Saturday, February 28, 2009
Along with our NCOs, we became the “father” and “mother” of all men under our command. We were expected to protect them at all costs and we often did – even when we knew our men were in the wrong. We supplemented our leadership with discipline and training – and leading from the front. When things went wrong, our men looked to us for guidance and their safety. When we were in the wrong, we were hauled over the coals by our company or battalion commanders – a most unpleasant experience.
This approach to leading men was something that was entrenched into us, assisted sometimes with a good kick up the backside. It could be found from platoon- to battalion level and within combat teams and battle groups. It was very evident at small-team level and during covert operations. It was also occasionally found at theatre-level. But sadly, it ended there as many of us were to realise.
Although it can be argued that the South African political leadership - prior 1994 - was to some extent coerced by foreign pressure into the actions it took, they also prepared themselves to jump ship with alacrity. Thus, I can only suspect that they also suffered a serious lack of moral fibre. Added to this wide streak of yellow was a distinct lack of a grand strategy – and the desire of some of the politicians to rather see themselves as soldiers, despite the fact that their military experience was, in one instance, limited to singing in a choir.
The fact is that South Africa needed to change its internal policies – many in the military agreed with that. What we did not agree with was the wholesale betrayal and lack of leadership displayed by politicians and generals alike. Whereas some politicians wanted to be generals and tried to dictate military strategy, the converse was also very evident. Some generals wanted to be politicians and in the process were prepared to ignore their military duties and ingratiate themselves with the politicians. This sad state of affairs removed any chance of the military remaining apolitical in terms of the government and the citizens of South Africa, regardless of their political persuasion.
The Chief of the South African Army, Genl Solly Shoke recently admitted in a press conference (13 Feb 2009) that the Army had made some serious mistakes with regard to training. He also expressed his concern at the lack of discipline in the Army. But these problems lie not with the soldiers – they lie with the leaders of the Army, including Genl Shoke himself. The soldiers can only be as good as their leaders. It is one thing to blame soldiers for their poor discipline and lack of training but where did the problem start? And what did their leaders do to rectify these problems?
This sad state of affairs has, furthermore, manifested itself as a breakdown of command and control. Recently, the Pretoria High Court, in an unprecedented judgement, ordered the SANDF to do its job properly. (http://jv.news24.com/Beeld/Suid-Afrika/0,,3-975_2476192,00.html) Actions such as these are cause for extreme concern and ought to immediately rectified.
But, from where I am sitting, I see this as a problem not only confined to South Africa or Africa.
The West is currently going through a rather serious crisis. The results of Global War on Terror (GWOT), coupled to the global economic meltdown will, despite what many say, be felt for years to come. It is especially in times such as these that politicians need to show leadership. It, however, appears to me as though the Western democracies are lacking in courage, direction and leadership. This has led to a floundering of foreign policy and a lack of strategic direction.
The division and disarray that exists at the political level seems to be permeating through to the military level. Adding further confusion is the desire of politicians, once they have committed the armed forces, to interfere in military strategies and the execution of tactics. But soldiers need effective leadership, discipline, training and above all, the support of their political masters. When this support is lacking, leadership becomes feeble and problematic.
In a world where foreign policies are based on appeasement and accommodation and the exploitation of emotions, the development of guilt among the strong, and a hatred for political systems, it is to be expected that the military will become part of this policy.
When a lack of political courage, direction and leadership manifests itself, its effects are dramatic on the military. Military leadership then becomes a system that follows its own appeasement and accommodation – the results of which could be disastrous.
Monday, February 23, 2009
When Executive Outcomes (EO) was operating in Sierra Leone in 1996, we tried very hard to get members of the media to give coverage to the child-soldiers fighting in that conflict. Sadly, this did not interest them as they were apparently more concerned at finding reasons to get EO out of that country so that the rebels could continue with their orgy of violence. We also appealed to the UN on this issue but they seemingly did not understand their own conventions and protocols on children. The men, however, continued to do what they could to get the children out of the firing-line and help the process of rehabilitating them. These efforts applied to both government and rebel forces. For this, EO was given a certificate of appreciation by the Sierra Leone organisation “Children Associated with the War”.
But, the use of children in war is nothing new. Indeed, children have been soldiers and casualties in most, if not all wars. Modern media reporting, however, makes it easier to highlight their plight on television and in the printed media. But, these children that have been robbed of their innocence are not a phenomenon unique to Africa.
The vast majority of these children are forcibly acting as “trigger-men” and “cannon-fodder” after being brutally inducted into war by torture, rape, threats, murder, and so forth. They are given real guns and told to kill whoever stands in their paths. As an example, in Sierra Leone, boys were forced to rape their mothers or sisters before killing their parents. There is no clear chance to escape and any attempt at escaping is met with extreme violence, torture and even death.
Once inducted into their life of murder and mayhem, they are easily influenced by their “leaders” and peers. Killing becomes a way of life. However, when they are in the opposite trenches trying to kill those who wish to stop them, they become valid battlefield targets – and often lose life and limb without understanding the reason for their being there. Those that survive, suffer enormous emotional trauma.
Estimates are that approximately between 250 000 and 300 000 children are currently serving as soldiers, actively engaged in conflict, across the world. They act not only as soldiers but also as spies, porters, sexual distractions, messengers and so forth. Some of these children are used to lead the assaults against government forces and even to act as suicide bombers. And it is not only boys who are forced into the world of warcraft.
But rebel forces are, however, not the only ones to use children to bolster their forces. Several governments are equally guilty of recruiting children – or coercing them – into their forces. This desire to swell the number of men under arms points directly to a flawed strategy of winning any conflict.
Actively participating in armed conflict as soldiers not only traumatises the children, it also violates their very rights as children. Robbed of their youth and forced to kill, main or torture, they are devoid of any moral compass. Their education is killing - or to be killed. They have no schools, homes, medical facilities and so on. In fact, all they have is a gun and ammunition. In using these weapons of war, many of these child soldiers commit horrific atrocities, effectively making them war criminals. But, international law restricts their punishment as they remain children.
This problem can manifest itself in a serious manner at the end of hostilities as these child-soldiers have the ability and the means to enter into a life of serious organised crime. With their only real education being that power comes through the gun, where will it end?
Added on 24 February 2009: David Isenberg sent me this interesting copy of a thesis document submitted to the University of Victoria. Thank you, David.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Should a government decide - something it ought to be able to do without interference from foreign powers - that it wants to utilise outside sources to help it resolve these problems, it has four options:
1. Call on the United Nations and a multitude of NGOs to help
2. Call on the West to help
3. Call on the East to help
4. Call on a Private Military Company to help.
Arguably the largest sheltered employment agency in the world, the UN has time-and-again shown its ineptitude, inability and its partiality for rebel groups and other trouble-makers when “assisting” governments in Africa. The recent exposures detailing crimes by UN peacekeepers - in Africa and beyond - are likewise a major indication of its lack of control over itself. Additionally, the UN has, according to its own track-record, prolonged conflicts instead of bringing them to a closure. This large bumbling organisation and its associated NGOs have a habit of calling for ceasefires and giving the rebel movements critical time to prepare for their next offensive. Their dismal lack of achievement, which has no timeline and a never-ending budget, must surely rate at the bottom of the list of choices.
The West has a history of betraying African governments and backing both sides in a conflict. Coupled to this is the approach of giving sub-standard training under the guise of “military aid”. But these aid packages come at a price – “toe the line or else”. Additionally, the West is not beyond its own fraud and corruption. Take for example the latest report on the US military leadership in Iraq:
“In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn (£88bn) in a US-directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme”.
And to think that the West is continually pointing a finger at Africa for corruption and fraud…but maybe this will serve as a warning for Africa.
Apart from this shocking exposé, the West’s recent containment strategies have not exactly yielded encouraging or significant results.
The East has always been keen to sell its weapons into Africa. More recently, the East has involved itself in a massive overt resource-exploitation drive in Africa. Despite voiced concern by the West, this has led to huge financial investments into Africa and in the process, some of these investments have found their way to both government and rebel forces. But the East has, like the West, not always dealt honourably with Africa. It too has its agendas and is not afraid to pursue them vigorously, regardless of the cost in terms of human lives or political integrity. But the East brings with it money and overt support to the government they are dealing with.
The last choice an African government has is it that it can contract a PMC to assist it. All such assistance is negotiated in terms of risk, cost and time and the PMC is contractually bound to give what it offered. Furthermore, the PMC is obligated to provide tailor-made training, achieve agreed results at a predetermined fee and fulfil its contractual obligations within a set time. The problem with PMCs is that they require careful vetting in terms of their REAL experience and not their own-imagined experience, their track record and their integrity. Ultimately, the fly-by-night, con-artist-types of PMCs should be exposed and weeded out – and there are many of them. (Note: Jake and Matt of http://combatoperator.com/blog/ and http://www.feraljundi.com/ respectively are working hard at showing the other side of the coin).
But for an African government to make such a decision, it is faced with problems that range from international condemnation, sanctions, political and economical blackmail, threats and even active support to the rebel movements.
To contract a PMC, these governments-in-need apparently require the permission of the UN, the NGOs, multi-national corporations, foreign governments and so on.
So, the question begs to be asked: Who decides what an African government can do to improve its security situation, ensure its territorial integrity, train its armed forces and assist it with the development of its national security strategy?
It appears that the under-siege government has no say in the matter and must instead bow to inept, unethical and/or corrupt foreign militaries.
Added on 19 February 2009: For those who thought I am forever having a go at the UN and its incompetence for no reason, please read the following - http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-02-19-un-accused-of-failing-to-protect-drc-civilians I rest my case.
Friday, February 13, 2009
There exists some confusion regarding the differences between strategy and tactics. Whereas this is understandable when talking to people who are not part of the military, it is frightening to know that there are senior military men who do not know the difference between the two and how they inter-relate to one another.
To fully understand the difference between the two, one needs to understand the meanings of the words, both being derived from the Greek “stratēgos” and “taktikē”.
Strategy is derived from the Greek words “stratos” and “ago”, implying or referring to the leading of, and giving direction to, an army. In modern warfare, the army is led to achieve the political aims of the government it serves. Therefore, a country’s military strategy is an off-shoot of the government’s greater political strategy, known as the Grand or National Strategy.
“Taktikē” is the art of organising and coordinating an army so that it may do battle, using the correct techniques to overcome the enemy. In brief, these techniques – referred to as “tactics” – are relevant to the various phases of warfare.
The above definitions lead one to realise that strategy gives direction and strategic aim to the military and the tactics are the methods or techniques employed to achieve those aims. Furthermore, this implies that strategy is executed at the highest levels of the military whereas tactics permeates downwards to the lower levels such as unit and sub-unit level and even lower.
When a nation’s armed forces are committed to war, the war is fought at three distinct yet inter-related levels. These three levels are:
1. Strategic Level
2. Operational Level
3. Tactical Level
Warfare at the strategic level can be broken down into four distinctive types of strategic warfare. These four types are:
1. Offensive Warfare
2. Defensive Warfare
3. Attrition Warfare
4. Revolutionary Warfare.
Again, the aims and objectives of the different types of strategic warfare are determined by the government’s national policies which are in turn derived from the Government’s National or Grand Strategy. The decision to implement one of the types of strategic warfare is dependent on the perceived threat facing the nation. This threat is determined by a process of collecting information and processing it into intelligence.
Each type of Strategic Warfare can be further broken down into different sub-types of warfare. As an example, Offensive Warfare can be subdivided into either a Distant Strategic Offensive or a Close Strategic Offensive – the type being determined by the proximity of the offensive.
At the Operational Level, usually confined to a specific theatre of operations, the military strategy is accomplished by the setting of operational objectives, within that specific theatre, to meet the military strategy’s goals. Poor planning, non-compliance to doctrine and inadequate tactics can result in failure, thus impacting negatively on the overall military strategy.
The tactical level is that level where the techniques to attain the strategy are implemented by various unit levels such as a division, a brigade, a company or even a section. It is, therefore, at the tactical level that tactics come into play. The tactics employed will be dependent on numerous factors such as the phase of war, the enemy, the terrain, the weather, own forces capabilities, the local population and so forth.
Whereas the principle aim of war is to always achieve victory over the enemy, regardless of the type of warfare, the modern-day war can be viewed as having five main strategic goals:
1. To repulse an aggressive act by the enemy, contain and destroy it.
2. To invade, conquer and destroy an enemy.
3. To seize and exploit the resources of an enemy.
4. To energise foreign policy by means other than diplomacy.
5. To gain favourable public opinion and strengthen national resolve and will.
To achieve these strategic goals, the military will adopt a specific posture in order to accomplish its allocated mission. The posture will thus be determined by the perceived enemy threat and will therefore determine the military’s doctrine and tactics.
The tactics, in turn, are related to the specific phase of warfare that is being implemented. These phases - excluding the intermediate or transitional phases - are:
1. The advance
2. The attack
3. The withdrawal
4. The defence
Sound military strategies will lead to well-developed doctrines, good planning based on sound intelligence and correct application of tactics. It is, however, at the tactical level that the war can be either won or lost.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Speaking to a friend of mine a while ago, I was somewhat taken aback when he intimated that he had a good chuckle whenever he was sent to do training in Africa. He was a serving soldier in a European army and part of his country’s “aid package” to Africa, was – and still is - to train African armies. The reason for my surprise was not that he told me that the country they train becomes beholden to them for its weapons of war, political goodwill and aid – I have suspected this all along – but that their brief is to purposely train the African armies badly.
The more I thought about this sneaky approach to training, the more agitated I became – especially as I consider myself an African living in Africa.
I have, for a long time, known of both the West’s and the East’s efforts to continually sabotage Africa. I have also witnessed first-hand the betrayal of entire nations – African and otherwise- by the West when it suited their aims. But, as long as conflict rages in Africa, resources remain cheap and the desire for war material remains at an all-time high. The poorer these armies are trained, the easier it is to defeat them with insurgent forces – the rebels, in turn, often supported by the very people that trained the government forces. When I suggested the reason of their brief – to ensure instability - he very reluctantly agreed with me. It also made me understand why some African armies are often unable to contain even small rebel groups.
From my experience, a disciplined, well-trained, well-led African army is more than a match for any other army, let alone a rebel group. I base this comment on the time I served with 32 Battalion’s Reconnaissance Wing, the African Special Forces members I trained in covert operations, the work of 101 Battalion, Koevoet and the like. Many of these men later joined Executive Outcomes where they continued to give outstanding work. They never ran from a fight, followed their orders to the letter and never complained. They didn’t need to watch television every night, get “time out cards” when the going got tough, live off balanced diets, rely on technology to win the battles they fought and so on.
My experience of working with African soldiers is that they are men who are loyal to a fault, take well to discipline and harsh combat conditions, they are adaptable, they are willing to follow orders exactly, they fight like lions, they follow their commanders and yet when the smoke clears, they are still proud to be soldiers. But to achieve this, they need good training, leadership and discipline.
However, looking at the conflicts in Africa, it is very clear that the military “aid packages” foreign governments are keen to hand out are serving their purposes very well. African armies are poorly trained, poorly led and purposely kept weak.
When African governments realise what is happening, and dain to approach a PMC to ensure that they are given the best, non-political, no-strings-attached training they can get, they are very quickly condemned. Suddenly no consideration is given to the fact that the PMC is made up of ex-professional soldiers who want to ensure that the government in question gets the best training it can afford. The off-key chorus is then led by the “aid giving” government who, when it had a chance, did everything in its power to sabotage those armies with an evil agenda hidden behind a smile, condescension and false kindness.
The PMC industry does, however, have its own bad apples to contend with. It is the bad apples that create the stink surrounding the disciplined, efficient PMCs. Whereas PMCs are quick to blame the media for their problems, they will find their problems a lot closer to home than that. (The modern-day PMC does not have to fight the mass media as EO did). It is the PMC-poser companies that need to be exposed for what they are. But it is also a responsibility of the real PMCs to expose the fly-by-night companies out there operating on someone else’s reputation and in the process discrediting everyone.
The reality is that a professional, disciplined PMC will provide a better, more cost-effective and more efficient service than a government armed force, especially as they come with no hidden agenda. But, those that do get exposed for having a hidden agenda need to be taken to task and their contracts immediately terminated, along with international exposure.
An African government, like any other government, can decide on its own destiny. It can approach that destiny in a prepared or an unprepared manner. Yet, when it decides on its own destiny, it suddenly discovers that it is not allowed to do so unless it is willing to pay the price of international condemnation, sanctions and isolation. Obviously, the UN does not want this to happen as their incompetent and corrupt peacekeepers will be without work. NGOs will, likewise, condemn this as they will be caught with reduced funding.
The African Union’s dismal performance is further testimony to this “strategy” of “train badly, lose easily”. But where does the blame lie and who benefits from this? One need look no further that the military-aid giving government.
I believe the time has come for African governments to look at a “no-strings-attached” professional PMC to train to their armed forces. The result will be a better trained and led armed force, increased stability and no international political-, financial-, and social blackmail threats to contend with.
My next post will take a look at the difference between strategy and tactics.
Added on 7 February 2009: Please see http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?art_id=nw20090207091706646C101041&set_id=1&click_id=68&sf= This illustrates, as a recent example, what I had written about. Poorly planned and Western encouraged to ensure even more problems in the Great Lakes area…no doubt the blame will be placed on the Ugandan Peoples Defence Force while the US military will claim its innocence at the incident. But until such time as African governments decide on their own destiny, these things will continue to happen.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
The art of strategy development – and it is an art – ought to give cognisance to technology but it should never be replaced with technology. Nor can poorly-developed strategies be rectified by adopting a technology-superior posture. This fallacy leads to a flawed military strategy and impacts negatively on the subsequent doctrine, operational level command structures and ultimately on the tactics to overcome an enemy.
In parallel with gadgets comes “troop surges” – another mistaken approach to winning wars. Both of these “concepts” create a false sense of security and raise false battlefield expectations. When these expectations are not met, questions are directed at the wrong causes for mission-failure.
Many strategists and planners view the modern-day battlefield as a giant computer screen and the battles nothing other than a detached computer game. This game, however, costs lives and the more reliance the forces have on technology, the more they seem to get stuck in a rut, unable to seize the initiative or adapt to rapidly changing battlefield scenarios.
Whereas technology ought to be regarded as a realistic force-multiplier and casualty-reducer, it is not a primary approach to warfare. Gadgets and technology do not replace disciplined, well-trained and well-led men – they merely enhance their mission-success and open other options for engaging the enemy. The belief that technological gadgets will make war faster, more efficient, more precise and more decisive is proving to be somewhat erroneous. Gadgetry does not constitute the “magic bullet” to winning a war.
The fixation on technological superiority and its associated gadgets has led to a decline in discipline, training, leadership and battle drills and subsequently, a neglect of the human and psychological dimensions of war. Soldiers are no longer prepared for battle. Their belief that their gadgets will allow them to win is a doomed appraisal of the coming battle. When their gadgets and technology fail, their fighting spirit rapidly declines, unit cohesion is lost and morale is negatively affected.
Whereas it can be argued that both strategy and gadgetry are focussed on achieving a defined goal, the two concepts employ vastly different approaches. On the modern battlefield, technology ought to be used to enhance tactics – and not to define strategy.
The character of warfare, present and future, is continually changing. These changes are brought about by the changing weaponry, technology, counter-measures and so forth. For soldiers to cope under these unpredictable circumstances, they need to be well-trained thus allowing them to make the necessary battlefield adjustments to survive and win the battles.
Despite all the technological advancements that have been made and the gadgets available, basic intelligence on the enemy is still lacking. This has led to planners misunderstanding the nature of the looming battle and underestimating the enemy. Appreciation and plans become based on guess work. Yet, the enemy appear to learn from their mistakes and they use technology to enhance their tactics – not to determine their strategy.
It is time for the modern military machine to go back to the very basics of warfare. The enemy, his weapons and combat capabilities need to be fully appreciated and understood. Battle appreciations and plans need to be based on realistic assessments of the fighting forces that will be committed to battle. Technology must be realistically factored into all tactical plans but it should never become the driving force behind the tactics.
Nor should “strategy” ever be substituted by “gadgetry”.