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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.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

PSEUDO OPERATIONS - FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE

Considering the manner in which organised gangs and insurgents, be they political, criminal, religious or militant choose to conduct their terror and criminal actions, I believe that we need to adapt our operational approaches and begin laying greater emphasis on:

1. Intelligence, in particular HUMINT
2. Pseudo operations
3. Tactical ground and air support

Intelligence ought to act as the commander’s eyes and ears. If he has no current intelligence, he is both blind and deaf and a blind and deaf commander has no real value in today’s small wars and conflicts. Whereas it is good and well to have technical intelligence and satellite coverage, we also need to know “what” the enemy is thinking. We can only know what the enemy is thinking if we have someone within his ranks.

Infiltrating or penetrating the enemy’s ranks requires the ability to make intelligence predictions insofar as which organisations should be targeted. These predictions, although not always correct, do however given an indication of what to expect and where. It is better to have someone in a potential or real enemy’s ranks and not need him than to have no one in the enemy’s ranks and need him.

Intelligence is a critical essential but we often fail to recognise its value. Strategies are intelligence driven and the strategy can only fail if it is developed with no intelligence. At the tactical level, it is intelligence that enables us to locate, bind, strike, exploit and disrupt any threat. Indeed, it has an influence on the tactics, techniques and procedures we apply.

Well trained and led pseudo teams, operating off current intelligence can wreak havoc amongst the enemy and decimate its ranks. But to do that, we need to adjust our thinking and our approach. But it bears remembering that pseudo teams are not “special forces” – instead they are irregular troops operating under normal command and control.

The strategy of attrition applied by these gangs gives them an almost mythical status of invincibility. Added to that is the publicity they enjoy from their deeds in the mass media. Using low-tech equipment and improvisation, they are able to achieve high-value results and attain the initiative.

Pseudo teams, recruited from the areas they originate from are ideal trackers, interpreters and in most instances, know the terrain they operate in like the back of their hand. They are able to detect changes in the human environment incoming units cannot see. Furthermore, they are often highly-motivated as they have been the prime beneficiaries of the violence against them and they are driven by a desire for justice and revenge.

I do not advocate doing away with the traditional battalion, company and platoon formations when fighting these wars. I do, however, believe that especially in Africa, these formations do not always give the dividends one would expect. I furthermore believe that the time has come to incorporate a pseudo element into the motorised infantry battalion.

Once deployed into an area, this pseudo element should begin working with the local population, identifying potential candidates for pseudo work and training and equipping them to take the fight to the enemy. Such sub-units and sub-sub-units will enhance the reconnaissance and intelligence gathering capabilities of the motorised infantry battalion, be able to conduct snatch operations, disrupt enemy plans and actions and so forth.

A good pseudo team is able to sustain itself in the field although a system of caches to replenish food and ammunition is essential. But their true value lies in being able to fight the enemy with its own tactics and techniques and when necessary, call in tactical air support or heliborne combat troops to take over the engagement and exploit the fire-fight. This ground and air support is essential and adds a great degree of flexibility to pseudo operations.

To avoid “friendly fire”, areas where these teams operate need to be classified as restricted operations areas. Targeted tactical air support needs to be on call.

Fighting the enemy with overwhelming firepower does not always achieve the results we seek. Additionally, this mass of fire inevitable leads to collateral damage (people and infrastructure) thus driving the locals into the ranks of the enemy and reducing our chances of recruiting locals for our pseudo teams.

When we change our mindset and think outside of the box, we will be able to train, deploy and exploit pseudo teams, regain the initiative and reap the benefits of fighting fire with fire.

16 comments:

John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

Happy New Year to you.

This is a fascinating subject - are you meaning to expand on the old "resistance" movement historically found in major conflicts or really working to tailor this concept over to low intensity conflicts ideally.

At first blush these teams would seem to require some very strong willed souls to keep them on your side.

Regards,
John

P.S. Just about 2/3 thru AJ Venters latest work - lo and behold he is with the teams in Rhodesia which looks to dovetail right into this subject.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

And a great 2011 to you and yours as well, John.

There is nothing really new about pseudo teams, especially when one looks at the resistance fighters, partisans and counter-partisan units in WW2. However, in today’s operating environment in especially counter insurgency, these teams (correctly trained and led) add much value to locating and fighting the threat and this in turn requires a change in strategy and tactics when compared to those “of old”.

I am fortunate in that I have trained some pseudo teams and their results were truly astonishing. That said, selection is crucial to prevent problems especially when operations are terminated. Yes, one needs the right men to do this and a good selection process allows one a certain measure of success in getting the right men.

The Rhodesians were very good at deploying some of these teams especially where they used “tame terrorists” under control. Many valuable lessons can be learnt from their actions on pseudo work.

Rgds,

Eeben

matt said...

Very cool. I was curious Eeben, did South Africa use the technique of 'turning' enemy combatants and using them for pseudo operations during your border wars? I find this to be a particularly fascinating aspect of pseudo operations, which if could be duplicated and applied to various types of wars and scenarios, could be quite valuable.

The other thing I was mulling over the other day is if pseudo operations and turning enemy combatants could actually be offered as a service by a company? Because I really do believe that a military/police force with this kind of capability could do great damage upon the enemy or organized crime/cartels.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Several SADF units used turned enemy combatants Matt and with great success. Their value was immeasurable to our efforts. Their value lies not only in intelligence gathering missions but also in combat – but again, this requires good training and leadership.

Using pseudo teams in fighting organised crime – here I refer specifically to large criminal networks that function as criminal insurgents – is I believe crucial to eradicating these networks. It has been done before and successfully as well.

I see no reason why a private company cannot offer the service you mention. However, given what I see as a reluctance to actually make a deep commitment to eradicate these forces, it may be difficult to convince a government to employ such a company.

Rgds,

Eeben

John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

Expanding on the turning of the former opponents - was it most effective working them ideologically (which would look to be the method most useful in a political conflict) or was a heavier use made of the bounty hunter theme? I know Matt just dropped in a great analysis of the effectiveness of private bounty hunters in crime fighting. The Rhodesian tactics I just went thru were bounty hunts...with a good bit of walking around money to help.

It all makes sense to me to incentivise the private bounty hunter in conflicts against crime syndicates - politcal ideology would be the way to go in an countrywide insurgency, especially if the terrorist's tactics have isolated and brutalized the ocean they intend to swim in (but some funding would have to be there to get weapons and access).

Just a little bit of coincidence happening here in what I have been running across.

Regards,
John

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I cannot recall us (SADF) ever using a bounty-type scheme to turn enemy troops, John. Maybe I am incorrect but certainly never where I worked. However, once they joined, they were paid as normal soldiers. Agents recruited from captured enemy ranks were mainly motivated by self-preservation, financial gain and also a belief that they were losing the war. Of course, there is always a danger when using captured and turned enemy troops as they may even be “plants”.

Personally, I prefer to use locals who have been brutalised by the enemy as they are driven by a desire for justice, anger, revenge and therefore motivating them is easy.

We did however run several reward schemes that worked well such as a reward of $x for pointing out a cache, a landmine/IED, rifles, enemy troops, etc. But this too does open up some disadvantages: once someone is motivated purely by financial gain, they may do anything to be paid that money and then even dishonesty cannot always be curbed.

As Matt suggested, financial incentives when fighting crime will certainly yield dividends. I have however always been suspicious of “bounty hunter” type actions as it is not unheard of that they “plant” evidence to ensure they get their rewards.

Ideology remains ever important, especially in a counter insurgency operation and therefore the treatment of the locals by the forces needs to be done correctly. By acting as bad or worse than the enemy will simply fuel the local’s drive to expel the forces from the area.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alex said...

Hello Eeben,

Good to have a new post from you to sink my teeth into!

Just to clarify, by pseudo teams are you talking about people recruited from the local population where a conflict is taking place? I haven't come across the term before but this is the understanding I got from your post.

If that is the case I certainly can imagine them being a vital, possibly even decisive asset to any force operating in that particular area, for the many reasons you posit. Would you regard EO's work with the Kamajors as coming into this category? That is an example that comes to my mind when I consider the subject. I also recall reading in Mike Hoare's 'Congo Mercenary' of how 5 Commando recruited about 100 warriors from one of the native tribes they encountered who, nicknamed '"A" Company, the Black Watch', apparently were a crucial asset to 5 Commando's operations from then on, acting as scouts and fighters. Again, would this count as a 'pseudo operation'?

Very interesting topic regardless, all the more so as I've not come across it specifically addressed before.

Regards

Alex

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I regard the best pseudo teams as people local to a specific area and who have been trained in clandestine operations utilising the enemy’s TTPs, Alex. This does not however mean that we cannot retrain our own troops in pseudo work – which is in many instances deniable – and use them in that role. Locals to an area do however present many advantages our own men do not give us – but they also come with a set of disadvantages, hence their selection is crucial.

The Kamajors were more irregular troops although they did conduct numerous clandestine operations but never operated using the RUFs modus operandi.

Likewise, A Coy, Black Watch” were also irregular troops.

In both instances, they knew the area they operated in as well as the people, something incoming troops take a long, long time to figure out.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Please send me your email address Black Pearl and I shall make contact with you via a private means. Also, give me an indication of the reason why you wish to make contact with me.

Rgds,

Eeben

matt said...

Alex,

Here is an excellent paper on the subject of pseudo operations written by Lawrence Cline. He goes into some detail about how these types of forces were used by the various militaries throughout the world, and what were some of the lessons learned.

Also, I was originally turned onto the subject after reading about how the Selous Scouts utilized this method of war fighting in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).


http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/download.cfm?q=607

PSEUDO OPERATIONS AND COUNTERINSURGENCY:
LESSONS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES
Lawrence E. Cline

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Many thanks, Matt. A good article.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alex said...

Thanks Matt, I'll give that a read and see what I can learn.

Regards

Alex

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am truly sorry to hear of your loss, Private. Sadly, those of us who remain need to continue, despite the blow it delivers to us, even when we were not particularly close to someone who has left this life.

You are correct; trouble often comes in threes – and sometimes in more than threes.

I saw the article re money laundering on behalf of the Mexican drug cartels. Shocking to say the least.

As I have mentioned before, keep your chin up and face these difficulties head on. In my limited experience, things usually tend to get better – especially when one views them coldly and objectively.

I hope 2011 will improve drastically for you. Happy New Year to you as well.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No offence taken, Blue.

I am not posting your question as it may awaken those who are best left sleeping...Send me your email address on the blog (I shan’t post it) and I will respond directly to you.

Rgds,

Eeben

Gonkafied said...

Sir,
Do you see a major difference in strategy when conducting these operations on urban terrain as opposed to rural  terrain? 

Does the nature of urban conflict and urban social dynamics create a more permissive or more restrictive environment for these operations to take place? 

The types of operations you describe seem very different from typical "undercover" operations conducted against organized crime in that "pseudo" operations seem to rely on creating an apparently cooperative and even competitive group that focuses on fooling the enemy into believing they are affiliated, then flipping the script on them. Whereas typical undercover operations are focused on penetrating the organization with informants and plants.

This is a very interesting topic. Thanks for posting this.
Regards,
Bryan

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A good question, Bryan.

Obviously, the Operating Environment is shaped by different factors in an urban setting than in a rural setting. Whereas I – when I was young and foolish - operated primarily in a rural environment, I found the urban environment both challenging and stimulating as it afforded many options the rural environment did not afford. It did however also pose dangers that were not present in the rural environment.

Typically, an operative deployed into an urban environment on an intelligence gathering operation/direct action operation may use some techniques similar to the pseudo operatives to remain in the area. However he differs in that the pseudo team is usually composed of soldiers or locals that have been specifically trained to infiltrate an enemy area, acting as the enemy with their weapons/uniforms etc, and use the enemy’s TTPs against him.

Deploying a pseudo team in an urban environment requires different factors to be considered, especially if that environment is neutral to hostile. Here I think of infiltration, assembly prior to action, exfiltration, E & E, etc.

There are however different ways to utilise the pseudo team and the MO you mentioned is one of them.

I am of the opinion that correctly done, these operations can yield very good results in countering both insurgencies and crime.

Rgds,

Eeben