About Me

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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. Until recently, I was a contributing editor 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, March 25, 2013

FAILING TO LISTEN


As has become quite usual and an almost daily occurrence, rebel forces throughout central Africa have gained momentum and succeeded in defeating government forces. Often, the government forces appear to be very well trained in running away whilst the rebel forces appear to be better trained, have more cohesion, are better armed and even have better mobility than the government forces.

I am also amazed at how easily - and quickly - governments dismiss intelligence in favour of disinformation. Could it be that they believe the “advice” given them by foreign governments or so-called “subject matter experts” is more credible than that given by people who do actually have “ears on the ground”?

The escalation of tensions in the so-called Great Lakes region is a fine example of governments’ failure to listen. It appears they are advised to adopt the ostrich approach (sticking their heads in the sand and hoping the problem will simply go away) – an approach that is apparently becoming the norm. This approach apparently assures governments that the problem will indeed “go away” if it is simply ignored.

Often these rumours are clustered around other rumours that give credibility to the false sense of security that an interested party is trying to develop. Selected “leaks” to the media result in these rumour-clusters being given more credibility – and this is then fed back to the government as fact “as the media said so”.   

The end-result is that when they finally pull their heads out of the sand, the problem has become a crisis. Those who so generously misadvised at great financial cost have by then long flown the coup. The crisis rapidly escalates into a blood-letting of aggrieved citizens and ill-disciplined troops and the entire system of government collapses.

The culture of failing to listen is partly the result of being fed so much rubbish that it becomes literally impossible for governments to distinguish fact from fiction.

Without naming and shaming governments, we warned four different governments of threats being developed in their countries long before the threats manifested themselves. This intelligence (by the time we advised them, we were no longer giving them simple information) was discarded as rumours, whilst rumours and innuendo that painted a rosy picture were seen a “credible intelligence”. We are still trying to warn another government that a coup is imminent. No doubt they are also being advised it is nothing other than a rumour.

The impact this “intelligence” (rumours, innuendo and false stories) has on the Pillars of State is enormous in that it ultimately alters the perceptions of the populace and leads to a reaction that the governments have often not anticipated. The collapse of the armed forces simply adds to the unanticipated reaction as soldiers and civilians alike join rebel forces and begin a campaign of looting and intimidation.  

Then of course, we have the SANDF’s 2013 misadventure into Central African Republic (CAR). Again, a badly advised government force, ill-trained and totally unprepared for the rebel assault on the government of CAR. Needless to say, this has irreparably tarnished the reputation of the SANDF.

Whereas I mourn the death of every soldier, we must not forget that the SANDF has also been the beneficiary of “free advice” and “free training”. Sadly, this resulted in the Seleka rebel coalition outgunning and out-manoeuvring the SANDF. This confirms that not only was the overall SANDF strategy flawed but that the strategy had its foundation resting on poor intelligence – and no strategy can succeed if it is developed off assumptions and rumours.

Additionally, even the best strategy and operational designs will fail if the armed forces are not trained and equipped to implement the operational plans. Inadequately trained forces with poor leadership simply add fuel to the fire.  

This all goes back to failing to listen to good advice and instead opting for bad advice aimed at disadvantaging the recipient.

As long as governments fail to listen – instead relying on disinformation – this cycle of chaos will continue. 

24 comments:

michael b said...

With regards to the SANDF. Wearing a uniform makes you no more a soldier than standing in a garage makes you a car!

The SANDF is woefully inept and merely a disorganised organisation. They lack TRAINING, DISCIPLINE and lack the FUNDAMENTALS of basic soldiering! The SANDF have ZERO business cavorting around Africa pretending to be peace keepers or intervention forces when our own country is spiraling down the tubes. Inept governance, corruption , crime, lack of caring for the citizens and all out stupidity is running rife right here at home where our leaders practice the very same approach you speak of. The Ostrich head in the sand approach to leadership and ills within the ruling regime. Soon our country too may be embroiled in very similar situations as those of our neighbours?

There is no doubt in my mind that South Africa is on a slippery slope to chaos. We are being led by buffoons who willy nilly make use of words like democracy and Ubuntu but in fact are much the same as foreign African countries. We are not a DEMOCRACY,,, we are in fact a KAKISTOCRACY, a country led by it`s least worthy individuals. Eeben we are on the list of "democracies" which will crumble into chaos, we have so much to lose though and so much for the West to gain when we degenerate into carnage. Our natural resources are a big carrot for "Western interests" and that is why we don`t seem to see much of an outcry from the West as we implode into our own ring pieces.

Just my uninformed 2 cents worth:
Mike

Alan said...

An interesting perspective.

http://africanarguments.org/2013/03/26/bozize-falls-and-zuma-fails-in-the-car-%E2%80%93-by-michael-keating/

Regards, Alan

Herbert said...

Eeben,

I could literally feel your frustration propagating from the words in your posting--and with good cause. Unfortunately, many people will not believe information that runs contrary to what they want to believe, that is as long as there is another voice feeding them their desired line. And that voice is the chorus of "advisors" you wrote of in your previous posting. I never found an adequate riposte to the cycle.

I realize that neither I nor anyone else is qualified to tell you about the intelligence business. I can only commiserate with you. In my 20-plus years of intelligence work, my blood pressure increased about 20 points; it is back down now. I'm glad I am out.

Regards,
Herbert

Gexton said...

Thanks, you guys that is a great explanation. keep up the good work.. home security service
home security solution

Alan said...

Thought you might enjoy reading the following:

UN approves DR Congo 'Intervention Brigade'.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/03/2013328191551529953.html

Regards, Alan

DONAVIN said...

Eben I have not come across any comment or detail on how our troops conducted themselves in the defence of their base. From what I understand the rebel forces greatly outnumbered our troops.
One would like to think that while our troops did sustain relatively high losses, they put up an effective defence. As you would well know, unsupported light infantry fighting from static positions would be hard pressed to hold the line. Our governments lack of vision and understanding of the military necessities in deploying light infantry beyond our logistical capabilities is indicative of their continued inefficiency in all spheres, whether it be domestic or foreign.
Donavin van Eeden

MC said...

Dear Mr Barlow

Hope you are well?

It is sad to see how the SANDF, a so called "professional" military force, was embarrassed so badly by a rebel force that could not have had the same opportunities for training and equipment as the South Africans (surely?)! More embarrassing is the fact that it took a few public outcries and the SA government brought the soldiers back.
Surely the government knew the potential risks of sending armed forces into a war zone? The shameful message that I have understood from this is that there should never have been a deployment, or the reasons of the deployment were so feeble that a few uproars at home was enough to cancel the mission and cease operations in the CAR?

Obviously it is a sad day when any soldiers are killed in action, and I do not want to detract from the loss of lives, but by pulling out the rest of the soldiers following this debacle does seem to make the cause for which they lost their lives seem questionable.

I wonder if there is in fact more to this story than a true sovereign mission by the State?

Best regards

MC

SFMEDIC said...

That is likely to continue as long as the UN and US State Department are the major players in training and logistics in the African continent. I can't think of two more inept organizations to be involved.
The growing clash is going to make Rwanda look like child's play. As one who loves Africa and her people, I find it depressing to watch.

FeedZaRage said...

Mr Barlow.

I'm a 24year old man from Pretoria and it would be an absolute pleasure for me to pick your brain some time. Please get back to me when you can. I'll be awaiting your email.

Mike

Unknown said...

Hi Eben i could not resist....you said this excursion by the SANDF would tarnish their reputation, what reputation is that? Is is the reputation of those jungle bunny generals who were never junior officers, have never seen a shot fired in anger, have a chest full of medals and were former terrorists who murdered women and children all in the name of freedom!lol

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

An important 2-cents, Mike.

Unfortunately, our armed forces are not even a shadow of what they used to be. We also need to thank all those kind foreign governments who rushed in after the 1994 elections and offered free training and advice – and encouraged the demise of the old SADF. Not to mention over-priced equipment we cannot even use. But then again, such is the process of a bankrupt moral system. Of course, the SADF had to be slated as the “apartheid army” – with its own political agenda. This lie has sadly been perpetuated to the point that it is now considered a fact.

What many fail to realise is that we are already a fragile state. We currently have a low-intensity conflict on the go and no one seems to notice. The ostrich mentality will surely cost us dearly in the future.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is an interesting take on the situation Alan.

Equally interesting to me is that I personally gave a briefing to our Dept of International Relation and Cooperation (DIRCO) some time before CAR fell. I did not go to DIRECO and volunteer it – they summonsed me and asked me what was happening and what I thought would happen.

Sadly, my warnings were not heeded. In fact, I suspect my words died in the small room we met in.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are correct, Herbert.

If what they are told does not match their perverted view of a false reality, it is discarded for words that feed their desired line. My anguish and frustration sometimes gets the better of me. Despite that, I still love this continent.

I can surely appreciate how intelligence work impacted on your blood pressure. I sometimes feel mine going through the roof, especially when I can actually see what is happening on the ground and those in power tend to want to rather be blind.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Like many things UN, this is doomed to fail, Alan.

Three African countries, working together as a single intervention force? What happened to marrying-up drills, joint training and standardising TTPs and equipment and more? Then of course, the UN itself will try to keep this bde out of any trouble as it may reflect badly on them and have a negative impact on the rebels’ human rights.

I am sorry to sound so negative but I have witnessed first-hand the tragedy of UN so-called “forces”.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

There is no excuse for a lack of intelligence, strategic vision and contingency plans, Donavin.

Whereas it is true that some troops put up a spirited defence, the reality is that I personally briefed DIRCO on what was coming. See a previous comment of mine. One cannot however blame the troops – one needs to blame the leadership and command elements.

It is apparent that the rebels achieved operational and tactical surprise. Whatever happened to reconnaissance to the front and intelligence gathering? Many things were lacking but again, we cannot blame the troops for their failure. That lies squarely before the door of their so-called commanders.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is truly depressing SFMEDIC.

Whereas I cannot speak on the US State Dept, my thoughts on the UN, formed through first-hand experience, is not good.

I would love to know what success the UN’s field army boast about?

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The misadventure of the SANDF in CAR was a typical example of a government failing to listen and the leadership of the armed forces failing to provide leadership and direction, MC. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, DIRCO was warned of what was coming but chose to ignore all warnings and instead opt for voices that spoke of what they wanted to hear.

Africa has become the deployment areas for foreign armies and these troops are deployed to protect the interests of their governments. I have no problem if we do the same but sadly, the SANDF is not up to it nor does it have the training, leadership or will to fulfil its mission.

I too am deeply saddened by the loss of some of our troops and by all accounts, some of them acquitted themselves well. But, we cannot blame the troops – we need to lay full blame before the door of the so-called leadership elements as it is apparent that command and control was lacking.

We saw what happened when the SANDF invaded Lesotho years ago. There too they got a hiding. That should have served as a warning that something terribly is wrong. But again, no one took note and the situation in CAR was simply an extension of the many things wrong with our armed forces.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am pretty busy at the moment Mike but as I have no email address for you, I cannot mail you.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I was trying to be diplomatic, Unknown.

However, you are correct especially when we look at their behaviour as “peacekeepers”. Then of course, the row upon row of medals.

But you also need to remember that South Africa and the old SADF in particular was a target for many beyond our borders who needed to smear it as an “apartheid” army and a bunch of thugs in uniform. This lie was of particular value to many in the western media who realised that SA needed to be weakened at all costs.

It was, in particular the West, who hailed the new SANDF and provided it with training, joint exercises and advice. Look where that has taken us!

We now have what they wanted us to have.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Good to know all well with you, Private.

Stay safe.

Rgds,

Eeben

MadMacs said...

I'm not sure where you guys dig up your drivel. The SANDF acquitted itself well in the Battle of Bangui, facing odds equivalent to anything in our day in the Angolan campaign. Some of our old paras who were at Cassinga have also lauded our guys, with a kill ratio better than any modern armed force. It has also been seen that each subsequent deployment has raised the bar and the troops are doing well. The Rooivalks proved their worth instantly too, sending the rebels running for the neighboring countries within days. If you want to read what actually took place in CAR, try and read Heitmans report of the actual battle. Oh and in case you don't know, one of our snipers has the 8th longest kill ever recorded.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

My gripe is not how the SANDF acquitted itself or not MadMacs as I was not there to judge their performance.
The fact of the matter is that I issued a warning to DIRCO before the rebels took on the SANDF and no one listened. That was where my ‘drivel’ was aimed.
Secondly, had the SANDF been informed of what was coming, they might have been better prepared. The message was never passed on or if it was passed on, it was not heeded.
Whether you like it or not, this resulted in the SANDF having to withdraw in the face of the rebel onslaught whilst suffering casualties. The SANDF did suffer an embarrassment as it was unable to contain the rebels and had to retrograde out of CAR. I have said it before and I shall say it again: I mourn the death of any SANDF member. However, some of those deaths may be have been prevented if someone cared to listen.
Many warnings have been issued to governments who have simply refused to listen and as a consequence were defeated. If you consider that to be ‘drivel’ then I stand to be corrected.
Rgds,
Eeben

MadMacs said...

Sorry Eben, maybe I wasn't too clear and apologize. I am not criticizing your appraisal which is spot on and I have the utmost respect for your views. I was merely referring to those comments by people that portray so much negativity towards the SANDF.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No problem, MadMacs.
You must remember that perceptions shape reality. The negative perceptions created in the media portray the entire SANDF as incompetent, useless and unable to fight their way out of a wet paper bag.
To counter this, the SANDF needs to act proactively and not just keep quiet. We live in a world where social media platforms rapidly transmit information and if the SANDF does not seize this opportunity to rectify sensational reporting, they will continue to be perceived as incompetent.
Rgds,
Eeben