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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.

Friday, July 23, 2010

LEAVING THE SHORE BUT MISSING THE BOAT

When the political leadership commits the armed forces to a conflict or a war, one would assume that the “homework” was done ... and that the scope of the mission would not be misleading. Once the political commitment has been made, the military’s primary mission is to end the conflict or war as quickly as possible – not to change its mission before it has achieved its aim.

It is, therefore, with great interest that I have been reading numerous articles and blog postings on recent conflicts and wars, especially those relating to Counter Insurgency Operations (COIN Ops). What strikes me as odd is that there are some authors who regard these types of operations as “new” and who, in turn, are calling for a “new” approach and doctrine to combating an insurgency – an approach that assumes the primary role of the military is to “build the nation”.

Insurgencies are not a new military phenomenon and they are common-place in Africa. Revolt against the constituted authority is often encountered by people who wish to replace the government with one of their own and for reasons of their own.

Most of the African insurgencies are – or have been - associated with megalomaniacs who want nothing but total power ie, Savimbi, Kony, Mugabe, Sankoh, Taylor and others. These “leaders” will stop at nothing to achieve their aims and, once in power, will do everything possible to cling to power. Their primary weapon becomes terror against the local population in order to force their support – or subdue them. This can include murder, rape, torture, kidnapping of children, plunder and so forth.

Insurgencies are also launched by proxy forces to further the aims and ambitions of one government against another. This gives a level of deniability and ensures that political aims are furthered without committing government forces to the conflict or war. Africa has numerous examples of proxy forces – usually supported by foreign powers - engaged in such conflicts and wars.

Nation building and ceasefires will not end these conflicts. They never have and they never will. Nor will negotiation achieve anything much apart from gaining time, unless done from a position of complete strength.

The armed forces are there to conduct military operations, operations that will involve killing those that are trying to destabilise the government and terrorise the local population with armed force. Once committed to the conflict or war, the political leadership should do everything possible to support their armed forces – and accept that killing will take place. For politicians to change the military’s mission mid-stride shows a lack of certainty, poor political planning and a lack of honesty, political leadership and direction.

Ironically, when the troops accomplish their mission with aggression, they are condemned by the very politicians who sent them there and they are tried and found guilty in the media. Have those that are so quick to point fingers not realised that “war” is synonymous with death, killing and destruction?

Committing the armed forces to a conflict implies that there will be casualties. It implies that the armed forces must kill or capture the enemy and break its ability to continue the conflict or war. It also implies that there will be civilians caught up in the conflict. Whereas collateral damage is to be minimised at all costs at all times, the reality is that it is sometimes unavoidable.

The attempts by the political masters to develop new theories of war based mainly on a lack of understanding and experience results in poor strategies, fraught with political interference and unworkable RoE. This problem is amplified when these so-called plans are hatched with little or no intelligence or when the political masters hint that the enemy will be rapidly overcome once hostilities commence. It seems as though some senior officers are only too happy to accept the constraints placed on their forces – and exacerbate the misleading beliefs on the enemy - in order to protect their military careers and further their own political ambitions. The greatest danger to the armed forces is when the military leadership wants to play politics, build nations and call for ceasefires – and forget to give military leadership to their men.

Conversely, the enemy has one but one aim: take power by inflicting the maximum casualties to the armed forces and use the media to give them the publicity they need. The enemy knows this will, additionally, lead to a weakening of resolve and morale on the homefront.

The actions and tactics the insurgents carry out will be aimed at preventing direct contact with the military whilst ensuring maximum attrition of the armed forces – and coercing the local population. To achieve this, use will be made of sabotage actions, ambushes, raids, pseudo-operations, landmines, stand-off mortar bombardments, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), torture, kidnappings, terror and so forth.

The armed forces may recruit members of the local population to assist them in countering the insurgency and to act as not only soldiers but as guides, interpreters, trackers and so on. However, a lack of sophistication by the COIN forces’ approach to the local society and its culture, traditions, religion and so forth will present an ideal opportunity for exploitation by the insurgent forces. Furthermore, poor vetting practices will allow insurgents into the ranks of the COIN forces, biding their time to strike from within thus furthering effecting morale and increasing distrust.

If politicians lack the intelligence necessary to formulate their plans and the political will to see the end of what they have committed to, deny the troops the equipment needed to accomplish their mission(s) and continually interfere with military missions and military strategy, true military success will be a very difficult to achieve. But even this hard slog will have been in vain if the political backbone and integrity is missing.

42 comments:

John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

Another great topic for discussion and dissemination.

I do not believe I have ever seen backbone and integrity for political leaders mentioned in the same sentence unless it was truly sarcasm.

More thoughts to come.

Regards,
John

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The lack of backbone and political integrity endangers everything we believe in or stand for, John. Sadly, these two vital traits seem to be missing at times. Although I no longer serve as a member of the armed forces, I have great empathy for troops operating in conflict areas as they can only operate within the restrictions imposed on them.

When politicians think that they can resolve conflicts over tea and biscuits, they have really missed the boat.

Rgds,

Eeben

tyhz1995 said...

Good evening,Mr.Barlow I think the problem chiefly lies with the paucity of military men in positions of power.An ex-officer has a realistic viewpoint of the world at large and can make germane decisions in times of conflict.The political animal is an innate exhibitionist totally at odds with the spartan stock that comprise combat units faced with literal life and death situations on a daily basis.War is of course exceedingly ugly business and it is better if the public at large knows little.In my view counterinsurgency is quite close to police work in that for success it depends on assets and snitches.Also in my opinion successful intelligence is typically dependent on how much cash is available to turn these assets.There are other inducements of course but things generally devolve to price.Furthermore despite my contempt for some enemies,one cannot kill 'em all.Makes too many enemies later.In closing the west is rapidly losing it's way,in a misguided attempt to atone for past alleged sins they attached creedence to falsehood and have elevated idiocy to high art.Witness the TX state rep that mentioned two Vietnams existing harmoniously.The mind reels.That is all.-Tyler

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I suspect that you are correct, Tyler. Instead of politicians politicking and soldiers soldiering, they are trying to do each other’s jobs. Soldiers do not necessarily make good politicians and politicians do not make good soldiers. I know there have been exceptions – but they were exceptions to the rule. However, the nature of war appears to be misunderstood by some politicians and soldiers – hence the continual interference and confusion.

COIN is closely akin to a policing action in the early stages. Once the initiative is gained, the nature of the conflict changes. This is largely due to the fact that the military has better mobility and firepower to hunt the insurgents down. But, again the forces need to have the initiative to succeed at COIN. Part of the success will lie in depriving the enemy room to manoeuvre and cutting off his financial supply. Without this, the enemy cannot function effectively – nor can we.

Good intelligence does require funding. But, it is not purely down to the cash available. If intelligence is viewed as a long-term process dependant on planning, the time will be there to position sources to do their tasks. When time is limited, there are other approaches that can be followed.

I enjoyed your comment: “...attached credence to falsehood and have elevated idiocy to high art.” I think that says it all.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alan said...

Politicians of today seek not victory, but an appeasement which provides the illusion of an honourable outcome for both sides. A fellow officer and great countryman of yours once wrote:

"We desire a peace that will be honourable to both parties. And, as I understand this document, we are leaving honour behind us, for we are now not only surrendering our independence, but we are allowing every burgher to be fettered hand and foot. Where is the "honourable peace" for us? If we conclude peace, we have to do it as men who have to live and die here. We must not agree to a peace which leaves behind in the hearts of one party a wound that will never heal."

Regards, Alanse

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for that great quote, Alan. For the life of me I cannot recall who said it although I have heard it before. Please put me out of my misery.

Rgds,

Eeben

Joe1172 said...

Hi Eeben,
very good article that points out where the problems of winning today's armed conflicts come from.

I cannot speak about all country's armed forces, but in Europe these days it is pretty normal that a military career in a General's or Admiral's rank is nearly impossible if an officer does not have the right connections and relationships to leading political parties and individuals. That creates a dependency which can be critical, especially in times of war. Generals are not promoted because of their performance and experience as military leaders but because they talk the right plitical correct talk in public to please the political leaders and the published (not public) opinion.

Appeasement Ideology replaces common sense and facts, necessary actions to win a conflict are replaced with popular "nation building" ideas and the media of the good human pacifist beeings are doing their part as well. Especially the media, that is my opinion, is responsible for the failure and negative vibes as war is very unpopular expecially in the western nations.

The recent publishing on Wikileaks did their part to make it even worse. I wonder about the articels in the media related to the published ISAF documents. The worst enemy of our troops on the ground is not the armed insurgent on the battleground, but the spineless political leaders of our countries and their strongest allies: The mainstream media.

The good thing about the whole situation: Quite a lot intelligent people are gatvol of the mainstream media and publish their own views and opinions. There are more and more internet blogs (like yours) who do NOT repeat the same rubbish again and again, but write facts and judge the situation and events realistically and NOT based on popular ideolegies and wishful thinking. Thanks for that!

Greets from Cape
Joe

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I believe it is sad that some senior officers are more concerned with their political careers than the lives of the men they command, Joe. However, I recall some senior SADF officers (not many though!) who believed that their rank entitled them to some political brownie-points – or they got their ranks because they were related to someone, belonged to a special political group or attended church with someone of import. They were also rather absent when the lead started flying.

Common sense seems to be lacking at times. We watch and listen/read what the media sometimes reports and later, then the true story breaks, we realise that we have been hoodwinked – but the aim was nevertheless achieved. You are very correct – together with some politicians, this unholy crowd is the cause of more problems that solutions.

I have not read everything re the leaks on Wikileaks but I suspect that there are numerous documents that were over-classified. However, there will be some that at best can be regarded as sensitive and I suspect that those documents will alter the operating environment the troops are in.
I am amazed that a 22-year old had access to so many documents...I suspect that he had a lot of help in endangering his own men.

Enjoy the Cape of Good Hope!

Rgds,

Eeben

John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

Good points by all - I have finished the WP "expose" on the growing top secret world here in the US in response to the 9/11 terror attacks here. It is actually quite appropriate to this thread as well.

If I may I would like to post my thoughts in both places. The teaser is there is no baseline inside to measure against and there is a feeling in the back of my mind I have read a similar series in the 80's during the Reagan military build-up. Some excellent points, that those of us who follow along knew in 2004 at least, but if the real story is needed blogs such as yours and others have to be read and digested to understand what is going on as citizens.

The media definitely will not tell the whole story that needs to come out - part of allowing politicians to act without spines and leave those defending our freedoms cut-off from moral and physical support (financial, material etc.). The politician as a whole tends to give back hard gotten gains from conflict to appease their thin constitution. Since open conflict, in my mind, stems from the failure of politicians to do their job (gaining as much, if not all, from your opponent without firing a shot) it follows that they would shortchange those who may be asked to give their lives to cover their shortcomings.

Regards,
John

Robby said...

Joe....It's only history repeating itself

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3_EXqJ8f-0&feature=player_embedded#!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I actually thought it was a bit sensationalist, John. Although I am not acquainted with the USA’s Intelligence systems, I can recall reading for years about the intelligence monster in the US. Personally, I have no problem with a large intelligence service – if it works.

Again, speaking from a personal point of view (SADF/EO) there were elements in the media who thrived on errors and who would milk it for all it was worth. I at that time suspected that they were either acting as agent provocateurs or that they simple tried to use their positions to ferment more problems. (I have no issue with an objective media...)

Like here, I can only surmise that in the US, there are some journalists who abuse their positions and give undue credit to some politicians. If the end result is ridiculing those who serve, from the most basic security task to the most covert operator, then they feel that they have made a contribution to “freedom of speech”. What they fail to recognise is that once politicians have failed in their politicking, it is the soldier on the ground who becomes their final guarantee of freedom – a freedom they are keen to abuse.

There are some really good blogs out there that do some sterling reporting.

Your comment: “they would shortchange those who may be asked to give their lives to cover their shortcomings” is spot-on. Well said.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the link, Robby.

Whereas the distinguished Gen Butler made many points I fully agree with, I would however not agree with everything he said. Of course, there are those that fuel conflicts wherever they see an opportunity – and they are the real dogs of war.

The average soldier who has been there and seen the devastation of war does not wish for it to continue. He must however do his duty and see it through to the end – if not for himself then for those who are at home. The vast majority of soldiers are there to protect what they believe in. Many of them die with that belief. If they were not there, who knows what the world would look like now. If we had no soldiers to fight the enemy of that time, where would WW1 and WW2 – if it ever happened - have led us?

Granted, there are those that exploit it to the hilt. Unfortunately, they remain protected by those in power who rely on that support to remain in power. Politicians are quick to call on the military to resolve their inability to politic and then, in turn, forget the very men they sent to war. This, more than anything, gets my goat. Maybe every politician who calls for war should be made to lead the battles.

My thoughts: Unfortunately, wars drag on because the politicians try to play “general” – or they need the war to access resources and keep those in business who put them in power. Witness Africa where wars can be easily ended yet drag on for decades at times. There to me lies the problem.

Rgds,

Eeben

John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

To further comment on the recent WP series - and why our politicians tend to miss the boat. Lack of spine has driven a good portion of our political leasers to be purely poll driven on the short term. Due to a lack of moral clarity (spine) they tend to follow the breezes. This is why the WP series is rather dangerous.
After going through it several times the authors tend to quote numbers without any reference to a baseline starting position. The quoted numbers do not tell us where the agencies started. The numbers are staggering but they have always been so. Only a few times does the writer actually tell us the changes. The story just seemed to be directed at shocking people into some sort of trance about our intelligence services becoming some sort of monster ready to eat the country from within. This is an old meme.
There were a few nuggets in there though - the inexperience of the analysts now is right out of your thoughts - I do believe they do not know who they are assessing, so mistakes are made. The notes about different operating systems within each branch are straight out of any office environment - the WP must be a real insulated workspace.
The note about the ODNI not having budgetary/personel decision making powers is well known - and a very bad block to put into the intelligence world.
Overall I get the feeling the writer was duped - but the piece has people talking and reacting. Now polls will drive politicians to just simply cut budgets and not really reform the system. The political class will show that it has missed the boat yet again.

Regards,
John

Robby said...

I know where you are coming from brother as I said before we are old school where honesty and integrity meant something and being a soldier was a noble proffession by up holding those ideals, sadly as Smedley said that fine trait has been has been hijacked by the money interests.

Smedley said the only two reasons that could justify war were in defense of invasion and protection of the Bill Of Rights.

A little American history the Bill Of Rights came about because Americas founders knew government without restrictions would get out of control the Bill Rights tells governments what not only what they can't do but they need to defend as their mandate.

They kept it short much like the 10 Commandents there were 10 Amendments

* First Amendment – Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause; freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly; right to petition


* Second Amendment – Militia (United States), Sovereign state, Right to keep and bear arms.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. [7]

* Third Amendment – Protection from quartering of troops.

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

* Fourth Amendment – Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

* Fifth Amendment – due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, eminent domain.


* Sixth Amendment – Trial by jury and rights of the accused; Confrontation Clause, speedy trial, public trial, right to counsel

* Seventh Amendment – Civil trial by jury.

* Eighth Amendment – Prohibition of excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

* Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

* Tenth Amendment – Powers of States and people.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it t o the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Sad to say in America today all of these rights have been usurped by the military industrial complex ... a true soldier would not be fighting a war on terror rather he would be defending the thing he swore a oath to defend against all enemies both foreign and domestic

Alex said...

Hello Eeben,

I'm afraid I've been rather derelict in visiting the blog regularly of late (come to think of it I think I said something similar the last time I commented as well...) This is indeed a fascinating and highly pertinent topic in the current situation and when I have more time I will endeavour to return and post my thoughts, such as they are.

For the time being I'm afraid I have a somewhat more selfish motive in contacting you today. A while ago I asked if you would be willing to provide some comments or answer some questions for my dissertation, which I'm writing on 'mercenary' forces in a modern context, particularly focusing on Africa since the 1960s and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've finally gotten around to starting my research, although it's fairly charitable to refer to what doodles I have so far as 'research', and as such I was hoping that when the time comes you'd still be willing to offer a few thoughts if I had particular questions or issues where your expertise and experience would be useful. I plan on using EO as a central tenet of my project, and the fact that you make yourself available for any dolt like me to hassle you for comments makes it all the more useful!

If I may assume for a moment that you'd still be willing to assist me a bit, what's the best way for me to contact you? I could give you my email address (although I'd rather not post it openly on the blog if at all possible) or I have no problem simply using this forum if it wouldn't clog up the comments too much, as a lot of my questions would probably be irrelevant to any recent posts you have.

Anyway, I have a way to go before I'm anywhere near knowing what would be worth troubling you with. However if there are any other sites or forums or anything you could recommend where I could contact people who are currently or have worked in a private military/security capacity that would be incredibly useful. Any books you happen to know of covering the areas I mentioned (especially Africa) would be very useful, as my bibliography is rather lacking and I imagine you're much more familiar with stuff that has been written about your own continent and profession than I ever could be.

And of course if you have any questions you want answering about this I'd be more than happy to oblige.

Regards

Alex

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Good comments, and I agree with you, John. Shocking people with sometimes questionable comments/facts can have a massive impact on readers and listeners. However, if the basic principle of “centralised control” is not followed, any organisation can become a monster.

People also tend to believe what they want to believe and not necessarily the truth. One can take the most basic of things, put a spin on it and you have an entirely different story.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the lesson on the Bill of Rights, Robby. As you may know, it is not something we ever studied at school.

Yes, General Smedley made a good point. But sometimes, to protect those things we hold dear, we need to launch a pre-emptive strike before the enemy can strike us. IS that not better than being reactive and attacking only once he has attacked us?

I ask because as you may know, my background was founded on exactly those thoughts.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I truly apologise Sir47 – I deleted your comment instead of posting it. My apologies to you. But I still have your comment and it read as follows:

African tyrants are certainly dangerous but certain mercenary are also a psychopath such Colonel Calan

Yes, you are correct. Just as what there are tyrants – and they exist not only in Africa – so too are there madmen out there. However, “Colonel Callan” certainly fits the bill of madman who led some men to their deaths – others he simply caused himself.

One does however need to distinguish between professional and unprofessional. Just as what there are a few PMCs out there that try to be professional , there are many unprofessional ones. Again, there lies the danger.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I will, time willing, still help you, Alex. If I don’t respond immediately, it is because I am unavailable.

You can send your email address on this forum and I shall not publish it.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

South Africa, like many African countries, is not the place of doom and gloom as many make it out to be, Private. Of course there are some places one would not go but there are likewise places in the US or Europe one cannot go safely.

My schedule is unfortunately not my own to determine and sometimes I leave at very short notice. So, it really depends when you are planning to come to SA.

I too will view it as an honour to meet you.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

Hi Eeben The BOR applies to us all it limits what government can't do to the rights granted to us by a higher power (long story) ...I understand fully the concept of pre-emtive strikes however as you have pointed out that is based on honest intel ...and not intel to fit a political agenda as seems to be the case for most if not all of Americas wars.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I can see the value of a BoR if it is applied correctly, Robby.

When intelligence is bent to suit political aims you can rest assured things will go wrong.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I doubt whether I will be around at the end of month, Private. Keep me posted.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

Eeben I think we have to make a distinction preemption in the case of Afica is completely different to the current position of American preemption.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I suppose you are correct, Robby. Whereas the conduct of pre-emptive operations can yield both tactical and strategic success, these operations require exceptional intelligence in order to ensure that they accomplish the aim and keep collateral damage at a minimum.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

After spending 3 Trillion dollars I can say without question Americas policy of preemption in both Iraq and Afghanistan is a complete failure

sir47 said...

Hello sir barlow I have finally succeeds has to find your book on amazon since the time.when I wait for it I am going to be able to plunge inside I have just finished read Spicer the unorthodox soldier forward to reading against all odds.
I also wanted you ask a question what is what you have heard about the Old man alias Bob Denard?
Because in France there will be most war great lord in multiple battles has fault Africa?

Thank you in advance mister Barlow

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I can hardly argue against that, Robby.

But that amount of money, along with questionable success begs the question: Wasn’t the entire strategy flawed?

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I still feel bad about deleting your comment, Sir47 – again my apologies.

I am pleased that you managed to find the book and I hope your efforts were worth it all.

Bob Denard, along with men like “Black Jack” Jean Schramme, certainly made a name for themselves. However, Denard had the quiet backing of the French govt and the French intelligence services and they operated primarily in old French colonies. That does not detract from their efficiency but it certainly made it easier for them to operate.

Ultimately, up until the time of his death, he was seen as one of the most famous mercenaries to have walked the earth in modern times.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Unfortunately, sooner would not be possible for me, Private. I already have numerous commitments to contend with.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

Eeben...Wasn’t the entire strategy flawed?.....in a word "yes" then again history suggests they may of wanted it to fail :-)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Whereas one can never predict the success of a strategy, there are certain things that ought to put up red lights, Robby.

Generally, strategies become flawed due to poor or non-existent intelligence, arrogance and a lack of options. As you point out, history may yet prove that those involved in the development of the strategy may actually have wanted it to fail.

Again, my sympathy lies with the soldiers who are either sent to their deaths or sent to do something that they, due to political interference, are actually unable to see through to its final conclusion.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

Yep...Old men have always sent its youth to fight for their political agendas until that stops you will keep reading stuff like this

Suicide grows in Army ranks: Editorial

Sometimes, the fallout of war on the warriors isn't known for a long time. That is not the case for some of the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If they haven't yet captured the attention of the American public, the suicide rates in the U.S. Army have sounded alarms among veterans groups and - belatedly - the active-duty military.

The Army suicide rates doubled from 2001 to 2006, even as civilian rates of suicides remained the same. Last year, 160 soldiers killed themselves. More than 1,700 soldiers made attempts on their lives.

Time magazine reported that from the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 until last summer, 761 soldiers had died in combat in that country, but 817 soldiers killed themselves over the same period.

http://www.news-press.com/article/20100809/OPINION/8090317/1015/Suicide-grows-in-Army-ranks--Editorial

Simon said...

Dear Eeben

I just encountered your blog yesterday, and I have been reading it with enthusiasm. I'm about to begin a postgraduate degree in War Studies at KCL, and I focus mainly on studying COIN and counterterrorism. Your writings here are highly relevant to my interests.

My impression, on examining insurgency in the last century or so, is that politicians and officers alike forget quickly and generalise improperly. The methods the British used against the Boers--population control and the creation of roving, proactive small units--were absent entirely during the Arab Revolt, for example. When Wingate did eventually join with the Jews of Palestine to create counterguerilla units, his superiors in the military and political establishment shut him down despite his successes. Then, a few years later when it was the Jews who were waging an insurgency, the British once again made elementary errors through their brutality and atrocious intelligence infrastructure.

Charles de Gaulle, who should have been quite familiar with the effect of brutality on an occupied population having provoked it himself from the Nazis through his actions in the resistance, responded with similar brutality in Algeria. My limited understanding of the Algerian war was that French brutality may have led to military victory, but in the end led to political loss. The same could be said about the US in Vietnam.

All these scholars and politicos who talk about COIN as though it is something new are symptomatic of structural conditions we have in our military and political establishment. In my opinion, our military personnel tend towards choosing to use excessive force because soldiers on the ground are fighting for their lives. It may be that the best option for keeping the population are highly restrictive RoE, which should minimise collateral casualties, but what effect does that have on the morale of a soldier who sees the men who tried to kill him the day before but cannot engage until shot at first? Furtheremore, most military personnel seem to prefer "clean" and "honourable" fighting, to dirty wars against peasants. Is this perhaps why most regular infantry soldiers serve in generally constubulary roles while special forces carry out offensive actions? In any case, small wonder that American, British, Canadian, and other European militaries show resistance to leaving their idealised coneptions of a war between uniformed, organised, and generally professional forces.

In the meantime, the nature of our democracy is that politicans pander to the will of the public, and that public has a short attention span and gets its information from mass media. Is it any wonder that politicians have fickle support for long-term strategies over "decisive" action, and spews ignorance and guileful falsehoods?

I'd be keen to hear if you agree with me, and even more keen to hear if you have any ideas on how to maintain our democracy, maintain our professional militaries, and still overcome these problems.

Best Wishes
Simon

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A shocking statistic indeed, Robby. Thanks for passing it on to us.

No matter how sad yet selfish the act of suicide is, I do however believe that there are deeper underlying reasons why these soldiers take their own lives. I seem to recall once having read a rather detailed study on this subject in particular. I will see if I can find it.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

On a different topic ...EO get's mentioned in a positive light :-)

Blood Diamonds Farce

by Kieron E. Ryan

Naomi Campbell is in the ridiculous position of having to give testimony at the war crimes trial of former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor on the grounds that she received a blood diamond from him. One might question the company she keeps, but on the diamond issue she should tell her inquisitors to go to hell.

Blood Diamond was a fun movie and no doubt had elements of truth to it. Leonardo di Caprio’s South Africa accent was passable (actually he portrayed an ex-Rhodesian who had moved onto bigger, badder battles fighting the white African cause wherever that calling took him). His real crime was attempting to smuggle diamonds supposedly obtained by slave labour and destined for the grand arms bazaar that turned countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia into giant, open-air slaughter houses. A somewhat embarrassing sub-text to this story is that it was a company of South African mercenaries, called Executive Outcomes, that brought peace to Sierra Leone in the 1990s, allowing 300,000 refugees to return home safely before the World Bank forced the bankrupt government of the time to terminate its contract with the company.

http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig11/ryan-k1.1.1.html

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It sounds as though you are keen to begin your studies Simon. The best of luck to you.

For some strange reason, people who should know better seem to either ignore history or simply neglect to even read it. Thus many important lessons that remain relevant are missed – at great cost.

I agree entirely with your thoughts that many of them view COIN as something “new”. It is also almost as though they believe that by renaming these actions, it will unlock some mysterious clue on how to do it better.

In my view an insurgency and countering it (COIN) is but one element of Operations other than War (OOTW) as it is not all out war. It is merely a form of unconventional warfare and is characterised by offensive actions such as sabotage, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, intimidation, etc.

If one looks at British tactics during the Boer war, they very heavy-handed and included concentration camps where women and children were isolated from their men folk and starved, a scorched earth policy to destroy crops and livestock and the hunting down of the Boers who resisted them. Whereas this may have helped end the Boer War, it left a legacy of bitterness that is still very fresh in the minds of many Afrikaners. This illustrates the importance of not purposely alienating the population.

But whereas hearts-and-minds are important, I do not see this as an entirely military function. Sure, the military has a role to play but it ought to be a political responsibility more than a military one. The military ought to focus on identifying the trinity of gravity and aggressively attacking the other two elements that support the trinity, ie, funding and the insurgent leadership. If the approach is correctly done, and the political responsibility is taken seriously by the politicians, the insurgency will collapse.

Soldiers are trained to be aggressive and retaliate when threatened – usually with deadly force. If we curb their actions with restricted RoE, we attack the very essence of soldiering as well as their morale. This frustration and resentment soldiers will feel towards those who gave their orders can result in a major problem and manifest itself in other ways such as refusal to obey orders, questioning the reason for being there, a break-down in discipline, over-reacting towards the locals – anything that will serve as an outlet to their frustrations. This serves as excellent propaganda material for the enemy and something the mass media will thrive on, not to mention the adverse political fallout.

Poor strategies, especially where it concerns foreign deployments of troops seem to me to be the problem as they appear to not be very well thought out. The result is that the military is ill-prepared, poorly trained and ill-equipped for its mission(s).

Fighting an insurgent force requires a mind-shift I believe any well-trained soldier can do. Professional soldiers ought to be able to adapt to their environment and threat and take the fight to the enemy and that includes guerrilla and counter guerrilla actions. To be effective, they ought to employ every option in OOTW and supplement it with adaptive tactics, trackers, extensive night operations, follow-up operations, reconnaissance and pre-emptive strikes, etc.

I agree with your comment on the political tactics and the mass media. I suspect that that the policy makers and strategists manufacture a problem that does not exist, despite all indications to the contrary. This “problem” is then sold to the people by means of clever spin alluding that there is no other option to follow but to commit the armed forces – who must take the blame when things go wrong.

I am not the best person to ask re how to maintain a democracy. Hopefully some of our visitors may be able to give some valuable insights to you on this matter.

I do think you have touched on a matter which needs a closer examination.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Hmm, “somewhat embarrassing sub-text...” but he exonerated himself with “Today, we have a semblance of peace in these countries. Whether we like it or not, it was mercenaries who did the job in West Africa with the kind of resolve noticeably lacking by our peace-loving UN troops”

Yes, the World Bank appears to have had its own agenda by wanting us out of Sierra Leone. I think the resultant chaos suited them well – as it did some others.

Thanks for the link!

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

September through to December is not good for me, Private. I have several activities over that period that will take me away for times. As soon as a window opens, I shall let you know.

Rgds,

Eeben

Matthew Sinn said...

In the United States especially, the seduction of modern technology and the deceptive experience of "small wars" in Central America, the Persian Gulf, and the Balkans during the 1980s and 1990s have encouraged the very erroneous belief that surgical applications of military force can provide neat, cheap, short-term solutions to complex social problems in distant environments that we rarely take the time to understand. "War" has indeed become something other than "death, killing, and destruction" -- thus we often hear Israel condemned for "excessive" retaliation against HAMAS and Hezbollah, or worse still, the Lebanese government. Whatever one feels about the situation in Palestine, I think it can be agreed that deterrence does not work best on a 1:1 formula. There is no evidence to indicate that attacks against Israel will decrease so long as it returns rocket for rocket, bullet for bullet, and no more. Yet, in this day and age, we have come to the conclusion that human society should be past war. Instead, we have "security conflicts," and the side with the technological advantage is expected to prevail without inflicting civilian casualties, regardless of the environment in which the shooting is done.

I do want to build, Eben, if I may, on your comment that nation-building cannot eliminate insurgency. I agree. However, state-building can neutralize insurgencies by providing the security environment necessary to engage in nation-building. "Nation building," which like counter-insurgency is nothing new, is an objective that goes well beyond what the military, alone, can offer. When the state cannot provide physical security; when it cannot enforce contracts; and when it may simply be the lever by which one group exploits another, then it will be illegitimate, and the various nations that it purports to include will tend to be divided. There will be unrest at best, chaos at worst. The trouble is that, throughout history, state formation has tended to be bloody: there is always a "loser," and there is almost always bloodshed. The various peoples in the West spent hundreds of years slaughtering one another before settling into something resembling democratic harmony.

Real solutions are almost always local. The organizations best placed to gather intelligence, conduct policing, and make guarantees to civilians are those which are homegrown. Unfortunately, either because they are led by ruthless men who use their offices and resources for personal enrichment, or because they have emerged in societies characterized by internal animosity and violent competition, handing our local allies the means to fight their own wars has all the appeal of leading an angry bull into a china shop. The American experience of sustaining the Republic of South Vietnam is a tragic monument to the difficulty of selecting competent, reliable allies, and then living with -- and sometimes accepting responsibility for -- the end results.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

As previously mentioned, time is not always my own to use but I am not offended Private. My hours and days are linked to those of my clients and they always have first-choice on me.

When a window looms, I shall be sure to let you know.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

In many ways, it’s like telling a boxer fighting a championship bout “you may only hit your opponent after he hits you”, Matthew. That is a certain way to lose a fight.

I believe that an over-reliance on technology has actually placed us at a disadvantage. Whereas its application can play a major role and giving us an advantage, it will not replace basic fighting skills on the ground, nor will it provide the combat support soldiers truly need to close with and defeat the enemy.

There appears to be a misguided belief that using technology will enable us to fight a “clean” war and therefore as you so aptly put it “"War" has indeed become something other than "death, killing, and destruction"...This misguided belief will still cost the West dearly.

Your comment that state building creates a climate conducive to nation building is spot-on. But, as you also point out, this is not really the military’s responsibility. This also implies that the adage “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” may hold some water but we need to agree that there is only temporary truth in that comment as both parties have differing objectives and motives. If we look at recent world events where stable or semi-stable governments have been overthrown (to use the euphemism “regime change”) – almost always with foreign backing – the end result has been chaos as one government that appeared to have been stable was replaced with one that has become corrupt. I know that in Africa this has been especially so.

Local and regionalised solutions are far more effective that foreign imposed solutions. But these solutions often attract negative sentiments as they are not as “pure” as foreign imposed solutions. They take cognisance of local and regional beliefs, traditions, cultural and so forth which many outsiders may view as harsh and not fully recognising human rights to the point where the bad guy is actually made out to be the good guy.

These political decisions however place the military in a position where it is damned if it wins and damned if it loses.

Rgds,

Eeben