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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

DISREGARDING THE PRINCIPLES OF WAR

I recall having to study the principles of war – along with those of the different phases of war – during my various military courses, especially on the Combat Team and Battle Group commander’s courses. These principles are not something someone had just made up to ensure we had more work to study – although at the time, we suspected as much.

Grand strategy leads to military strategy. Military strategy aids in determining the doctrine. The implementation of the doctrine culminates in tactics – the art of deploying forces according to terrain and using their deployment, movement and firepower to overwhelm the enemy. To achieve success and to ensure that the battle is won, certain time-proven principles need to be employed.

Principles, in turn, are “battlefield philosophies” or “battlefield truths” that have been established over time to be vital in succeeding and surviving on the battlefield. But, when it comes to the general principles of war, these are derived from the political philosophy of the government the armed force serves.

When the state takes the decision to enter into a war, it ought to refrain from interfering in military matters as such interference can only hamper the military planners and commanders from attaining their aim. However, the political masters ought to lay down political guidelines that need to be factored into any military strategy and subsequent planning as the conflict remains an extension of the political policies (foreign policy) of the state. Thereafter, once politicians have committed to war, they should take a step back and leave the military to do what it is supposed to do best – go to war and win it. History is littered with cases where political intervention has simply prolonged the wars.

In order for an armed force to successfully carry out its mission, it should never rely purely on superior firepower, gadgets and technology. Nor should it ever base its plans on firepower alone as a poor plan cannot always be rectified by firepower alone. The unplanned, uncontrolled and uncoordinated use of firepower does not win wars.

Buzz-words lead to buzz-actions that serve little to no purpose when soldiers are under fire, out-manoeuvred and have lost the initiative.

Whereas the overall military strategy ought to be based on a well-defined military goal, it is a folly to attempt to achieve this too soon without thorough planning and preparation. Whereas it may look like a good idea to bomb the opposing president’s palace, and may even appear to look like a short-cut to winning the war, invariably it isn’t. This “shock-and-awe” approach is bound to create problems that were never foreseen by the planners and once the problems appear, they cannot be rapidly overcome. Such an action may also strengthen the national resolve of the enemy.

The different phases of war such as the advance, the advance to contact, the attack, the consolidation, the exploitation, the defence, the area domination and the withdrawal – all have principles that are vitally importance to success. Whereas the strict adherence to the principles will not guarantee a victory, they will ensure that detailed planning was done. Detailed planning allows for unforeseen contingencies on the battlefield to be rapidly overcome. It gives flexibility to commanders.

Soldiers who are lacking in basic training, discipline, poor leadership and inadequate command and control will not be able to win wars with technology and firepower alone. When their technology fails, they will find themselves in a vacuum they cannot easily extricate themselves from.

24 comments:

Loggi said...

Great life skills. It is this training and subsequent discipline, that has opened many doors in Corporate management for ex military officers.These same skills are however sadly lacking in today's 'democratic' SANDF

He of difficult days said...

Wonder what old Jan Lamprecht will say about this. Probably will Salivate!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It was the skills we learnt as soldiers that made us survive these harsh times we now live in, Loggi.

Whereas the SANDF has lost what was arguably one of the greatest skill-pools in Africa, corporate management has gained.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Jan does such a good job with his website, HODD, but I am sure it this posting will at some stage migrate to his site as well.

Rgds,

Eeben

TCO said...

Strategy and tactics are of course very applicable to the corporate setting. Those who leave the military and bring with them those skills they learned both in terms of personal discipline, team work, initiative, etc. As well as strategic assessment, SMEAC planning, the list goes on and on.

Furthermore much of the language in use in the business world today comes directly from the military context. An example is a sales 'campaign'. Also the traditional military organizational structure of squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, division, corps was widely adopted during the industrial revolution as it was a structure that worked and was one that people were familiar with.

In a slightly related there there is a great book called Marketing Warfare which was written probably 25 years ago by Al Ries. It is staple in western business schools as it directly parallels many of the principles von Clausowitz detailed in his pivotal book On War which is studied in detail in most western officer training/education programs.

Having had rigorous military training early in life is not for everyone but for those who can take it onboard and implement those skills throughout their life, they will always stand head-and-shoulders above those who did not.

Jake

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Very valid points, Jake.

It is somewhat sad that the business community has learnt from the military yet the military is unable to learn from itself.

As long as poor strategies coupled to pathetic planning are held up as examples of battlefield brilliance, soldiers all over will be in for a rough ride.

Rgds,

Eeben

simon said...

How would you rate the combat performances of us troops in the war on terror ? It seems to me that in the absence of good intel networks, they have simply sent over every last tank they can to do warefare. The special ops community is in a broken down over rotated state.

I guess that might not hold water with some of you guys who were on line for years at a time ?

simon said...

your post inspired me to put down some thoughts un my blog.Ive gleaned from studying the Rhodesian bush war and your post on infantry tactics. Ill be putting more of my thoughts and the ideas of men on the ground who've written on this if anyone is interested. theeagleswillgather.blogspot.com
regards

luke said...

The American military could use your wisdom Eeban, they are massive in size, but pathetic in policies and tactics.

James

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I cannot comment on the US military’s fight against terror, Simon, as what I know about it, I am told second-hand and see on the news. What is painfully obvious though is that the war was started with virtually no good intelligence on the enemy. If commanders don’t have intelligence, they cannot make realistic plans, cannot determine enemy courses of action, cannot adjust tactics and so forth. In short, they cannot seize the initiative.

A war on terror cannot be fought with armour and troop surges. A troop surge strategy is not a guarantee for success. This was the strategy General Haig used in WW1 and it is a costly affair and placed unfair expectations on commanders and their men. I will at some stage write something on a troop surge strategy.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A good posting on your blog Simon. The Rhodesian and the South African soldier had a lot in common and neither lost on the battlefield despite overwhelming odds against them.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I believe the US military has become so reliant on gadgets that basic training has been left behind, Luke. Inadequate planning and an inability to adapt to the terrain and the enemy is a severe self-imposed disadvantage.

EO was active in several countries in Africa and the Far East where the terrain and the enemy differed vastly in each theatre. Yet, the men were able to adapt, use the little intelligence they had correctly and plan accordingly. This, along with several unique battlefield tactics made EO successful. Prior to EO, that is what made the SADF such a formidable fighting machine.

As for my “wisdom”, it is highly unlikely that the US military will be interested in anything I have to say.

Rgds,

Eeben

bulletbunny said...

oh, a forgot to mention earlier that i had heard a lone, plaintive voice bleating on about how critical barlow has been of american military planning. well, he is indeed best qualified to do so: after all, he and his company have won a couple of wars, most notably those in angola & sierra leone, while america still has to win one...

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Yes, I am highly critical of US military strategy, Bulletbunny - and it is more than one lone voice bleating about my criticisms.

It is poor strategies that lead to doctrines that cannot be implemented and, in turn, to deaths of civilians and soldiers alike. Civilians and soldiers become casualties of these lacklustre strategies and the casualties are quickly forgotten and the generals praised and rewarded. For what, goodness knows.

Having been a soldier, I appreciate the predicament the troops find themselves in and if the US military has a problem with criticism against its strategies that are losing men to enemy fire, then so be it.

I was very fortunate in EO to have good men who could strategise, plan and use their initiative. We did not believe in “troop surges” and gadgets to win battles. The US remained a vocal opponent of EO as it saw us as interfering with their foreign policy in Africa and elsewhere. But, when we left those countries, the US couldn’t move fast enough to place their own PMCs in those areas. Whereas we drew a lot of criticism, we never killed, murdered and raped civilians – nor did we hand out Viagra. Indeed, we realised the value of the civilians and went out of our way to assist them wherever we could.

Rgds,

Eeben

bulletbunny said...

i suppose it is not a coincidence that the countries whose military planning is so inferior, are also the countries that have no regard for the humanitarian disasters they leave in their wake? not only do these countries (yes, everbody knows we are talking about america and israel) have no compassion for the women and and children of their enemies, but they apparently also don't give a damn that they have made their own citizens hated targets for attack the whole world over...

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is a truism that the fall-out (in terms of civilian and other casualties) of poorly conceived strategies and bad plans are never really considered by the planners, Bulletbunny.

In all conflicts, there are bound to be civilian casualties but these need to be kept to the utmost minimum. By ignoring the plight of the innocent, armies open up their flanks to attacks they never considered. Additionally, in the world of high-tech news reporting, civilian casualties and infrastructure damage cannot be hidden from the world.

Today’s battlefield is a combination of military strategy and news reporting – white, black and grey propaganda. One may win the military battle but lose the propaganda war. It is the propaganda war that will be remembered forever and be used to fuel unrest, distrust and even hatred. When this is coupled to national strategies that constantly switch allegiances, the waters get even more muddied.

Rgds,

Eeben

graycladunits said...

Dear Eeben:

I have been reading your book since Gatvol (also a follower of your blog) brought me back an autographed copy from his trip to SA. Did you get the thankyou message I sent to you via the other website? I have a couple of questions about it that happen to coincide with this week's blog. First, did your choosing to allow your men to start up a Bible fund represent a personal change of heart or were you merely allowing your men to aid their allies? I ask because you say on p. 17 that you are not a "religious or political animal." Personally, I think it's always a good idea to factor spiritual aid for allies into logistical planning- helps to cement good relationships. Also, why did Pine Pienaar and his crack fighter pilots just up and leave all of the sudden? Did you/do you harbor any ill feelings towards them? I ask because their loss certainly must have disrupted your general tactical planning and intelligence reporting. I hope these questions are not too personal...not trying to cause any trouble.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I received your thank you message from Gatvol, GCU. Also, you questions are no trouble at all – but thank you for asking.

By not being a political or religious animal, I meant that I do not follow politics or religion fanatically as I believe this clouds one’s judgement. Allowing the men to start a Bible fund was not a personal challenge or change of heart to me. Whereas we had been taught that the Angolans were all communists, we found it somewhat of a surprise to find that they not only wanted Bibles but also wanted to attend our church services – if they were the communists we had been told they were, why did they want to read a Bible and attend church? And why did their general officers encourage it? My suspicions that we had been lied to as soldiers of the SADF made this very obvious.

Pine and his merry men left soon after Louwrens was downed. I think it was something of a shock to them to lose someone so close to them. I certainly harboured no ill feeling towards them, although I would be dishonest if I said that I wasn’t disappointed. It did become something that tactically we needed but had to live without. The commanders on the ground were outstanding in overcoming this hurdle and when they did call for an airstrike, a single Angolan pilot in an SU-22 did an outstanding job – so much so, that Hennie Blaauw commended his actions to the general staff of FAA.

Rgds,

Eeben

PS: I hope you are enjoying the book.

luke said...

Regardless of the motives behind the Iraq war, popular support from the public was key in bringing the idea of preemptive action to reality. As a consequence, much of U.S. military policy appeared crafted to this end.

WMD's aside, as I remember the public wanted revenge for 9/11 (Afghanistan was not enough) and the idea of bringing 'freedom' abroad resonated strongly.

The army involved itself in popular movements like the "shock and awe campaign" (aired on CNN like a New Year's fireworks display), inflammatory rhetoric, and dismissing the army.

In an age of increased media coverage, I think there is a real danger of theatrics taking center stage over policy. Any thoughts?

Thanks, Luke

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

One of the reasons governments declare war is to gain favourable public opinion and strengthen national resolve and will, Luke. As part of their political planning, this will be factored in to any military strategy.

I believe that 9/11 gave the government the excuse it was looking for to gain this favourable public opinion. The public on the other hand (rightfully) needed government to show that it would take drastic action against those responsible for the horrors of 9/11 and launched the military operation on Iraq. However, the actions the military launched were all based on non-existent intelligence and thus the revenge has been misdirected.

Whereas the military has an obligation towards the government-of-the-day and the nation as a whole, one way in which it can show its prowess is by telling the nation what it is doing. The media can therefore play a large role in rebuilding a nation’s support to a government by projecting the military’s might into homes via the internet, television, newsprint and radio.

The problem is when the military does things that look good on television but have no real military value or objective. To look good, theatrics do take hold as soldiers are given their few minutes of fame. But the problem does not lie with the soldiers in that situation. It lies with the planners of the news coverage. Eventually, the media start dictating what the military should do to give good news feed.

The media is a powerful tool and can play a major role, but when things are staged to look good on television and so on, the plot has been lost. This is something we see on many current wars being fought.

Rgds,

Eeben

billabong81 said...

Dear Mr. Barlow,
I am an employee of the university of vienna and currently working on my masters thesis about the role of private military companies between 1990 and 2000 with focus on their impact on stabilization of security in african failed states. Now it would really make my paper more complete if I could lead an interview with you about the impact of EO in Sierra Leone and your point of view on the role of PMC's in the peacemaking process. If you're somehow interested please feel free to contact me on stefan.prunner@univie.ac.at
best regards

Stefan Prunner

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the visit and comment, Stefan.

I have said most of my say in my book (Executive Outcomes – Against all Odds, www.galago.co.za) and don’t have too much more to add. Do you think an interview will add much more?

Good luck with your studies.

Rgds,

Eeben

elyzcamp said...

Good article. Very impressive. Well... As ROKA Officer, I think there's a plenty of room for the modified Principles of War. We already had our own principles since 1957-of course it's from US Army- and now 12 Principles of War. Actually I've been studying that Principles of War for 1 and half year. So If you have any idea or useful articles about above issue, that will save me. Thank you. My name is Nam, Boram and Major. elyzcamp@naver.com or elyzcamp@hotmail.com

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your visit and comment, elyzcamp.

I am busy with something on strategy and will at a later date discuss the principles of war.

Rgds,

Eeben