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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.

Monday, February 6, 2012

THE LEVELS OF WAR


The military strategy is an intelligence-driven, intellectual process that results in possible future or definite action.

The waging of war ie the implementation of strategy is conducted at four distinct yet inter-related levels. These levels are known as the levels of war and consist of:

1.      The political level
2.      The strategic level
3.      The operational level
4.      The tactical level.

The Political Level: Sometimes referred to as War by Political Means, this is the highest level of war and is often ignored by the military. Although the Grand Strategy or National Strategy is the highest level of strategy, the political level of war is, likewise, the highest level of war and is associated with political, economical and/or covert politico-military operations. Sometimes referred to as War by Political Means, it is the applying of political and/or economical sanctions against a country that is considered to be conducting unacceptable political practices. Likewise, financial sanctions aimed at wearing down or exhausting a country economically are further examples of war at the political level.  Other examples of the war at the political level include expelling of diplomatic staff, pressure to ensure international isolation of a threat country, international boycotts, international support to nationalist groups, and the conduct of highly-sensitive, high-level covert operations aimed at achieving a specific political goal and so forth. The conduct of highly-sensitive, high-level covert operations are usually deniable by the government. Where war at the political level may require discretionary warfare, these types of operations straddle the boundary between political and strategic level warfare yet remain highly sensitive and are usually deniable. War at the political level is ultimately aimed at bringing about a regime change without overtly committing the armed forces to direct battle.

The Strategic Level: At this level of planning, strategists and planners will ultimately be left with four definitive choices of how the government will want to resolve the situation. These are: 

·        Neutralising rebel or insurgent forces intent on usurping government support through violent means
·        Annihilating the opposing forces
·        Exhausting the opposing forces
·        Attrition of the opposing forces.

The threat, the terrain, Own Forces capabilities and the economy or support to sustain the war will determine how it will be fought at this level. Military operations conducted at this level are referred to as strategic warfare. War at the strategic level will encompass either distant or close strategic offensives as well as strategic defensive warfare.  Strategic defensive warfare can take the form of conventional, unconventional and semi-conventional operations and can include long-distance offensives, cross-border raids (sanctioned or not sanctioned) and Counter Insurgency (COIN) operations.

The Operational Level: War at the Operational Level is aimed at achieving the strategic military objectives through a series of battles and/or campaigns, conventional or otherwise, aimed at achieving the theatre objectives and can last for weeks, months and even years. These actions are not restricted to operations beyond the borders of the country but may unfold nationally as well.

The Tactical Level: At this level of war, short term engagements are fought between Own Forces and the enemy utilising Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) as the foundation of the engagements.

It is at the levels of war that the strategy unfolds via the approved military strategy, commander’s intent, designs for battle, operational plans and action. However, a lack of sound intelligence will result in weak or poorly executed strategies that may bring about a collapse of the government or a defeat of the armed forces.

Prematurely extricating the armed forces from operations that have been poorly planned and executed may lead to grave embarrassment of the state and a decline in regional and international respect. In turn, this may adversely impact on both the security of the state and even the tenure of the government.  

32 comments:

John said...

Good Evening Eeben,

Great post - very insightful.

At the "higher" levels of involvement is this where you would see the "managers" role really come into it's own? It looks to be tailor made at the political and strategic level to have managers (as leaders) - with very heavy military experience of course. I was wondering about your thoughts on the levels of competencies and skillets important for the leaders at the various levels.

Regards,
John

P.S. Your previous post on managers is spot-on everywhere you go, only in armed situations do mistakes get men killed quickly.

Noel said...

Dear Eeben, I'm writing a book about a particular problem in Africa that may be helped by military intervention. I've been looking for someone to talk to about planning, logistics etc and here I am now asking you. Could we swap e-mail addresses? How might that happen? I don't really want to put all the details on your blog - I'm sure you understand. Cheers, Noel

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

At the strategic level, commanders usually have strategists and planners who are responsible for the formulation of the strategies, John. These strategists and planners are found at the various staff levels from the different service arms ie Personnel, Intelligence, Operations, Logistics, etc. However, when it comes to the national military strategy, this is done by a selected group of strategists and planners and not a single person. This group must be able to understand and relate policy statements of the government and thereby determine how the statements (objectives) can be actioned by the military in a manner that is consistent with the political strategy – and is realistic and sustainable.

At the strategic level I would still want commanders as opposed to “managers” as the implementation of the strategy still needs to be overseen with effective command and control. As Herbert mentioned in a previous comment, there is a role to play for managers when we look at Administration and Finance roles but if they do not understand the command essentials, it will pan out to be a flop. I doubt any of the great commanders (Alexander, Patton, Clark, Rommel, Montgomery, etc) would have liked to have been viewed as “managers”.

At the political level, well, most politicians like to view themselves as “managers” but there are many who would disagree with them. One only has to look at the basic management functions to realise that most of them have got it wrong. At this level, there is obviously a lot of liaison when it entails some form of military input and this is should be done by commanders as opposed to managers.

I will at a later stage give my thoughts on competence and skills.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Send me your email address via the blog, Noel. I shall not publish it but will respond to you soonest.

Rgds,

Eeben

Herbert said...

Eeben,

What I particularly like about your posting is that you break out a political level of war above the strategic level. As you know, others lump the political into the strategic. Although this melding of political and strategic levels can often work, it can also be over-reaching and confusing. Good on you for just calling it out for what it is.

Without beating the point to death, I'll just say that there are an abundance of examples of political actions taken by countries that bear no discernible,logical connection to strategy in wars that followed. More reason for your recognition of political war as a separate category. As for those who want to argue the point, we all recognize there is overlap--just as there is within the other categories.

Regards,
Herbert

Chris said...

Are there any plans to re-publish Executive Outcomes Against All Odds? The price for a used copy is insane at this time and I would love more than anything to read it. If you released it as a PDF and sold it for $20-30 I think you would make a small fortune honestly. Is there anyway a student of military history could acquire your book without breaking the bank?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you, Herbert.

As you know, it all starts at the political level and then steps down the hierarchy. Every tactical move is ultimately a result of the political level of war once hostilities are declared or entered into. Many do lump the political and strategic together but as you point out, there are many instances where the political level of war was sufficient to achieve the desired result.

Yes, the overlap will always be there as the military is really just an extension of the political.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I really wish I could help you, Chris.

Unfortunately, I have NO control over the publishing and selling of the book. Many folks write to me to complain about its unavailability and excessively high cost.

However, when I approached several US and UK publishers, none were interested in publishing the book. The same happened here in SA but I was fortunate to find one publisher who was willing to give it a go. As it stands, I cannot influence its availability or cost.

Rgds,

Eeben

Chris said...

Do you own the intellectual rights to the book? If so you may want to look into self-publishing - unlike in the past where it was essentially a scam nowadays there are a number of online companies which offer publishing solutions at no expense. They shave some off the top, but you keep most of it.

In any case, I guess I will have to cough up the $150+ dollars to get my hands on a copy of the book. There's only so much you can learn about EO from documentaries like Shadow Company and random wikipedia articles :)

Would love to know more about the tactical organization and operations of EO.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am afraid not, Chris. Those rights are owned by publisher who refuses to have the book printed elsewhere or even marketed for that matter apart from the website.

But, I learnt a lot from this experience and will, next time around, not make the same mistake.

Sadly though, that does not help you much.

Rgds,

Eeben

John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

Thank you for that excellent clarification. My real thought is that politicians really seem to now only manage risk and not lead. I believe there is room for both but the leadership "gene" seems to be sorely lacking. Risk dominates their thoughts and not return....and as you have pointed out very well they are so intertwined with military strategy we keeping getting caught in no win situations. I would have not liked calling Patton a manager and be in the same room!

I look forward to your thoughts on skill-sets and competencies. I glean so much personally from this blog as I lead teams it is truly amazing.

As to your book - I know Chris and Mike b have both expressed interest. It is available at Aberdeen bookstore in the US for $55. I have held a couple copies. Interested parties should drop the owner, Tom, an email and work a deal. Well worth the time and money.

Regards,
John

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

If only there were real politicians who could lead, John. Right now, they all seem to be trying to keep their noses clean (but often get caught out) and make sure that they remain in contention for the next vote. Leadership seems non-existent and where attempts are made, great care is exercised to ensure that it is politically correct and that it suits them and not the people they supposedly represent. You are quite correct: Risk dominates their thoughts and not return...well put!

The problem is that in a democracy we immediately award the president with the title of “commander-in-chief of the armed forces”. He may be that on paper but the problem is when he starts believing it and subsequently ignores the advice from his real commanders. The sad fact is that most presidents have no real clue as to what the armed forces can and cannot do. Then even more sad are those commanders who act as “yes-men” to the C-in-C without questioning bad strategies and decisions. They more than any other act as though they are simply being managed and not commanded. This lack of moral fibre results in good men dying young.

Thanks for the heads-up on the book. I hope Chris makes contact with you soon as I cannot help him with this.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robin said...

Hi Eeben,

I may be able to assist Chris with getting the book at a reasonable price. (Possibly around $50) Feel free to give him my email address that I will be sending in a seperate post to you shortly. Everyone should read that book! As I stated before, therein lies so many lessons. Life, business, adapt is how you wish, the book is brilliant.

Regards
Robin

michael b said...

hi Eeben. the CinC angle i think is very relevant to many of todays and yesteryears biggest military blunders where the commanders simply appease the numero uno man in charge and allow their forces to get drawn out into long and costly quagmire wars with an emphasis on the cost to human life. then again i suppose in the civilian arena if a regional manager is called into the founding CEO of a huge company and instructed to go on a possibly damaging advertising campaign he may just do so just to appease the big boss and ensure his job and possible promotion. maybe the military brass have the same modus operandi. when the campaign fails dismally and the civilian businesses stocks are in the toilet and the military are embarresed in the field and suffer life loss the C in C will need to be able to practice plausible deniability and let the heads roll of some of those he "ordered". in my humble uninformed opinion, if any democratic western or otherwise government is to bestow the reank of CinC of the armed forces the incumbent president should have a military background and commanded men in the field. being a private in the reserves i would say isnt qualification enough and any person seeking office at that level should have extensive background in the area of the military. it would be like taking me with my lowly lance corporal rank in the old SAAF and telling me that i am now a brigadier and i must command 2000 men into battle. that is looking for trouble even if i have advisors at my side, i lack the training of the ascension through the ranks to that of a brigadier. in the civilian world it works the same, you cannot make the tea lady the vice president of a huge corporation. she needs to be vetted through all the rungs on the ladder to get there.
on another note, i cannot believe that your publishers hold an iron grip to the intellectual rights to your book which you wrote about your life. unbelievable, yet more individuals associated with the "media" that are playing games albeit on a differing level. i look forward to reading your next book, but i will have to wait till the public library gets a copy like i did with Executive Outcomes Against All Odds.
many thanks mike da silva (ex SAAF intelligence lance corporal and ex EO "private" book number 32)

Robin said...

Hi Eeben,

I assume the Political Level is what we are seeing with Iran and the 'international' community. Your post sheds light on the power of combined forces, such as the impact of more than one country banding together to push another country into submission.

In many regards, military action (the use of arms) can be more decisive and much faster (Excluding Vitenam). The Political Level actually hurts the civilians, it makes the innocent people suffer, is that why it is so effective? It leads to uprising, revolt and...well, where is Ghadaffi again?

In the makro scheme of things, it's a brutal strategy. I have to ask, would one consider Israel to be utilising this in reverse by ensuring a super strong bond with the USA? I realise that Israel is able to stand alone, but do you think that they have utilsed this kind of strategy to strengthen their global stance? Whenever their neighbours band together politically, it never seems to work? Can these Strategies be utilised 'in reverse'?

Thanks for the post Eeben.

Kind regards
Robin

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Many thank Robin. I hope that Chris read this comment as well as he one John sent.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Due to the extremely volatile nature of politics, commanders can no longer freely speak their minds regarding the political hierarchy as they may end up ruining their careers, Mike. On the other hand, as the armed forces serve the government of the day, they need to abide by govt policy – especially foreign policy. Of course, no commandeer wants to be fired so they end up toeing the line and in many instances becoming “yes-men” – misconstruing that for “discipline”.

The problem with the “Yes Sir, No, Sir” mentality is that when it is finally translated to the operational and tactical levels, good men die because of stupidity at the political level – and even at the strategic level. Armies become over-stretched and financially impaired, thus resulting in men not having the equipment or support they need. Strategies are flawed as they are based not on reality but on whims.

I feel that it is becoming even more important that politicians listen to commanders, and visa versa, in order to develop the best strategies at the political and strategic level. Egos should be left in the cupboards and choices made as to what is good for the nation as opposed to a person or a party.

When we get to that point, the principle of Unity of Command will be able to be exercised correctly.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

We are seeing numerous instances of war at the political level, Robin. Even seemingly “harmless” actions such as economical blackmail are part of war at that level. When joint cooperation pacts between various countries are forged and they collectively put political pressure on a country, it can be devastating.

War at the political level does not endanger our armed forces nor does it allow the target country to force us into a war of attrition. So all-round, it appears on the surface to be more “politically correct” (no pun intended) of forcing an enemy into submission, wearing him down, isolating him or encouraging the civilian population to rise up against the govt.

Whereas it may hurt the civilian population in the target country, they are left with 2 choices: rebel against the govt to force a regime change or strengthen their resolve to resist the so-called aggressor and join the govt’s resistance to the pressure. In the first instance, we may support the uprising through the selective use of air power or by small discretionary warfare operations.

I am not qualified to speak on Israel’s strategies but if I were small, I would forge an alliance with someone far stronger than I to ensure my safety. Such an alliance would work 2 ways though. As for their neighbours, there are many reasons why they are unsuccessful. I would however not post those reasons here - for obvious reasons.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robin said...

Thank You Eeben.

I just wanted to impress upon any that have read your book or are going to: Read it more than once. I have read it twice now. And as my life shifts and the lanscape changes, I see new things in the book. One of our primary weaknesses as humans is that we can be 'niave'. (Please - I mean no disrespect to anyone here, I am guilty of this too, trusting the wrong people) It's just that I saw so much of my life in your book. The unbelieveable level of self absorbsion by so many that had/have a responsibility to their fellow man. And the scary thing is that it rings true no matter where you are. And it appears at different levels. Some may not have understood last year when I posted that I use the book in business, but I do. (And it is my intention to buy another 5 copies, one for my son and the rest for collection purposes). As a close fighter pilot friend once joked with me...always check your six.

I often wonder what would have happened if the UN actually found that viagra worked. Eeben, you know where my interest lies, you know what I am trying to create, and as I do more research I am appalled and dumbfounded that the UN actually still exists. I am struggling to get the info that I need, and the little that I have so far has come at a trickle, but jeez, one thing that floods in all the time is the millions of lives lost because of impotence and indecision on the part of the UN.

I think the French got it right with the their Foreign Legion. The only way I see the UN becoming anything 'real' is to have soldiers (Not peace keepers) that are exclusively their own...or dare I say it...one or two PMC's that are prepared to carry out mandates. A recognised structure run by clear thinking experienced military strategists that can agree on how the execution should be done. A structure of respect and discipline for one another, yet the desire to see justice and goals achieved in the shortest possible yet realistic time.

Kind regards
Robin

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for punting my book, Robin. Much appreciated!!

We need to always watch our six as backstabbers abound in this world at all levels.

As for the UN, say no more. A more useless, bloated, costly and absurd organisation has yet to be found. The millions who have suffered directly and indirectly at their hands is staggering. Then of course, there are the “Special Rapporteurs” who lie for a living – I met one in EO’s days and he has yet to respond to my calling him a liar hiding behind an organisation.

What they have failed to understand is that you cannot keep peace if it does not exist. Furthermore, they have no understanding of the operational environment, no strategy, no coherent goal, no unity of command, etc, etc. Usually, they back both sides of a conflict and their members are often criminals in uniform. It can never become anything “real” as it has shot itself too many times in the foot and people have no belief in it.

Western governments are increasingly turning to PMCs to assist in broadening their footprint and protecting their interests, especially in Africa. Sadly, our government has painted itself into a corner as far as PMCs are concerned and in the process, lost its credibility to assist African governments in a meaningful way.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robin said...

Hi Eeben,

You are so right. The UN will never regain any kind of credibility. It's almost like their role is to police conflict and make sure it remains in it's escalated state (of conflict). (esp in Africa) People are motivated by gain, that is why we work for a living. There ARE those “Special Rapporteurs” that make a living out of lies, yes. And no, they will never have the spine to stand up. We all live fairly sheltered lives, yet in your book, it becomes clear that it is a minefield out there. I have no idea how you managed to keep it together at Danny Street. Says a lot about your character. A lesser man would have packed it all up and left the country. We are proud and blessed to have kept you here at 'home'.

Which leads me to a question: Is a certain editor of a Cape Town paper the same serpent mentioned in your book? (When I read your book the second time, I got so cheesed off I googled the chop!)

Regards
Robin

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are correct, Robin. They are in the main spineless – and that’s being kind to them.

I was fortunate to have had some good folks working with me. They kept me – more or less – sane. But, I must admit, the desire to simply pack up and leave did cross my mind.

The editor: One and the same. He led the charge in many ways to ensure the media developed a mob mentality when it came to EO and no rational thought was given to the implication of the lies they wrote. “Truth” and “objectivity” are concepts he did not comprehend – and look how he was rewarded.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robin said...

Hi Eeben,

Karma Eeben Karma. You did everything with good intentions. It's sad that when we do good or try to, that so much adversity is thrown our way, but that is how we know it is a really good thing and worth pursuing.

As for the serpent, I have never seen such desperate and lame headline billboards. They are actually embarassing. They use bad language and rude suggestion everyday. I'm sure his main readership comprises Paedophiles and the like. He even headlines cases of beastiality. It's aweful. And then my son asks me what that board on the pole means.

See? Karma. I would not want to have his life, no thank you.

Regards
Robin

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

One fact that can never be changed Robin is that paper is patient. Also, as they say, revenge is best served cold. I realised this when the article appeared in the Star apologising for the rubbish they wrote about EO. Sadly though, it all came a bit late and they achieved what the rebels and terrorists wanted – and paid some of them for - but I have a certain pleasure when I follow the careers of these liars that they are not going too far at the moment. Plus many of them are no longer being paid by 2 paymasters which must be having an influence on their livelihoods. Some have their reputations in tatters as well.

It boggles the mind that such unethical people are allowed into positions of influence.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robin said...

Hi Eeben,

Paper is patient is so right. Different context, but same applies to your book. I am going to give my son a copy of your book when he is old enough, the characters may change, but the lessons in the book never will.

I'm not sure what it is about the world we live in, but far too many foul people make it into positions of influence. Maybe they appear there to remind us that the world remains a dangerous place and one needs to be cautious? The best thing that anyone can do is live your private life as inconspicuously as possible.

Your book was a real eye opener to the back door dealings that really occured. The whole UNITA diamonds/arms and the number of RSA players shocked me. I remember how aweful I felt when the Sunday Times printed a picture of Savimbi, dead. In those days, I was so pro UNITA, (Angola was the 'vyand')I could not understand how the tide had changed from previous years. (remember that in those day, I had no internet, SABC and print was all). And only when I read your book the first time did I see why everything had happened the way it did. I recalled the days way back of reading about Executive Outcomes, but my impression was not a bad one. I will admit that I was puzzled why our friends were helping the enemy. This is why your book is worth a read over and over again. The first time I read it, the CCB, 32 Bat, Executive Outcomes operations was a big read, but the political aspect was a soft touch. Then the second time around, the political and more intricate dealings became a big issue. I spent time googling all these guys. It was quite an adventure.

Did you ever find out who the person was that made an attempt on your life in the park that night? (Understood if you refrain from answering)

Regards
Robin

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

We all grew up with different perceptions of who the enemy really was, Robin. Sadly though, it seems that many so-called politicians of the time were more enemy than the one we were facing on the battlefield. In fact, they achieved more in a shorter time than our so-called enemy did and they were able to destroy a professional army – something the enemy were never able to do.

I never found out who tried to kill me that night in the city but I am still sure I wounded him in the little gun battle.

Rgds,

Eeben

RED PILL said...

Hey Eeben.

I was just reading some article on the I Luv SA blog and came across one of your comments about having some TRP Interviews. "I got TRP interviews with Eric harris, Bok van blerk, Eugene Terreblanche, Eeben Barlow and much much more. I even got ou Adrian Snymans interview about ou Siener. " I was just wondering if I can grab some of these from you somehow please.

Thanks.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am sorry but I do not have any such copies of either myself or others on TRP, Red Pill.

I would suggest you contact the mentioned site to ask them for copies. I am sure they would oblige.

Rgds,

Eeben

RED PILL said...

Sure thing, thanks. :)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You're welcome, Red Pill.

Rgds,

Eeben

Patrick said...

Good day Eeben,

After a long absence Im back following your blog more closely. All the best with your new book, cant wait to get my hands on it when it comes available. The principles of the conventional attack was an exellent atricle/extract which I enjoyed very much. After 8 years here I must admit that were far worst off and than when I got here in 2005..... the end is near. With the amount Green on Blue incidents especially the last two weeks it is only time before most NATO/ISAF countries will withdraw even before the 2014 deadline. Vetting and screening was never done properly and the threat from within demorilized the ISAF/ NATO forces. I can see this happening more now over the immidiate next few weeks and the bottom line is that if there is no strategic plan and commitment /support from the host country the intervention is doomed from the start.We are now just plucking the fruits failure to impliment the 5 P'S and stick to the basics.

Kind regards
Patrick Rolf


















Regards
Patrick Rolf

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It has been a long time, Patrick!

The amount of Green on Blue attacks is indeed very sad and indicative of a negative and volatile situation. I can appreciate the impact those incidents must have on the ISAF/NATO forces.

Sitting far away from your situation, it is apparent to me that the host country has no desire to really support the forces there. That in itself is a recipe for disaster.

I trust you and your colleagues will all be safe. As long as you implement the 5Ps and stick to basics, you ought to be okay.

Rgds,

Eeben