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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, September 24, 2010

DO WE REALLY KNOW OURSELVES?

When Sun Tzu wrote about the need to know both the enemy and yourself, his words held an importance many nowadays seem to simply ignore.

I am extremely fortunate in that I still get to meet many senior military officers from across the world and one thing that strikes me as odd is that very few truly know “themselves”. Of course, they know what training they and their men have had and mostly know how to use it but they are not always fully aware of their capabilities if their real or perceived combat scenario were to change suddenly.

As an ex-soldier, I am fully cognisant of how rapidly we can develop tunnel vision and neglect our abilities to think laterally. Sometimes, we need to think outside the box. At other times, we need to ask...and listen.

Asking appears to be something many of us shy away from lest we be seen as unable to do our tasks. But, when lives are at stake and the choice is either success or failure or victory or defeat, there can be no shame in asking.

By “knowing ourselves”, we should be aware of our weak and strong points. Whereas we seldom want to admit we have weak points, it is too late to come to this realisation when the pressure is on, the lead is flying and we have run out of options. At such a time, pride will be of no value to us.

If we truly know ourselves, we will know our true capabilities. Having had the privilege to serve under one of the best small team commanders in the old SADF, I recall once being loaded with 15 magazines for my AK, a 100-round belt for the PKM, 20 40mm rounds plus the launcher, 2 bunker bombs, the VHF radio as well as the HF radio – along with my food, water and shockpack. With my knees buckling, I made it known that I would be rather useless when we hit contact with the enemy. My commander looked at me and with a smile said that he was very well aware of that but as he knew every man in the team, he knew what they could do. I was the green one and he needed to first find out what I was capable of. It was a lesson I would never forget.

I have also learnt that we should be realistic about what we can and cannot do, what we are capable of and not capable of. It is this “knowing” that prevents us from making unrealistic demands on the men under our command, setting unrealistic expectations or even having unrealistic expectations of our weapons systems.

But this knowing goes further. There are many different ways to solve a problem. Sometimes, we are well prepared by our military schools but more than often the theoretical war does not match the real war. Situations and terrain change rapidly and frequently as does the enemy. There is no standard template-plan that we can simply superimpose on any given military problem. We need to think beyond the box but sometimes even our boxes are small and limited.

Additionally, we need to know the enemy we are facing, his weapon systems and capabilities, his tactics and techniques – and his weak points. We also need to know how and why he fights. Only then can we devise workable strategies and actions to counter and defeat him.

Fortunately, many of the senior officers I meet are keen to get new thoughts and ideas. They want to discuss and dissect previous successful and less successful operations. They pose theoretical scenarios and discuss them. They want to debate the pros and cons of tactics, techniques and procedures. There is a desire to learn and make new “discoveries”. These discoveries of “new methods” breed a deeper understanding and analysis of any given situation. They do not let ego and pride get in their way. Expanding our knowledge of ourselves and our enemy aids in flexibility to situations as well as being able to rapidly adjust to new situations.

(This does of course presuppose that those giving the advice know what they are talking about and are doing so with the intent to help. Sadly, I have come across some advice-givers in Africa who very definitely have alternate agendas).

Often military strategies are devised on guess-work and totally removed from reality. Those who are on the ground must be able to adapt and change to meet the unexpected and still achieve mission-success. What happened to the adage “Time spent on planning is never wasted?”

Like many of my contemporaries, I have seen senior officers held hostage by their pride. Many insurmountable problems could have been solved, had it not been for misguided pride and poor planning. At times such as those, there is a fine line between pride and stupidity.

Whether it is pride or just plain stupidity and arrogance to underestimate the enemy, the terrain, and overestimate our abilities and so forth is in this context irrelevant. The fact is that sometimes we don’t really know ourselves and we end up tripping ourselves – and giving the enemy an advantage he will exploit.

Friday, September 10, 2010

IT IS TIME TO HUNT THE RHINO POACHERS

To many, this posting may not have much to do with my core focus but there are many things that get my blood boiling: Abuse of kids and the elderly, murder, armed robbery, unacceptably high violent crime levels, the ruthless exploitation of Africa and poaching...

Of late, there has been an alarming rise in poaching in South Africa, especially rhino poaching. Indeed, the black-market demand for rhino horn has led to concerns that the current rate of killings will soon outstrip the births of rhino.

In Asia, the rhino horn is famed for its so-called medicinal powers and the demand keeps growing. This demand has, in turn, pushed up the price of the rhino horn making it a highly valued commodity and the rhino a method of making money quickly. The national game parks and smaller game reserves are all targets at present – and usually easy targets at that.

As South Africa is considered to be the last stronghold of a viable rhino population in Africa, this has made the country a prime target for this despicable poaching. According to the International Rhino Foundation, South Africa has already lost more than 31 rhinos to poachers this year.

The situation has become so bad that recent reports stated that the poachers were now even using helicopters to deploy their shooters. If this is not a cause for concern, then nothing is.

Gone are the days of the past where these poachers used home-made weapons. Nowadays, the poaching of rhinos is controlled by highly organised crime syndicates who use high-powered rifles, veterinary drugs, night vision equipment, helicopters, body armour and trackers to hunt their unsuspecting prey.

At last some action is being taken. A local radio station (www.jacarandafm.com) has put their money where their mouth is and began a campaign to generate awareness of the siege the rhinos are under as well as to collect funds towards stopping this crime.

A website to generate further understanding (www.stoprhinopoaching.com) was also created to raise awareness of the rhino’s plight as lately we are losing about a rhino a day to these murderous scum. In conjunction with Radio Jacaranda, the local radio station, a special 12-hour “rhinothon” was launched on 10 September to generate funds from the public who wish to get involved in stopping this.

Whereas all of these initiatives are a step in the right direction, it is shocking to learn that rhino poachers who are caught in the act, are merely allowed out of custody on bail. Five of them recently caught in the act, were given bail of a mere SA Rands 10 000 (approx US$ 1350). Looking at history, it is unlikely that they will turn up on the day of their hearing. Instead they will most probably merely “disappear” and continue with their poaching elsewhere. These particular scumbags have already been linked to 8 more cases of rhino poaching in an area known as Makhado. With that type of legal action, the poachers remain the winners.

There is a time for everything and the time is long past to start hunting the poachers and giving them no mercy when finding them. If they are allowed to continue with their actions, South Africa will no longer be home to the Big Five – instead we will only have the Big Four. That sad day is coming if drastic action is not taken.

I, like many of my like-minded friends, would have no compunction in hunting and taking armed action against these criminals and their paymasters.

Although systems are being put in place to prevent the poaching of rhino, it remains to be seen just how effective they will be.

However, if aggressive action is taken, relentless follow-up operations conducted and directed fire aimed at them, I am sure that any rhino poachers will think twice before carry out their orders.

If we turn the hunter into the hunted, the rhino horn will soon lose its lustre and we will be able to save these magnificent creatures.