VLADIMIR Putin's 'superhuman' Wagner Group mercenaries were forced to flee from a Mozambique war zone – leaving ISIS to launch a beheading blitz.
Victims have been butchered by terrorist militants and their bodies left piled up in the streets near Africa’s biggest gas field in Palma.
An attack on foreign contractors attempting to flee the besieged town this week has left at least 50 people dead – with Brit Phil Mawer among the missing.
Putin's shady Wagner Group mercenary army was previously called into southern Africa by the Mozambique government.
However, 200 fighters – mostly 'superhuman' elite ex-Special Forces soldiers – from the private army were forced to retreat after around a dozen men were killed in gruesome attacks by ISIS terrorists.
They were believed to have been killed in ambushes and botched operations.
Military experts say the Russians were likely "ill-prepared" for the mission, and that "attempting to apply a European or Russian style of strategic approach to an African conflict was a recipe for disaster."
The mercenaries' relationship with their host, the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces also broke down after several Russian fighters were killed in "friendly fire".
Despite using advanced warfare tactics, drones and data analytics, they were forced to back off.
Security consultant Olivier Guitta told the BBC: "After suffering a series of ambushes and nearly a dozen reported deaths in several battles in densely forested districts of Cabo Delgado, the Russian private military contractors have gone into a strategic retreat."
Now, ISIS killers have been left free to wreak devastating havoc in Palma.
The Wagner Group has waged war in Ukraine and propped up regimes in Venezuela, the Central African Republic and the failed state of Libya with the backing of the Kremlin.
Yevgeny Prigozhin – an ally of Putin's who was indicted in the United States for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election – is reportedly the key figure behind the mercenary group.
The group is said to have between 5,000 and 10,000 soldiers spreading chaos around the world, complete with tanks and artillery.
The privately-funded militia first came to prominence in 2014 in eastern Ukraine.
They also fought clandestinely in Libya where they backed General Khalifa Haftar's overthrow the UN-backed government.
In their Venezuela deployment, they reportedly flew in two chartered aircraft to Havana, Cuba, from where they transferred onto regular commercial flights to the troubled socialist country.
Their task was to protect embattled President Nicolás Maduro from any attempt by opposition sympathisers in his own security forces to detain him, Reuters reported.
Press freedoms in Putin's Russia are notoriously compromised and some reporters who have attempted to investigate Wagner have ended up dead.
Videos of a brutal killing – reportedly carried out by members of the Wagner Group – went viral on social media in Russia in 2019.
The footage, filmed near a gas plant in Syria, showed a man being beaten with a sledgehammer before he was decapitated and his body set on fire.
The killers then posed for photos with the man's remains.
A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace described the Wagner Group as "force multipliers, arms merchants, trainers of local military and security personnel, and political consultants".
In August last year, a top-secret Germany military report found that Russia was planning to expand its 'Africa strategy'.
The classified document said Putin himself had made "Africa a top priority", and that Russia planned to build military bases in six countries on the continent: the Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mozambique and Sudan.
Russia is the top weapons supplier to Africa with about 38 per cent of the market share.
The United States is the next-biggest with 16 per cent.
The Wagner Group has reportedly been in Mozambique since 2018, supposedly to fight ISIS.
Around $60 million (£44 million) has reportedly been invested in Mozambique by the Wagner Group as Russia aims to profit from the country's lucrative natural gas resources.
ISIS-linked militants have been attempting to gain control of the north east region of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique since 2017.
The insurgency has left more than 2,500 people dead and 700,000 displaced.
Palma, which was first stormed last Wednesday, is in the north of the province and is near a multi-billion-dollar gas project run by Total.
Some 100 militants, many with Islamic State flags, now control the mining town of 53,000 near Africa’s largest natural gas field.
Around 1,400 residents were rescued by boats but witnesses said bodies, many beheaded, were piling up on the streets.
The Mozambique siege has proved to be so dangerous that the SAS was forced to pull out of a recovery mission due to fears of their own "Black Hawk Down" disaster.
A crack team of elite troops were deployed to hunt for missing Brit Phil Bawer.
Three Special Forces soldiers linked up with local mercenaries to scour the mining town of Palma for signs of the contractor.
South African mercenaries from the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) had spotted a body believed to be Phil's in the wreckage of a car.
The SAS troops were prepared to enter the war zone but were stood down as the risk wasn't worth it to recover a dead body.
The mercenaries used an angle grinder to cut his corpse free, a source said.
The SAS team was poised to go in with them, but was ordered to stand down at the last minute.
"I think they would have gone in if it was a rescue mission, but this was a [body] recovery," a source said.
SAS chiefs wanted to avoid their own "Black Hawk Down" disaster – which resulted in dead American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in 1993.
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