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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.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

THE DANGER OF CREATING (MIS)PERCEPTIONS

An exit strategy can only be effectively implemented if an operation has been successfully executed.

In turn, an operation can only be considered successful if:

• All planned operational objectives have been met or surpassed
• The enemy’s trinity of gravity has been destroyed (not merely disrupted in the short-term)
• The enemy has lost the will to fight
• The enemy is forced to negotiate from a point of weakness.

The exit strategy is, of course, always part of the overall strategy (or should be) and is indeed, from a military point-of-view, implemented upon the successful conclusion of combat operations. It is therefore usually the final phase of the military strategy. Thereafter follows the continuation of the political strategy aimed at ensuring stable governance, political advancement and so forth.

Military operations that are undertaken without an exit strategy are nothing other than poorly planned military operations as all operations have a beginning and an end. Similarly, all combat operations have a beginning and an end, whether it is a patrol, an attack or a retrograde operation.

When strategists run out of options and hurriedly discuss force level “draw-downs” and “troop surges” it becomes apparent that the strategy was both incomplete and flawed from the very beginning. Had there been a comprehensive sound strategy to begin with, these types of comments would not have been necessary.

The problem is, in my opinion, amplified when it is coupled to an uncoordinated, poorly-planned media strategy. By exclaiming the surges and draw-downs before the successful conclusion of military operations, we add value to and boost the enemy’s propaganda efforts. We both trumpet to the enemy that we planned badly and need more troops or actually tell the enemy that we are unable to sustain our combat operations and therefore need to withdraw.

Either way we bolster enemy morale and embolden their commanders who in turn become even more daring in their actions as we have presented them with additional options. This impact on own forces morale needs no explaining, this apart from having fewer troops in theatre to deal with the enemy.

Had we initially planned in depth and ensured our strategy was intelligence driven, these actions would simply happen without unnecessary fanfare and in the process, may even catch the enemy off guard.

But an additional danger we create for ourselves is alienating those members of the local population who remained neutral and did not actively support the enemy. The local population’s desire to survive, despite all the hardships they may face, will encourage them to, if not actively, then at least covertly, begin to side with and support the enemy. This survivalist approach to supporting the enemy, who thanks to our poor plans, may begin with providing snippets of information and can escalate to assisting in areas such as logistics, communications, early warning and so forth. It can even boost enemy recruitment efforts. This switch of support alters our operational landscape drastically.

In short, whether true or not, we actually tell the enemy that he has won the fight. Again, the psychological impact needs no explaining. Bolstered by what he perceives to be our defeat, the enemy will begin to take control of the local population, especially in areas not extensively patrolled, thus adding to the environmental hostility our troops must operate in.

On the homefront, these perceptions may initially be well received but at their heart lays a certain amount of expectation that, if not met, creates the belief that a deception has taken place. This can lead to anger and pressure to withdraw our forces, even if it implies a withdrawal without much honour.

Conversely, by creating these perceptions, real or imagined, it seems little thought is given to the negative influence this may have on our own operations and how these perceptions may endanger our troops.

I believe this is irresponsible and nothing short of madness.

26 comments:

Alan said...

Eeben:

A most excellent synopsis. Unfortunately our Headman, like others before him, wills that we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and leave Afghanistan in shame. He cares not vir die jong soldate who pays the price in blood. Your betrayal continues while we now ourselves are betrayed.

Regards, Alan

XeOperator said...

If I understood correctly, this is perhaps happening and has happened in the USA media especially. In which war opposing journalists do everything in their hands to show the "horrors of war" regardless of leaving a defeatism image on the army. For instance, calling relocations retreats, making it look like a defeat and not like a correct tactical relocation.

John said...

Good Evening Eeben,

Great subject in these times.

In summary you are looking at this issue as any good systems engineer would, seeing the entire picture before starting an endeavor. Where some of us work in metals, electrons and chemistry you are poking at a harder task - social engineering of a likely unwilling host while not killing all those who are important to us.

We are stuck without effective exit strategies for the simple reason our PC society has been totally infiltrated by a thought process that does not like the life we have in the west - it wants to wallow in self guilt. This leaves our soldiers hanging out with no clear path to success and if our leaders are poor as they are now we get cliches, not solutions.
I do wonder as we move forward against the current face of evil can we really destroy our enemie's trinity without facing ourselves - an enemy willing to die for his cause will be difficult to stop. We can hold them off in killing grounds while our real weapons - our culture - works against their cause. Like all good chemotherapy though we will be sick, and may die, trying to kill the cancer of evil.
Whether we have the will to not repeat the insanity of historical mistakes and give our soldiers the tools to succeed - time will tell - a clear finish line is the key for each near term campaign. Only history will tell the tale and it will take generations to know. All we can follow is we know is good. This blog, and others like it, are key to good winning over evil.

Slightly rambling but a good start to the thoughts I want to elaborate on in the near future.

Regards,
John

John said...

Good Evening Eeben,

This is a great thread - do you mind if I pass this along to my congressman? No need to reply in public if you do not desire. Your replies are always respectful so I would not want to seem offensive.

Regards,
John

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are very welcome to pass it on to your congressman, John.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

If what I write about can save the life of one soldier I will be happy, John.

The reason exit strategies are punted about is because there was no exit strategy to begin with – and if it did exist, it was forgotten about. Since when does one expose a strategy, or elements of it to an enemy? This surely endangers the troops in the field. And this is where my sympathy lays.

Yes, we can destroy the enemy’s trinity but to do so we need to have intelligence, plan correctly, equip our troops correctly and have the desire to end what we start. If we, half way through a campaign, start faffing about and blaming the troops, exposing strategies in the media, we deflect blame where it ought to lay. This perception points at the military’s inability to accomplish its mission when in fact, the military is forced to fight with its hands tied.

History is always written by the victor and regardless of the true facts, that is how it stands.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alan said...

Eeben:

Under the 'misperception' category, subtitle unneeded soldiers, please file the following very sad link:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/defence/7970345/SAS-lose-veterans-and-TA-regiment.html

(Nothing mentioned of the failure to recruit younger men into the ranks by the way)

Alan

John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

Thanks for the permission - the message has been sent.

Regards,
John

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks Alan.

It seems that very few politicians really care about their armed forces.

Having marched down the road to betrayal, I have a sense of what others are feeling.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I cannot comment on the US media with much knowledge XeOperator but I note many journalists using terms that are easily misconstrued such as you mention when a redeployment or relocation becomes a retreat.

Although these news people have a responsibility to be professional in their reporting and educate themselves re the use of terminology and the facts of their stories (obviously some couldn’t care less, the military also has a responsibility to take them to task when they don’t.

Unfortunately, and this is not only directed at the media but also at people in government and the military, some don’t even know the difference between strategy, doctrine and tactics.

With such ignorance, crafting a decent media plan can only be difficult.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Indeed a shame, Alan. Thanks for the link.

Here is another one: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1307256/Gurkha-regiment-threat-MoD-spending-cuts-dig-deep.html

It is a frightening thought that the politicos commit the armed forces to a conflict – and then cut the force levels due to poorly formulated political strategies. Despite the cuts, the armed forces are expected to deliver even more.

In my opinion, this goes back to the formulation of the grand strategy. Being unable to base it on real intelligence, instead relying somewhat on guess-work, perceptions are made and broken. Ultimately, the armed forces suffer.

Having been down that road, I can only shake my head in sympathy.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Copied, thanks John.

Rgds,

Eeben

Johan said...

Dear Eben Good article - people confuse the terms "end state" and "end date". Defining the End State is more important than setting an End Date.

Alan said...

Eeben:

Yes indeed, a sad day for the mighty Gurgha. They were, and remain as you well know..."Forged in Battle." Strikingly similar outcomes, no?

Cheers, Alan

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Many of us have that sad and bitter experience, Alan.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Very well said, Johan. I suspect that you are 100% correct.

Rgds,

Eeben

John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

Very good point on finding the point to break the trinity - eventually the kamikaze was stopped but that took a supreme force of will to use the atom bomb as a show of force to friend and foe alike. Do we have the will for that now - our current exposure of strategy reveals that as a resounding no. And the media is complicent in this exit strategy madness.

I do have to disagree on history though - you are a prime example. You have written your history though you were betrayed at all levels by those who were supposed to protect your rear - the media and likely your government. Yet you have written, and continue to write history even though by a broad definition EO no longer exists - destroyed by its political opponents.

More thoughts to come as we in the US get regaled on the greatness of the continuing Iraq war strategy tonight. The key to look for will be what does not get said - and will any mention ever be put out that the contractor presence in Iraq will go up to compensate.
Regards,
John

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

In my opinion, we should not look for a single centre of gravity, John – it does not exist in modern wars and conflicts. Also, I agree that the media is complicit on many occasions in confusing people and purposely creating either expectations or perceptions. But I also get the idea that this is all carefully orchestrated at political level and manipulated at media level. It is no wonder that many feel the media should be held accountable.

Although I tried to set the record straight as far as EO is concerned, I am told by the publisher that there are bookstores that still refuse to carry the book. I suppose that big business still owns many bookstores and can therefore dictate what they are allowed to sell – or prohibited from selling. After all, we did do certain large companies a lot of damage when we stopped their illicit trade with rebels. The history of EO will eventually fade away and the many good men who spearheaded the company – in fact who WERE the company - will not even be footnotes in history.

I simply tried to rectify that.

Rgds,

Eeben

Sur og gretten. said...

Hello Eeben,I have followed your blog now for a while.
I read your last post and found it interesting and I agree with it.But one thing I find odd is that here in your commentaries some people feel the need to blame the media.Now surely in this day and age any proffesional outfit,military or civillian should be aware that they are being watched by the media?
If what you are doing is somehow not within the laws of war or your ROE then surely the media cannot be blamed for doing their job and exposing it?Showing the horrors of war is also not exactly a new thing,and I think it is important to show what war is.It is not nice,sometimes it is unavoidable but is never nice.Those who have never seen war will never be able to see what a horrible business it really is.

regards

waffe

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Your point is well taken as the media are always watching, waffe. I agree entirely with you as regards their attacks on PMCs – many of who actually deserve the bad publicity they get through sheer unprofessionalism and inability to do their jobs. Whereas I cannot speak for the foreign media, I can certainly discuss the manner in which the SA media allowed itself to be used against EO.

I think however that the blame-game also results due to poorly crafted media plans (we need a media plan in this day and age) as well as using the media to create expectations and then “leaking” things to the media that contradict the initial expectations. And, in typical fashion, we blanket those journalists as “the media” – I too am guilty of that. Instead, we should rather name names and not generalise.

I believe that the media, like the military, should be politically astute but non-partisan. But I also know that that will never be as agendas float in and out of doors all the time.

Rgds,

Eeben

Matthew Sinn said...

Part of the reason for the failure of media strategies used to try and generate support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is that the government has been unable to cast very sympathetic allies. In Vietnam, it seemed incredible to many Americans that rolling back American participation would lead to comprehensive global catastrophe. The calculus of deterrence was arcane, at best. Washington also failed spectacularly to "sell" another side of the war, however: our interest in supporting South Vietnam. Just before the United States intervened in what was to become the Angolan Civil War in 1975, Kissinger made an impassioned plea on behalf of our allies in Southeast Asia, imploring Congress to stand by Lon Nol and other American clients. Unable to shake the idea that American guarantees might be shown up as potentially worthless, he immediately sought new venues in which to deliver very public proof of American commitment to anti-Communist causes. Thus, we chose Holden Roberto, and, later, Jonas Savimbi.

Allies, as have learned, have their price. Ngo Dinh Diem gravely embarrassed the Kennedy administration. The Gemayels and Saad Haddad never served Israel as well as originally hoped. Our current tranche of allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have failed to capture American hearts. Indeed, I suspect that one of the reasons for the insufficiency of flood aid from the West is not "donor fatigue," as some have theorized, but, in fact, a widespread sense that Pakistanis must not like "us," meaning that we'd only be cutting our noses to spite our faces if we helped "them." It is as tragic as it is short-sighted. As I've indicated in my response to a previous piece of Eben's, I think that we ought to play "kingmaker" both more often and more skillfully. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that was always the (ill-conceived) objective: to strike a rapid knock-down blow and then relinquish security operations and nation-building to a like-minded ally. When that ally didn't materialize, we should have tried harder to create one, acknowledging first to ourselves that stability was going to take priority over popular will.

tyhz1995 said...

Good evening Mr.Barlow,a good post indeed.Based upon people I have known that are deployed,there is scant care for the troops.The length of the campaign,for example strains morale and taxes the soldiering ability of even the best men.An exit strategy without a decisive and inalienable victory is complete folly and is sure to bode poorly for the future.Perception in my experience can only be skewed so much for so long.The one notable exception being the mainstream media whom many see as an oracle and through incessant rebroadcast force non newsworthy ideas down the average sheep's throat.Another thing about perception is that a man is generally what he perceives himself to be this is also true of larger groups perhaps even more so.Without a clear exit strategy it can most assuredly engender victory for the enemy and cowardice for he that leaves.I believe they keep it going for as long as it suits them no matter the cost in men but I know from experience when something starts the checks start flying and perhaps it's time to ground them.If so they blew it.The only acceptable scenario should have been complete and total victory a savage blow to radical Islam.They blew it.That's all.

John said...

Good Evening Eeben,

I am afraid my simple example was the wrong way to make my point. The system we are looking at now with modern warfare is enormously complex and only men of experience will be able to effectively fight it and not lose sight of a clear finish line.
Unlike older conflicts - where open rules of engagement have been replaced by politicians making goofball manuals like the lawyers they are - the modern conflict has cut-off our most brilliant soldiers from their experience base and left them in serious danger. The human mind can process systems effectively where no amount of rules and wargaming can come close to what is needed out there.
Now we in the US are stuck with set dates for withdrawal and all we can do is hammer our politicians at the polling booth and work our butts off behind the scenes to save as many of our soldiers as possible. The contractors will be paying the sorest price at the end as we repeat the Air America scenes from Saigon - history looks to repeat itself.

Pray for our soldiers and any of our friends who will be stuck with diminishing resources as the withdrawal completes.

Regards,
John

P.S Your enemies will tire and your message will get out in your home country as wel - book "banning" never lasts. I look forward to your next magnum opus

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

History proves that my enemy’s enemy is not always my friend, Matthew. I believe that is part of the reason why governments fail to generate the support needed when on foreign campaigns. Many people see the sudden-found friend for what he is.

Obviously, I cannot comment on the US policy in Vietnam apart from that, in my opinion, the men were severely betrayed by the very government they served. I have my concerns today as I watch Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Angolan civil war remains a cause of much bitterness amongst many who fought there. The SADF intervened at request of the US – only later to be threatened with US action if we did not withdraw. It led to many men questioning the agendas of our so-called allies. But, the US continued to support Savimbi, despite the fact that he was anti-democracy and rather a Maoist. Savimbi was never anti-Communist but as Roberto’s star was waning and the SADF was not an organisation the US wanted to be associated with, Savimbi became the Chosen One.

I agree with you that “donor fatigue” is a reason why nations are not keen to contribute to aid in areas that harbour enemies but that are hit by natural disasters. But it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between friend and foe and therefore everyone in that area becomes foe. But I believe that this is due to the fact that extensive knowledge on the area in question is not always at hand and agree with you that it is short-sighted.

I agree entirely with your assessment of Iraq and Afghanistan. I have previously commented that from my perspective, the overall strategy was flawed. Throwing men and money at a bad plan will never make it a good plan. It will merely prolong the agony, send costs soaring and achieve little to not too much in the long run.

Again, one needs to choose allies carefully.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are quite correct, Tyler – an “exit strategy” without victory is a retreat. Besides, I always thought that an exit plan was a phase of the overall strategy.

The point on the media was made previously and I agree with the comment that we cannot blame everything on the media. I think there ought to be some introspection as some of the points made in the media may just be true.

Many folks know my feelings on these wars and their longevity. But again (sadly) you are correct. Once the cheques start flying, who would want it to stop?

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The face of war has indeed changed dramatically, John, well pointed out. Also, as you correctly point out, soldiers cannot harness their experience and expertise as it is no longer allowed. But here we too should lay some of the blame at the foot of the senior officers who ought to stand up for what they believe in. If some of the people who think out these rules had to spend time in combat applying those rules, I am sure they would change very quickly.

Advertising withdrawal dates prior to the mission ending or indeed being successful simply tells the enemy how long he must hold on for and then victory will be assured. Sad indeed for the men in the field. As you say, all that can be done is hold those who make decisions to account.

Strange how so many who should know better simply ignore history. Makes me wonder why?

My book has stalled somewhat as I have been travelling a bit – too much to write and too little time.

Rgds,

Eeben