iron will to match his handshake, he makes it clear he does not want to discuss his personal life.
At 70 years old, he is now fighting age itself. "I've seen some of my friends that are much younger than me and when I look at the state of them doing nothing, I think, God, no."
Not a man for regrets, Fred adds: "I was lucky. I had the opportunity that many people would have loved but never had the chance."
1940 Kauata "Fred" Marafono born 13 December on the tiny Pacific island of Rotuma, 350 miles north of Fiji. One of five children. His father was a farmer after fighting for the British during the Second World War.
1957 Leaves Rotuma to study at agricultural college in Navuso, Fiji.
1961 Drops out of college to join the British Army. Serves in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, where he becomes a corporal.
1963 Posted to Plymouth, where he applies to join the SAS.
1964 Begins a 21-year stint in the SAS.
1986 SAS founder Sir David Stirling recruits him to join his private security company.
1990 Stirling dies. Fred goes freelance.
1991 Begins a two-year stint providing security for a gold mine in Guyana.
1994 Arrives in Sierra Leone to help with a mining venture.
1995 Simon Mann recruits him to join Executive Outcomes.
1997 Joins Tim Spicer's private military company, Sandline International.
1998 Forms his own security company, Vanguard International, which works to support the Sierra Leonean government forces against the RUF rebels .
2006 Returns to the UK.
2011 Publishes From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars, co-written with Hamish Ross.
From The Telegraph Online (29 March 2013)
Fred Marafono Fred Marafono, who has died aged 72, was one of the first Fijians to join the SAS. Later he became passionately involved in Sierra Leone, deploying his considerable combat experience to influence the blood diamond war there.
Kauata Vamarasi Marafono was born on the Fijian island of Rotuma on December 13 1940, one of five children. His father was a farmer who had served in the British Army in Burma during the Second World War.
Fred’s early ambition was to study Veterinary Science, which he pursued first at Navuso Agricultural School, and then at college in Australia. But he came from a warrior society, and when the British Army arrived to launch a recruiting drive in Fiji he signed up without telling his parents. He later admitted that the decision was “an impulse”. “I was young and that was it. I was told I’d be leaving the next day, so I called my parents – my mother cried.”
In Britain he joined the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, serving as a corporal until 1963, when he applied with 90 others to join the SAS; only six were successful.
His 21-year career with 22 SAS, B Sqn, is subject to a non-disclosure agreement, which he signed, and which, in his retirement, he firmly adhered to. But it is known that he saw service in Borneo, Aden, Oman, Northern Ireland and the Falklands. An idea of the hair-raising nature of his engagements can be gleaned the fate of one fellow Fijian in the SAS, Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba, who was killed in the battle of Mirbat in Oman in 1972 – when nine SAS men fought for their lives against an attack by some 250 communist guerrillas. Sergeant Labalaba had been Marafono’s best man.
In his final months in the SAS, Marafono was recruited by David Stirling, founder of the SAS, to work for the security company KAS. He considered selection by Stirling to be an immense honour: “I was lost for words, and only managed to say, 'Thank you.’”
He worked in several countries with the company. Then, in 1990, after Stirling’s death, Marafono began a two-year spell providing security at a gold mine in Guyana. This led to him being recruited by Golden Star Resources, a mining company which was expanding its operations across Africa. As a result, Marafono moved to Sierra Leone.
He arrived in 1994, at the point when the government of the day, a military junta of young officers, was trying ineffectually to halt the advance of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel grouping that had little political ideology beyond overthrowing the existing regime. With the RUF only miles from Freetown, mining companies pulled their staff out, and chaos reigned. Marafono was asked to remain in the country to monitor the situation and report back.
In the short time he had been in Sierra Leone, he had formed a bond with Sam Hinga Norman, a Regent Chief of the Jiama-Bongo region in central Sierra Leone, who supported the government and had previously served as an officer in the British army. In one particularly daring exploit, Marafono led a one-man operation to extricate Hinga Norman from the town of Bo, 150 miles south west of Freetown, which was surrounded by rebels.
As the situation deteriorated further, the junta contracted Simon Mann’s private militia, Executive Outcomes, which was staffed by veterans of counter-insurgency operations in southern Africa. It was contracted to deploy between 100-200 men and defeat the rebels.
Within weeks the company had recruited Marafono as a ground force commander, leading and training elements of the Sierra Leone army. He led the ground assault on the major diamond-producing town of Gandorhun, 50 miles southwest of Bo, and months later the capital and the diamond-bearing areas were back in government hands .
In subsequent elections Sam Hinga Norman became Deputy Minister of Defence, but the fighting quickly resumed. The Executive Outcomes force had left, and a regional military force, ECOMOG, led by Nigeria, landed at Lungi airport. It was unable to move out, however, owing to a lack of logistical support.
Marafono joined two other former members of Executive Outcomes – a pilot and an engineer – and, employing himself as gunner and loadmaster, crewed a single helicopter that provided a vital air bridge between ECOMOG and neighbouring Liberia.
For months the three men and their helicopter were the only means of supplying materials and manpower to ECOMOG. They kept low, following the course of rivers below treetop height, and varying their route to avoid being shot down. Their efforts enabled ECOMOG to move out of Lungi and retake Freetown.
This advance was followed by the deployment of a United Nations’ force to the country, but stability in the country was secured largely through British involvement. The death knell for rebel activities was sounded by Operation Barras, launched to free five soldiers of the Royal Irish regiment held by the “West Side Boys” rebel militia. With the SAS and the Parachute Regiment on the ground, Marafono, three months short of his 60th birthday, hovered overhead in a helicopter gunship in the night sky.
Though both sides were accused of atrocities in the war, Marafono was convinced he was fighting on the right side. “When you see what was happening in Sierra Leone, to be honest with you, you’re looking forward to killing these people,” he said. “Animals are better than these people; animals have a code of conduct. But these people had no code of conduct – putting people in houses and burning them...
“I’m not going to boast and brag about killing people. But I never lose a night’s sleep about it. We were not doing it because of money; we were doing it because it was a mission. If we don’t do it, people will die – and die terribly.” Around his neck he wore a lion’s tooth – a honorary totem of bravery awarded him by Hinga Norman’s men.
In his last years he co-authored a book about the time he spent in Sierra Leone, entitled From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars (2011). For a short time after its publication he returned to private security work as a consultant in Central America.
He was widely respected in the SAS for his fearlessness. He was also noted for introducing to the regiment the ritual of drinking flaming Drambuies, which involved igniting, then knocking back, large glasses of the liqueur. As on the battlefield, there were frequent casualties.
He was appointed MBE in the New Year’s Honours of 1983. The citations bears quoting at length: “It is doubtful whether any officer or NCO can equal the number of operations which WO1 Marafono has volunteered for and taken part in. On all, his standards of leadership and gallantry have been a positive inspiration to subordinates and superiors who have come into contact with him. Many anti-terrorist techniques currently in use in Northern Ireland and in the UK are the result of his unstinting work and clear vision. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the Regiment has been in the jungle where he has evolved many methods of operating which will form the basis of Special Operations for many years to come. His abilities as a visual tracker are legendary, and he is conceivably the leading expert in this field in the Service. Over many years he has consistently put the Service’s need before his own, and has been a key figure in influencing many matters of Regimental and National importance.”
Fred Marafono was twice married, and had three sons from his first marriage and a daughter from his second. Both marriages were dissolved.
Fred Marafono, born December 13 1940, died March 27 2013
From Fiji Times Online (31 March 2013)
An epitome is lost
by Avinesh Gopal
KAUATA Vamarasi Marafono alias Fred was the epitome of the Fijian motto Rerevaka na Kalou ka doka na Tui (Fear God and honour the King).
Hailing from Rotuma, Mr Marafono's faith in the Almighty God was uncomplicated, his former colleagues said.
The 72-year-old British 22 Special Air Service regiment soldier died peacefully in his sleep at his home in the United Kingdom on Thursday.
Mr Marafono, who served with the elite unit from 1960 to 1980, was a close colleague of SAS heroes Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba, Sekonaia Takavesi, Jim Vakatali and Ilisoni Ligairi.
His death was confirmed to this newspaper by his former colleague Dr Ken Hedges from Ontario in Canada and his family members in Fiji.
Dr Hedges served with Mr Marafono and the other four Fijian soldiers in 22 SAS from 1964 to 1967 in his capacity as Regimental Medical Officer.
He was deployed with them in Borneo and South Arabia, which is now known as Yemen.
"In my mind, Fred was the epitome of the Fijian motto," said Dr Hedges.
"His dedication to the profession of arms was outstanding. His willingness to serve was an example to us all.
"His mistakes were only human and mitigated by his strong sense of accountability.
"Beneath the accumulated scars of a lifetime of military service lay a gentle disposition, a kindness and an understanding that the needs of his neighbour defined the co-ordinates of his neighbourhood."
Dr Hedges said there could be a sizeable turnout for the legendary Fijian warrior's funeral.
He said "Fred" served the call of his sovereign so faithfully and with good account.
The doctor said Fred was a great warrior in the finest tradition of military service so often exemplified by Fijian members of the armed forces.
Mr Marafono had co-authored the book From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars with Hamish Ross.
His nephew and namesake described him as a humble person, and someone who would only talk about something if he was asked about it. Funeral arrangements for the fallen soldier are yet to be finalised.
From Fiji Times Online (1 April 2013)
Iron will of a warrior
by Hamish Ross
As condolences flow in from around the world for SAS legend Fred Marafono, London-based HAMISH ROSS, who co-authored the book — From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars — with the Rotuma-born soldier, salutes a friend and an inspiration in his obituary sent to the The Fiji Times.
A DISTINGUISHED son of Fiji and one of its unsung heroes, Kauata "Fred" Marafono died on 27 March 2013 aged 72.
He was a legend in the SAS, and was one of the first Fijians to pass its rigorous selection. He had the distinction of being selected for the best twice over: on the point of leaving the SAS after twenty-two years service, he was recruited by David Stirling, the Regiment's founder, to work for him in his security company KAS.
Fred Marafono achieved enduring fame for the part he played fighting with government forces to restore democracy in Sierra Leone's vicious Blood Diamond Wars.
Simon Mann recruited him for Executive Outcomes, the most successful private military that operated in Africa; he progressed from ground force commander to gunner in a helicopter gunship. And astonishingly, only three months short of his seventh decade of life, he was in action supporting the SAS in their daring raid Operation Barras.
He was born on Rotuma on 13 December, 1940. His father had served in the British Army in Burma during the Second World War.
Fred's early ambition was to study veterinary science, first at Navuso Agricultural School, and then on to college in Australia. But when the British army arrived with a recruiting drive on the island, without telling his parents, he signed up.
His career in the SAS is subject to the non-disclosure agreement, which he signed, and which, in his retirement, he firmly adhered to. But he was appointed MBE for one operation.
In his final months in the SAS, along with Ian Crooke, Second in Command at the time, he was the first of the former members of the unit to be recruited by David Stirling.
Fred told of that first meeting. David was saying, "Recruiting will be selective and Ian told me that you can do the job. I was very honoured and lost for words, and only managed to say, 'Thank you.'"
He worked in several countries with the company. Then, after Stirling's death, Fred moved on and did security work with the mining industry in Guyana.
This led to his being recruited by Golden Star Resources, who were expanding their operations across Africa. He arrived in Sierra Leone at the point when the government of the day, a military junta of young officers, was ineffectively trying to stop the advance of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel grouping that had no political ideology other than banditry.
In the ascendancy, they were moving out of the mineral-bearing areas of the country, intent on taking complete control, and were only miles from Freetown. Mining companies pulled their staff out, as chaos reigned.
Fred was asked to remain in the country and monitor the situation and report back. In the short time he had been there he formed a bond with Regent Chief Sam Hinga Norman, who had formerly served as an officer in the British army.
In a single-man operation, Fred extricated him through rebel-held territory from the town of Bo, 150 miles from Freetown.
As the situation deteriorated, in desperation, the junta contracted the South African multi-racial military company, Executive Outcomes, highly experienced combat veterans with years of counter-insurgency operations in southern Africa. They were contracted to deploy between one hundred and two hundred men, and defeat the rebels.
Fred joined them, becoming a ground force commander, leading and training elements of the Sierra Leone army. Within months Executive Outcomes cleared the capital and the diamond-bearing areas were back in government hands; elections took place; a democratic government took office once again in the country. But when EO's contract was terminated, fighting broke out again.
A regional military force, ECOMOG, led by Nigeria landed at Lungi airport, and secured it, but were unable to move out. They lacked logistical support to wage operations. Fred joined two other former members of Executive Outcomes, and operating as gunner and loadmaster, crewed the only helicopter that provided a vital air bridge between Liberia and the regional military group.
For months three men in a helicopter were the only means of supply for materials and manpower, flying low, taking different routes because the rebels had SAM missiles. Their efforts enabled ECOMOG to move out of Lungi and retake Freetown. Fighting continued until Britain took a leading role.
The end for rebel activities came with Operation Barras, when the SAS and the Parachute Regiment stormed the base of the West Side Boys; and Fred Marafono, three months short of his sixtieth birthday, was in action in a gunship supporting them overhead.
In his last years he co-authored a book about those years in Sierra Leone, entitled From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars; and for a short time after its publication, he was back on private security work as a consultant in Central America.
Fred Marafono was a man of integrity and of great inner resources. He gave of his best, and always for a good cause.
And his best was superlative.
From Fiji Times Online (15 April 2013)
SAS hero cremated
by Avinesh Gopal
THE ashes of a son of Fiji who helped bring democracy to Sierra Leone are expected to be brought to the country.
But no date has been confirmed on when Kauata Vamarasi Marafono's ashes will be brought to his village — Pepjei in Rotuma.
Fondly known as Fred, the 72-year-old former British Special Air Services soldier died peacefully in his sleep at his home in the UK on March 27.
He was cremated at a private (family) ceremony after a memorial service at the Hereford Cathedral in the UK on Saturday.
Being one of the first Fijians to join the elite SAS regiment, Fred's work in war-torn countries and other places won him the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).
Yesterday, his namesake told The Fiji Times that Fred's ashes would be brought to Fiji as per the arrangement with his offsprings.
Kauata Marafono said his uncle's ashes were expected to be brought to Fiji and taken to Pepjei.
"But no date has been confirmed yet on when the ashes will be brought to Fiji and I will have to check with my cousins in the United Kingdom," he said.
The Rotuman soldier with the 22 SAS regiment also co-authored a book, From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars with Dr Hamish Ross.
Dr Ross told BBC News that Fred "certainly was a lion-hearted warrior."
"In the SAS he had a reputation for volunteering for as many missions as he could and as often as possible," he said.
"He was in a league by himself and he introduced skills into the service that they adopted.
"It's remarkable the affection and respect all those who served with him had for him."
Dr Ross said Fred was still working in Central America at the age of 70.
"Although he was at home in Hereford when he died, in a sense he never really retired.
"Fred died at the age of 72. He spent, I reckon, virtually his entire adult life practicing his superb military skills," Dr Ross told BBC News.
The Rotuman soldier also worked with the late Talaiasi Labalaba, Sekonaia Takavesi, Jim Vakatali and Ilisoni Ligairi in the SAS.
Labalaba, who died in the battle of Mirbat in 1972, was best man at his wedding. His former colleague in the 22 SAS, Dr Ken Hedges, told this newspaper that Fred was the epitome of the Fijian motto and someone who had the moral compass like other Fijian soldiers in the elite squad.
Also see Bob Shepherd's Blog, "My Friend Fred Marafono, Fijian Warrior."