About Me

My Photo
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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

IS AN IFV AN MPV/MRAP OR VISA VERSA?

I have noticed a disturbing trend in today’s counter insurgency (COIN) orientated conflicts – IFV’s are being deployed as MPVs/MRAPs and visa versa. Whereas this is not only a serious deployment error, it poses a grave danger to the lives of the occupants of the IFVs and MPVs/MRAPs.

Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) were developed to allow infantrymen to accompany armour formations in relative safety, debus close to or on the objective and provide some protection to the Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) accompanying them. IFVs are also referred to as Mechanised Infantry Combat Vehicles (MICVs). The infantrymen associated with these vehicles are referred to as “mechanised infantrymen” and they accompany armoured formations into battle.

IFVs provide better armour protection to the occupants than normal Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), are equipped with heavy weapons such as 20mm or 30mm cannons and some IFVs allow the infantrymen to engage targets with their assault rifles by means of firing ports. The heavy armament allows the vehicle to act as a direct fire-support base for the infantrymen once they have debussed from their IFVs and are fighting through the objective or holding ground of tactical importance.

Despite the improved armour IFVs have, they are not built to withstand blasts from landmines, off-route mines and IEDs. They are designed and built to accompany conventional mechanised forces and add to the shock-effect of the armoured attack and not operate against unconventional forces in a piece-meal manner.

In contrast, the Mine Protected Vehicle/Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MPV/MRAP) is designed to transport troops in areas that have a high probability of small-arms ambushes, landmines, off-route mines and roadside IEDs. However, there are design parameters that need to be considered when developing MPVs/MRAPs. These include size, weight, blast- and ballistic protection and so forth.

The MPV/MRAP is not an IFV, but infantrymen can engage the enemy with their weapons from these vehicles. Additionally, these vehicles often make use of a turret-mounted weapon such as a 12,7mm or a 20mm machine gun. The function of the MPV/MRAP is to transport troops to a debussing point from where the troops will locate and engage the enemy on foot. As such, these vehicles remain within the realm of motorised infantry and are vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns.

Both IFVs and MPVs/MRAPs - be they tracked or wheeled - have good cross-country mobility. This in itself ought to be exploited by the forces using these vehicles and they should remain off the existing roads, making use of the off-road capabilities of the vehicles. (We referred to this as “bundu-bashing”).

These vehicles, despite their protection, have very specific deployment tactics and when road-bound, should be accompanied by combat engineers who sweep the road for mines and IEDs, the sappers in turn being protected by infantrymen who follow a definite formation. There is a specific drill and tactic the sappers follow in order to ensure the road is clear of all threats. Counter-ambush drills are applied as soon as a threat appears imminent.

Obstacles such as urban areas, defiles, mountainous terrain and so forth also require the adjustment of tactics in order to minimise ambushes, mines, IEDs and anti-tank weapon threats. It also requires an understanding and “reading” of the terrain itself and how the enemy may exploit it to achieve his aims.

In the South African border war context, MPVs/MRAPs were developed after taking note of lessons learnt in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe conflict. It was realised that soft-skinned vehicles cannot be effectively up-armoured using sandbags and metal plates. It was due to these lessons learnt that true MPVs/MRAPs such as the Casspir, Buffel, Kwevoel and others were born. In turn, the South African Police’s counter-insurgency unit known as “Koevoet” pioneered the use of the MPV/MRAP as an offensive vehicle, but they remained off roads whenever possible and didn’t use the vehicle as a traditional IFV. Indeed, the latest generation MPV/MRAP known as the Puma M26 is a classic example of this type of vehicle.

The SADF used its MPVs/MRAPs extensively to keep pressure on the enemy, conduct follow-up operations, transport troops to new deployment areas, escort convoys and such like. They were not used in a traditional mechanised infantry role.

IFVs, in turn, were deployed as elements of combat teams and battle groups and were not used piece-meal for COIN operations.

The trend of using IFVs as MPVs/MRAPs and visa versa is irresponsible and will simply present the enemy with easier targets, increase own forces casualties and thus boost enemy morale while reducing own morale.

The IFV is not an MPV/MRAP; the two vehicle-types are vastly different and should not be used interchangeably.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I AM BACK – AND A SMALL PROBLEM

Just a brief note to let you all know that I am back home again. Thank you for all the comments wishing me well on my small travel. I did not feel it warranted every good wish being posted but I sincerely thank those who sent them.

I seem to somehow have “lost” 2 comments to the previous posting. I am not sure why this has happened and I would be most grateful if you would repost your comments if you find that your comment has not been posted.

I know that there was one comment on “visual tracking” and senior officers reading the blog as well as one by Alex. They seem to have disappeared. It may be due to a fault of mine but it may also be that they were swallowed up by the ether.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON COUNTERING AN INSURGENCY (Part 4)

As I’ll be going away again for a few days, I leave you with my final thoughts on the COIN conflict:

1. All wars are fought to be won. The COIN conflict, whether we chose to call it an unconventional war, a small war, an asymmetrical war or whatever – remains a war. At its conclusion, there will be only one victor. The victor will be the force that has the support of the local population.
2. The fight must be taken to the insurgent. This means hunting him down and attacking him in areas where he believes he is safe. This also includes conducting pre-emptive strikes across international borders if necessary.
3. To conduct effective hearts-and-minds campaigns, the area needs to be stabilised. That means it must be free of insurgents – and kept that way. Without security there can be no stability. Without stability, there can be no effective hearts-and-minds or development.
4. COIN forces are engaged in fighting an ideology – an ideology that is aimed at turning the local population to support their cause. This will be done by propaganda, fear, coercion and terror. Security forces need to realise that their actions, especially when construed as negative towards the local population, will be exploited by the insurgents to strengthen their ideology.
5. The night belongs to the one who chooses to use it. Use it and deny the insurgent sleep, freedom of movement and the ability to function.
6. Attack the insurgent’s source of income. Without income, the insurgent loses his power to purchase, recruit and ultimately wage war.
7. Human intelligence in the form of agents and turned insurgents is crucial as they will be more successful at gathering vital intelligence than “outside” agents that have been inserted into an area.
8. Ground coverage in the form of men who understand the locals, their customs, beliefs, traditions, can communicate with them and so forth is crucial to developing an understanding of – and winning the confidence of – the human terrain the security forces will be operating in. This is an aspect that needs to be addressed as soon as possible once security forces enter an area.
9. The locals need an undertaking that they will be supported – and very importantly protected - if they turn against the insurgents.
10. Different sections of the population will support either the insurgents or the security forces but this choice is usually decided on by political reasons, fear and resentment or by promises of help and improvement of their lot.
11. Promises made to the local population must never be broken. This will merely turn them against the security forces.
12. Good intelligence is not gained by using physical force against the locals. The resultant fallout will lead to resentment and aid in the recruitment drive of the insurgents.
13. Security forces must never treat the locals as though they have been conquered. This will lead to resentment and additionally, assist insurgent recruitment. Viewing locals as “lesser beings” will add to the insurgent propaganda and recruitment drive.
14. When the security forces lose the support of the local population, the insurgency will gain strength and escalate.
15. Security forces must hold territory and deny entry into that territory by the insurgents.
16. COIN conflicts are not purely military in nature. They include a large political- and social involvement and as such the military plans and the socio-political plans should work towards a common goal.
17. Mission diversion should be avoided at all costs as it will weaken the focus of the security forces and strengthen the focus of the insurgents.
18. Routine movement of vehicles and men must be avoided at all times.
19. Roads must be swept for landmines by sappers before being used and the security force vehicles using those roads must be MPVs/MRAPs being used within their design parameters.
20. The government and security forces must give autonomy to the local chiefs. By removing their autonomy, their status is removed, resentment is bred and control is lost.
21. Infrastructure development must be in line with what the local population want and not what the government/security forces think they want.
22. Security forces must be able to out-gun the insurgent and strike hard and ruthlessly when targets are located. This does not, however, imply that locals must suffer the cross-fire or collateral damage.
23. Junior leaders must be encouraged to think. The COIN conflict remains a small unit war and as such the small unit leaders must be given the freedom to use their initiative.
24. The Principles of War remain applicable to COIN conflicts and must not be discarded or denigrated.
25. The use of the air weapon/air support must be coordinated and planned to work in conjunction with ground forces.
26. The locals will not support – or understand why the security forces are supporting – corrupt government officials.
27. Local forces need to be integrated into the security forces, trained and equipped and be treated as “equals”.

Ultimately, the COIN conflict is a battle between ideologies. Whoever can convince the local population that their cause is the better route to follow, will ultimately win the conflict.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON COUNTERING AN INSURGENCY (Part 3)

Developing the strategy to fight an insurgency in a third country should be based primarily on the assessment whether that conflict is in the national interests of the state considering such an action. However, if the State itself is engaged in such a conflict within its borders, it would naturally be in its interests to end the conflict as soon as possible. In both instances, this will require a significant shift in terms of strategy, doctrine and tactics.

Whereas COIN operations can buy time, prevent the whole-sale slaughter of civilians, allow the insurgents to be hunted down and destroyed, success is ultimately dependent on political reform and the establishment of a system of effective service delivery. If the government attempting these reforms is deemed incompetent or corrupt, the locals will be lost to the insurgents.

COIN campaigns tend to be protracted campaigns with the local population as the main target for insurgent propaganda and recruitment. Whereas the COIN forces should focus on clearing, securing, influencing and retaining/holding areas under the influence of the insurgents, the insurgents will attempt to reduce the operational footprint of the security forces whilst creating the perception that they have the larger operational footprint. In turn, the insurgents and their supporters will attempt to use the media to create the perception that the insurgents are “everywhere”. To build on this perceived footprint, insurgents will conduct bold raids/strikes into so-called safe areas such as bases, convoys and so forth.

By creating a safe area in which civil-military actions can successfully take place will provide a firm base for security forces to operate from into the adjacent area. This will, furthermore, allow the security forces to keep “one foot on the ground”, maintain initiative and momentum and not be caught off balance. If the traditional ink-spot strategy is followed, similar actions ought to take place before moving on the next area or “spot”. But, civil-military actions are doomed to failure if the local population does not accept and “buy-in” to the concept. Getting locals to buy-in to any concept is problematic if they are not homogenous in terms of ethnic and racial make-up.

It is vitally important that the local population feel that they are secure, not “the enemy” and not “conquered” by the security forces. This requires that security forces are well-versed in the customs and traditions of the locals in the area they are operating in in order not to offend or alienate the locals. Failure to abide by this very basic requirement will result in resentment from the locals and a desire to see the security forces leave their area. In turn, this may result in the locals siding with the insurgents. The insurgency may then become an insurrection.

Actions against the insurgents must be decisive, swift and ruthless. This requires both good intelligence and the deployment of small reconnaissance teams that are able to locate and call air support or fire force-type units to swiftly engage the insurgents. This will provide the security forces with the basic principles of flexibility, mobility, momentum, initiative and decisive actions. But, force levels need to remain high in secure areas to prevent the insurgents from enlarging their footprint into safe areas. To achieve this, security forces require the correct training, discipline and leadership.

Strategic communication lies at the core of successful command. Commanders ought to recognise the fact that every action, however small, will generate an effect on the operation and this effect will impact on the local population. This effect will alter perceptions and to many locals, perception equals the reality of the world they live in. When the locals realise that there is a desire to improve their lot, they will often start providing the security forces with intelligence on the insurgents. Others, who may have actively supported the insurgents, may also change their perception of the government and the security forces.

Counter insurgency campaigns are primarily foot-soldier campaigns. Whereas vehicles play a major role in the campaign, they should never be used as “mechanised forces” unless absolutely necessary. Vehicles create targets for IEDs and landmines and where possible, trooping and deployments should be achieved by the use of helicopters. The tendency of the modern soldier to want to remain on or close to a vehicle also reduces the footprint of the security forces in terms of area domination and restricts them to certain areas or channels. But there is a danger that this tendency or laziness may permeate through to base protection, guard duties and other essential protection services. In turn, this will embolden the insurgent to conduct strikes at security force bases and outposts.

Night operations are equally important in COIN ops. Again, these operations should not be conducted by vehicle-borne troops as vehicle noise and lights can be seen over great distances and alert the insurgents who can either prepare ambushes, lay IEDs/landmines or simply exfiltrate out of the area. Security forces need to remember that the night is neutral and can be exploited by either party.

The importance of the elders/chieftains who exercise control over the local population should never be negated or ignored. If these traditional leaders are not integrated into the civil-military plans, these programmes will fail and give initiative to the insurgents. When these programmes are underfunded, undermanned, lack control and focus, they are doomed to failure. Penny-pinching does not win a COIN conflict.

Incentive programmes towards the local population such as rewards for actionable intelligence as well as protection and support for insurgents who lay down their arms need to be considered.

Poor strategies, a lack of leadership and focus as well as the incorrect deployment of security forces will fail to isolate the insurgents from the local population. This is due to the fact that insurgents remain unidentifiable until the population turns against them. This is the crux of any successful COIN campaign.

Without a definite national interest, a coherent strategy and poorly led, trained and equipped troops, the COIN conflict will become a graveyard for those engaging in it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

MANY THANKS…

Having finally arrived back home, I was somewhat surprised (pleasantly though) to switch on my computer and find so many messages from around the world wishing me good luck and a safe journey and return.

Additionally, my email inbox was – and still is – groaning under the load of mail that came in during my absence. This is one battle I am winning albeit somewhat slowly.

Whereas I truly appreciate everyone’s good wishes, I will not be posting all of the messages I received - not because they are of no value but because I view them as “private”.

My sincerest thanks to all of you who sent messages.