Whether we like to admit it or not, Africa is in a state of perpetual war.
Most countries view their neighbours as either threats or potential threats. The political situation is fluid and subject to dramatic changes that have the potential to erupt into armed conflict. Foreign policy is viewed through the lens of power and this may entail supporting – or being part of - proxy or insurgent forces to destabilise a neighbouring country and gain a position of “one-upmanship” in the region.
Governments are forced to choose regional and international allies often at great cost to the political, social, military and economical well-being of the country.
The military strategies are often flawed and based on optimistic assessments and an over-estimation of the abilities of the armed forces. Intelligence collection plans are not always carefully thought out, nor are they correctly executed. This results, in part, to flawed military strategies. The armed forces are required to conduct tasks and missions they are not always trained, equipped and prepared for.
Planning for war and conflict is, for many reasons, not always done with vision and the resultant effect is often being caught by surprise when a potential threat suddenly becomes reality.
To overcome this disadvantage, African countries need to revisit the phases of war and understand that those of Western and Eastern powers cannot simply be used as templates with which to conduct offensive operations. African governments should reassess their entire approach to both the offense and the defence and in doing so they will create a situation where they are not caught off-guard by an “unexpected” threat.
As Africa remains in a state of perpetual war, I believe that the phases of conventional offensive war need to be readjusted as follows:
Intelligence Gathering: All strategies are intelligence driven. Without this critical prerequisite, it will be impossible to know and understand the potential threat(s), where, when and how the enemy will react to an attack, strike or incursion, what weapons and weapon systems the enemy will deploy and how, and so forth. This activity or phase remains ongoing throughout the duration of all offensive and defensive operations. Without this intelligence, it will not be possible to develop a viable military strategy.
Sound intelligence will, furthermore, give commanders an indication of how the enemy will react to an offensive operation. Knowledge of these enemy operational counter-plans are imperative to enable own forces to devise operational plans that will surprise and overwhelm the enemy’s forces and reduce the enemy’s reactions.
Simultaneously with the gathering of intelligence is the screening of own intentions to prevent the enemy from knowing what is being planned, how, where and when. This is achieved by applying Operational Security (OPSEC), deception, ruses, counter espionage actions and so forth to confuse the enemy.
Reconnaissance: Intelligence can change dramatically and within a short space of time. To allow commanders to rapidly readjust plans and thereby maintain the initiative, the deployment of reconnaissance teams is imperative.
Whereas the initial aim of the reconnaissance teams will be to verify the intelligence on the ground, these teams can be deployed in several different ways.
It is possible that within a single theatre of operations, different types of reconnaissance teams and units can be deployed simultaneously or in conjunction with one another.
Although reconnaissance teams and units deploy with stealth and guile, they must nevertheless able to fight if necessary.
Advance: With the necessary intelligence and the associated ground truths gleaned from reconnaissance, the advance can be planned in detail and executed to best achieve the aim – the aim being to move into enemy-held territory or to make contact with the enemy or to follow up a retreating enemy force.
The advance is an offensive manoeuvre aimed at moving the advancing forces to just beyond the range of enemy fire or to follow up a deliberate enemy withdrawal.
During the advance, continued reconnaissance of the front and flanks is maintained to provide early warning of unexpected enemy movements or actions.
Air superiority is critical to ensure the advance maintains momentum and speed.
Advance to contact: Beyond the range of enemy indirect fire systems such as artillery, mortars and heavy machine guns, the units manoeuvre into an attack formation in order to be correctly postured to follow through with an attack or counter an enemy attack. These positions will have been identified by the reconnaissance teams/units.
Utilising momentum and speed, the advance to contact is used as a method of establishing final contact with the enemy or re-establishing lost contact with the enemy.
Control of air space remains critical to provide aerial reconnaissance and provide close air support to ensure momentum and speed.
Contact/Attack: Contact, by means of fire-and-manoeuvre/movement, is made with the enemy positions that are to be attacked.
The attack is the most important phase of offensive warfare as it is this action that will bring about the defeat of the enemy – or the failure of the commander’s plans. It furthermore requires the skilful application of fire and movement – and coordination - of all direct and indirect weapons onto the enemy and his positions. It also requires commanders to act with audacity.
Consolidate: As each objective is overrun, seized or captured, the commanders will immediately alter the attacking forces’ posture in order to defeat an enemy counter attack.
Exploit: An attack does not end on the objective. The enemy is kept under fire, even in the withdrawal or retreat and must be pursued in order to inflict maximum casualties and loss of equipment.
Known as the exploitation forces or the follow-up forces, these forces are assembled and deployed prior to the attack and are tasked to maintain contact with the enemy and drive home the attack. Mobile reserve forces are particularly well suited as exploitation forces.
The limit of exploitation, determined prior to the attack, is usually conducted to a tactical bound beyond the objective.
Defend, hold and dominate: Upon the follow-up forces reaching the laid down limit of exploitation, the attacking forces move forward to take possession of this position. The aim is to occupy, defend, hold and dominate the ground that has been gained from the preceding actions or phases.
During this phase, reconnaissance elements are redeployed to the front in order to obtain ground truths, thus allowing the commander to readjust his plans where necessary and continue the advance.
The above phases of war presuppose that the armed forces are correctly trained, correctly equipped, correctly postured and correctly sustained during operations.
I shall soon be giving my thoughts on the phases of defensive warfare and unconventional warfare.