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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.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WHY ARE WE ALWAYS SO REACTIVE?

In a world of war and conflict, why is it that we continue to be so reactive?

Is it because we do not develop decent, workable strategies based on sound, credible intelligence? Is it because we continually want to believe that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” – even when he isn’t? Is it that we lack the ability to interpret events to the extent that we cannot be forward-looking? Is it because we simply want to ignore the lessons of history?

Whereas we cannot predict the future, we can – with some effort – have a very good indication what it may hold in terms of war and conflict.

The wars, conflicts and problems we witness were all prefaced with numerous indications that they were about to happen. From the piracy off the coast of Somalia to the drug wars in Mexico to the criminal insurgencies in other countries – all have provided us with clues that a problem was rapidly approaching.

Yet, we seem to stand by and wait until the problem reaches a situation that it cannot easily be contained – and then we try to take action. Ironically, we then cannot understand why it is so difficult to resolve the issues, win the wars and end the conflicts. A 10-ton truck free-wheeling downhill cannot be stopped by simply jumping into its path. With enough men at hand, we can probably stop it but at an enormous cost in lives lost and collateral fall-out.

By allowing the enemy to gain momentum and maintain the initiative, we lose the ability to put a rapid end to it. Our reactive actions are almost akin to trying to stop that free-wheeling truck. And despite all the warnings, we act surprised when we are unable to stop it.

Some time ago I spoke with a senior commander in an African country. His country had recently discovered a valuable natural resource. He was very excited at how this resource would benefit his country and his people. I, in turn, warned him that his country’s problems were about to start in earnest. I wasn’t being cynical – I was being realistic. After all, hasn’t history shown that when a new resource is found in Africa, problems are sure to follow?

With all of our early-warning systems, intelligence gathering capabilities, diplomatic liaisons, mass media reporting, satellite surveillance and so forth, I find it very hard to believe that we have not yet reached a stage where we can be proactive.

Is it possibly that we simply don’t want to be proactive and instead prefer to rather be reactive and suffer all the disadvantages this laissez-faire approach hands us? Do we rather want to attempt to stop these problems once they are unstoppable – will that make us feel better? Or do we only want to be pre-emptive when carrying out the first phase of a strategy and thereafter wait for the enemy to gain the initiative?

It is said that a wise man in times of peace prepares for war.

To prepare effectively for war, we need to know what to expect and from whom. Still, we seem to wait and react only once we think the enemy has shown his hand. But the enemy too knows about deception and it is a foolish enemy who shows his hand in the opening stages of a conflict. We cannot expect all of our enemies to always be foolish.

If we continue to miss all of the warning signals flashed at us, we will continue to be reactive. The implication is that we will continue to be surprised, unprepared and find ourselves fighting on the back foot – often against untrained, ill-disciplined, out-numbered and technology-poor enemies.

Until such time as we begin to exploit our assets and resources to maximum effect and look for exploitation options whenever and wherever we can, we will remain at a disadvantage both on and off the battlefield.

We may appear to be politically correct but we will lose the battle – and there is no second prize for the loser - and the truck will keep rolling.