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.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


The world has become consumed with the scourge of terrorism. It is a curse that is on virtually everyone’s lips. This almost unseen threat has led to governments creating special “homeland security” departments to protect themselves and their citizens. However, indiscriminate bombings of innocent civilians, armed attacks on hotels and restaurants and the like are occurrences that many South Africans were very familiar with in the 1970s and especially in the 1980s.

South Africa’s cross-border pre-emptive strikes against terrorist bases were loudly and vociferously condemned at all levels of the international arena. It was claimed by the international community that the majority of the casualties from these strikes were “innocent civilians”, despite the fact that the contrary could be proved. The UN formulated special resolutions to sanction us. The fact is that thousands of truly innocent civilians have been killed, maimed and wounded in the strikes by the so-called coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike the case with South Africa, these causalities are either down-played or simply not even mentioned. They are considered to be “acceptable losses”. Hypocrisy?

Whereas the West cannot be blamed for the birth of terrorism, it was most certainly instrumental in aiding and abetting terrorism, especially in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. At that time, it was dressed up as foreign policy encouraging “democracy”, “freedom of speech” and “human rights”. This was supported by massive covert action campaigns through the written word. To many, the West’s foreign policy became synonymous with destabilisation.

What those strategists and policy advisors appear never to have considered was that the terrorism they were encouraging might one day return to their shores – with a new loyalty to their anti-West paymasters and/or ideological leaders.

Any citizen in the countries targeted by the West and who chose to disagree with his/her government was rewarded with “political refugee status” in especially the United Kingdom, Holland, France and Sweden and so on. Assisted by the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, these antagonists were given safe passage to countries where they could plot and scheme their future actions. They were given financial aid and in many cases they were even secretly trained in those countries. They were taught that the only law they had to abide by was the law they could distribute through the barrel of the gun.

Whereas one cannot condone the political systems in many of the countries where the West was instrumental in encouraging and supporting terrorism – South Africa being no exception – one can only wonder what the long-term strategic plan was, if there was ever one. What they surely did know was that by encouraging terrorism, governments would fall and countless civilians, both black and white, would be killed or maimed. Were these casualties simply accepted as unavoidable yet necessary collateral damage?

These special refugees were given all the media attention they wanted. Comments such as “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” were trumpeted. The terrorists-in-training were heralded as heroes wherever they went. Media comments such as “fighting for democracy” and “fighting for freedom and human rights” and the like were often published in the media.

“Humanitarian assistance” became a buzz-word for aiding and abetting terrorism. Special committees were formed to assist with the future plans these “refugees” were making for when they finally seized power through the barrel of a gun. Quasi-governments in exile were formed and the refugees were urged to unleash their fury on the countries they came from. Many Western governments covertly approved and supported this notion fully.

Other refugees chose to divert to the old USSR and its satellite states for training. Those who chose that path were often under surveillance and closely monitored. But, many countries did not realise how their “allies” in the West were plotting their demise by means of terrorism. In South Africa, soldiers were sent to fight the “Red Threat” when all along the real threat came from our so-called allies. I recall Indonesian Special Forces General Subianto telling to me in 1996 that the West would one day realise that terrorists they had been supporting would come back to haunt them in the future – and that they would not be able to negotiate with them over a cup of tea.

If a government was unwilling to bow to the West’s demands, anyone willing to enter into a violent conflict against such an “arrogant” government was armed and sent to indiscriminately bomb and shoot. To prevent that government from defending itself and its citizens, sanctions were imposed. These actions were then claimed to be part of “promoting democracy”. If it would have helped at all, many of us would have shouted “Guys, wake up. This will come back to trouble you”.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) role in fuelling, training, arming, propagating and promoting the violent overthrow of pro-West governments in Africa unwilling to be dictated to is, additionally, well documented. That was, in many instances, why so many African countries turned to the East for help. Once-prosperous African countries were undermined, blackmailed, threatened and even sanctioned for not immediately accepting the demands of the West. Ironically, in doing this they were working with their enemies in the East.

The US’s initial covert role and later not-so-covert role in training and arming the Taliban is also well documented. I know this because EO was approached by a US official based in Cairo and asked to assist with the training of the Taliban. That offer was declined. But the irony is that Osama Bin Laden, now on the US’s most wanted list, was one of those the US advised, encouraged, financed and trained.

Terrorism is partly a result of the West’s encouragement - and ignorance - of these groups that are now deemed to be the enemy. Adding fuel to the fire is the lack of intelligence planning and foresight to infiltrate and penetrate these criminal organisations masquerading as “freedom fighters”. Current containment strategies are poorly thought-out and difficult to implement. Over-reliance on technology has also proven its short-comings. The advantage no longer lies with the governments as they have lost much of the initiative.

Most of us view terrorism as an armed crime aimed at causing deaths and destruction. I, like many others, believe it must be eradicated. It is an extension of organised crime, aimed at instilling fear and terror and encouraging the belief that a government can no longer protect itself or its citizens. Its ultimate aim is to violently overthrow a government so that an alternative form of government can be established – or that the national will is sufficiently weakened to be exploited to the advantage of the terrorists. We have seen the results of these types of governments…

The West is now facing a predicament it helped bring upon itself; it has its own home-grown terrorists – people it once opened its doors to as “political refugees” but who have now become the danger from within. Did they not teach these refugees to ignore the rule of law, discard the Geneva Convention and reject all rules of engagement and war? Given the massive support that the West gave to terrorism, isn’t it now simply reaping what it has sown?

To defeat terrorism, a new strategy needs to be devised. This strategy cannot be based on technology and “troop surges” alone. It requires far deeper thought and planning than that. This type of techno-surge strategy and the subsequent doctrine and tactics that follow are both reckless and counter-productive and can only lead to even more precarious, costly and long-term conflicts.

Added on 8 January 2008: Please see http://www.africancrisis.co.za/Article.php?ID=41012& as a point that was discussed under the comments.


bulletbunny said...

i agree with barlow. moreover, the us now has untold numbers of terrorists and budding militants legally living inside their country having emigrated their while the us was so very busy meddling in the affairs of other countries that it did not see who all was settling in its own homeland to bide their time...
between all the terrs just enjoying the best of the west for now and that particular american psycho-type who has to mow down as many people as possible before killing himself in blaze of reality tv disglory, who in his right mind would want to visit the place, never mind live there. maybe only future terrorists?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is a sad fact that the US took its eye off the ball while playing in the backyard of others, Bulletbunny.

If I wish to travel to the US, I need to humiliate and prostrate myself to get a visa. But that treatment is not applicable to the US’s real enemies who can come and go as they wish. That is likewise the situation if we wish to travel to Europe. Strangely enough, for me to travel to African countries or the Far East, getting a visa is a quick and painless experience.

Those of us who lived in countries that were supposedly allies of the West became the guilty conscience of the West – we were betrayed and ridiculed - and we have remained there ever since.

Such is/was the grand strategy of the West, our ally. A large portion of their true enemies are now residents and citizens in Europe and the US.

I am not anti-West at all, quite the contrary. But I believe that successive Western governments have betrayed their own citizens as well. Their citizens have just not realised how badly they were let down by those they elected to rule them.



Aethyr said...

Hi there, Eeben!

You wrote: "The US’s initial covert role and later not-so-covert role in training and arming the Taliban is also well documented. I know this because EO was approached by a US official based in Cairo and asked to assist with the training of the Taliban. That offer was declined."

I knew of the US training of the mudjaheddin, but not that EO was approached to train the Taliban. That's quite an Eye-opener, if you think about the US pressure against your Company in Angola. Why didn't they ask other PMCs like MPRI for example?

Can you give us some more details on the US approach to EO?


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

What I knew about I wrote in my book, David.

At that time I, however, suspected that the US was about to change course re the Taliban. I also suspected that they (CIA) were looking for a scapegoat to blame. Although I was the one who turned the offer down (I was the one who was approached in Zurich), we discussed it at company level and reached agreement that we were possibly being set up. Also, we had decided at company level not to involve ourselves with religious wars so we couldn’t accept the offer to train the Taliban, even if we wanted to.

Shortly after the Taliban offer was declined, the US stepped up its pressure to get us out of Angola. Pres Clinton put additional pressure on the Angolan government and urged the UN to ensure our removal from Angola. What Clinton did not know was that we were about to leave Angola anyway as at that time, our contract was on a month-by-month renewal. The UN made a big show of us leaving Angola and guess who “took our place”? MPRI arrived shortly after we left but preferred to stay in Luanda after one of their men was killed soon after their arrival. MPRI’s arrival was followed by a large US “investment” into Angola. MPRI didn’t stay for long before they left Angola.

Someone said to me a while ago that had UNITA won the war, the US would have taken control of Angola’s oil. Perhaps the idea was to offer us the Taliban in the hopes that we would leave Angola, allowing UNITA to win the war.

That’s about what I know – and suspect.



Aethyr said...

I think I have to read your book again! It's been nearly a year now and I start to forget the things you wrote about. So I am sorry to bother you with things I could have looked up myself.

But thanks fo the deeper insight. And I must say you took the right choice not to get involved in a religious war. Those are mostly too unpredictable.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No problem, David! Have a look on P323 – you will note that my publisher spelt Taliban incorrectly…but the story remains the same.



Yuan said...

For most part the blame lies squarely with the USA and his allies breading the 'terrorist' culture. Once they don't serve their respective objectives, or realize they are been taken advantage of, they will be referred to as terrorists in the name of stabilization.

I encourage everybody to read John Perkins's "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" Although not well written it gives a good perspective of why (and rightfully) so many 'terrorists' hate the USA and his allies.

Let us not forget that the definition of the word 'terrorist' as accepted by the UN gives immense power to the USA and his allies and cohorts. Any group of people resisting whatever USA, CIA, UN hidden agenda can and will be called 'terrorists'

I am sure that if the citizens of Zimbabwe start to mobilize and revolt against Robert Mugabe's regime they will soon be called 'terrorists' as such resistance will not serve the few Mugabe protected individuals economically well.

This example is off the topic but to illustrate that a potential solution does exist; let's call it 'on mass education of the public'. Some tried with media and the movie "Blood Diamond." Although full of inaccuracies and too late, it did show that the potential exist to get Joe Public to act, or at least spread what he/she perceives as the truth.

I believe that if Joe public knows he receives reliable intel, 20% will get involved in spreading the truth, that might just lead to something positive?


Robby Noel said...

Eeben...Governments the world over all embrace the war on terror it gives them the excuse to shut down any form of public disagreement with official government policy...here in the land of the free even going back to the Clinton years Americans who spoke out in support of Americas founding fathers especially George Washingtons Farewell address were classified by the FBI as domestic terrorists...I also found it ironic that Mugabe used Americas example of reading citizens mail and email in a attempt to stop so called "domestic terrorists"....there is a joke going around here....if you not on some governments watch list you doing something wrong.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I suppose it is difficult to proportion percentage blame to any one specific Western nation, Yuan. However, the USA supported Mabuto, Mugabe, Njoma, Savimbi, to name but a few – but so did the UK and others. As you rightly point out, anyone who took action against those “gentlemen” were terrorists in the West’s eyes.

Perkins’ book was a good confirmation of what many have suspected all along. I still find it sad that those we considered our allies and who we have helped in times of war (WW1, WW2, Korea, Malaysia) have such very short memories. But then again, they have allowed so many of their true enemies into their countries that the problems they will endure will over-shadow what we lived through by far.

Again, I feel sorry for their citizens as they have not yet realised the extent of the duplicity of their leaders.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Too true, Robnoel1. As long as they can conjure up an enemy and give the nation a solution how they will defeat the enemy, they will have the people in agreement with them.

I believe domestic terrorism will in the coming year rear its ugly head in the West. I only hope that the West does not get too complacent about rooting out this evil. When it does happen, I also hope people will demand to know from their leaders why the enemy was allowed to flourish in their countries.



E Richard said...

Hey Eeben,
Our internal politics are currently playing out as you described. Homeland Security is a cabinet level position, billions of dollars to spend. With so much money to spread around it is easy to keep many on the home front content, lots of jobs for the regulars and contracts for the influential all while fighting terrorism. Homeland Security as an agency did not exist until after 9/11. Get this, the new head of Homeland Security is the Governor of Arizona, no military, security or police background, political, yes. Google anything that has to do with the Mexican Border which borders the US, it is a drug war zone. Arizona's southern border is Mexico, hole other topic.
In a relative equation though, I believe that the same percentage of radicals have remained constant through time. Same percentage with world population growth just equals more radicals. Although organization and funding are more refined, and causes are quicker to come by.
I try to make sense of our policy coming out of the US in simple terms, "they think we will be better off", and as a country we may think so, supermarkets with overstocked shelves, modern living conditions, cars, recreation, jobs. "They" have gone to great lengths to buy us off on our foreign policy. And the WAR ON TERROR is but another way to funnel billions of dollars in directions to further ones cause.
Think about this, one billion dollars is nine hundred and ninety nine million dollars, plus one million, $999,999,999.00 + 1,000,000.00, which is carried in the pocket and spent by the US like pocket change. Bad investment, oh well, no accountability, here is another
half-a-billion to see if you can make it sell better next time. Only in the USA.
Sad but true, South Africa and the ANC were an appeasement project for the US as well as the west in general. The very least we could do is let the media compare/contrast now and then. Can't do that, not politically correct.
Makes for good history and bedtime stories, but get over it.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

In a world where political correctness rules, the beneficiaries of this correctness are the only winners, ER. Again, the few shape the destiny of the many.

As you point out, one must get over it. But if nothing is said, we are simply condoning it all and no-one is ever held accountable.



Jake said...

Hi Eeben. Well done.

Just to further the point and to put today's date on this vital subject I must ask: Are Israel's tactics now on display against Hamas aiding in the efforts to eradicate terrorism or are they merely hardening the resolve of every 12 year old boy in Gaza to continue the fight in their lifetime.

There is not doubt that Hamas are some bad actors and perhaps killing a few or a lot of them individually is warranted. But hundreds of bombs dropped on a city to which non of the non-combatants are able to flee the violence? Is this an acceptable (to say nothing of effective) tactic? Or does it simply serve to prolong the conflict.

The U.S. in particular like to have it black and white, good and evil. Israel the former, Hamas the later. I suspect this is in part to the general dumbing-down of the American people in the past 2 generations but that is another discussion. As is our media's (the U.S.'s) complicity in allowing only one perverted side of this story to be told.

Neither Israeli nor Hamas at this stage are doing anything to ensure a lasting peace in this region. But, perhaps that is the strategy after all.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A difficult one, Jake.

From a Hamas point-of-view, I agree that this will make Israel more enemies than friends. Young boys who lost their families and friends will no doubt join Hamas as soon as they can. Anger will turn to hatred and the situation will be perpetuated over generations.

On the other hand, Israel has a right to defend itself but I fear this latest action can be likened to hitting a mosquito with a hammer - with no regard for the civilian fall-out.

I believe that even though Israel may achieve a tactical victory, they may have committed a strategic error with this offensive. What will happen if Hezbollah joins the fray from the West Bank and opens a second front against Israel? And if they enter the war, what will Fatah’s backers (Syria and Iran) do?

On the other hand, Israel’s last incursion into Lebanon was a hastily planned and very costly affair that led to Israeli embarrassment. The media did to some extent downplay that episode although everyone knew that Hezbollah had stood their ground. This in turn may harden Hamas’ resolve. A ceasefire now will only allow both sides to re-arm and re-strategise the situation and may simply end up prolonging the conflict as we know it.

Whereas the media has traditionally sided with Israel, I do note a shift in policy with increased criticism of the Israeli offensive. I believe that the war will be won or lost on the propaganda level and not on the battleground. And right now, Hamas has more to show with video footage and news reports on the civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure.



Jake said...

I refer then to your previous post where you detailed the fact that ceasefires, in the long run, generally only serve to prolong the conflict as neither side is ever able to have enough of the upper hand to change the terms at the negotiating table.

Allowing these two sides to fight it out sounds ideal if the fight were fair, but it is not. One side as all the military might money can buy. The other has comparatively very limited resources. The fact that Israel has never been able to get the upperhand even with all their firepower speaks volumes to the Palestinian resolve to win and the lengths they will go to achieve their means.

Anyway, its a complex case and not to be solved in quick blog comments, of that I am certain. I do find it interesting that Israel (and in their silence the U.S. administration also) points to the fact that Hamas "hides" among the civilian populous. Firstly, where else could the non-combatants go? They are confined to Gaza on all sides with no outlet valve through which to egress!

Moreover, but not surprisingly, America forgets her own struggle struggle for independence where the 'minutemen' of New England fought a successful guerrilla war against the British by using such despicable acts as 'hiding behind trees' and refusing to 'come out and fight in the open' against the vaunted Red Coats. Tactics chosen are driven by the effectiveness of the results they achieve.

Israel may in fact win this engagement at the tactical level although I would point out that a tie is the same as a win for a guerrilla force and by that definition it is unlikely that Israel can really claim 'victory' if Hamas does not formally capitulate.

The old Vietnam era slogan of 'we had to destroy the village to save it' is again on full display.

There is a giant elephant in this room and no one is willing to discuss it. And that is the very premise on which Israel was created in 1947 by the UN. That and her behavior (with the explicit and implicit backing of the U.S.) in the intervening half century. Political correctness will not allow such a discussion to occur for fear of someone crying antisemitism.

Ultimately what is sown will be reaped.

Someday a Palestinian leader will come along in the mold of Ghandi, or Martin Luther King and espouse the virtues of non-violent struggle. When that happens Israel may as well turn out the lights as their party will be over.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A ceasefire now will most certainly prolong the war, Jake.

I believe that even if Israel wins the tactical battle, they will have lost the strategic battle. That in itself will prove disastrous for Israel in the long run as Israel still keeps reminding the world of the how Jews have been persecuted. But the world will soon stop listening when they compare it to what Israel is now doing.

What we see right now is not only Israel’s assault on Hamas but also that on every Palestinian in Gaza. I am afraid that all that Israel is doing is hardening the Palestinian resolve to continue fighting Israel. As you rightly point out, the innocent have nowhere to go and are thus just trapped in the fire.

You are correct - it is a major problem and everyone is skirting the issue so as not to be politically incorrect. The bottom line (from where I am sitting) and despite Israel’s right to self defence, Israeli force will never truly destroy Hamas and they may emerge even stronger than before the offensive.

I do know that if the SADF did such an operation in the 1980s, we would have suffered all kinds of action against us from the international community. Israel won’t as it is a great ally of the US. We weren’t seen as such, despite what we did.

A tactical victory will be a hollow victory for Israel as Hamas will not go away. Indeed, this offensive will in all likelihood turn world opinion very much against Israel. As I previously said: “I believe that the war will be won or lost on the propaganda level and not on the battleground. And right now, Hamas has more to show with video footage and news reports on the civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure”.



simon said...

the topic itself is worthy of a book. The CIA has done as much to help as it has to hurt. Its fickle in its support and is much like the fashion industry. Insane schemes that change from year to year. One can only point fingers from the outside, not knowing what they do and when they do. The vietnam war was all but 'won' when we pulled out. every province under arvn and police control. As they say now in afgh. You have watches, we have time. We helped the afghanis beat the hell out of the soviet union morally as a payback for vietnam and a host of other proxy wars but I doubt anyone seriously considered the fall out of the taliban.

We allowed evil men to triumph because they were the friend of our enemies. Until we cross borders Angola style, we cant win any sort of even strategic victory in afghanistan much less a moral one. Exporting American democracy will have to go the wayside Im afraid.

I hate that politics ruins our military. Forever doomed to relive the vietnam insanity of anti COIN warefare and geneva conventions splitting hairs. We dont want to become our enemies but the sheepdog has to have a wolf's killer instinct to instill fear in the enemy.

Palestine/israel. Its funny how each incursion is suppose to bring armageddon and the antichrist. This has been going on since MOSES.
There is a wierd inuendo about israel but I think they have a right to self defense. There are zionist conspiracies run rampant with critics of the american govt but I think by and large we will let israel do its own wars and try the neutrality, peace thing which will fail. We will see an eventual cease fire, enough time to regather a new crop of youngsters and time for iran to resupply them and little toy rockets to harass israel then it will begin again.

Im trying to think of the last war that resulted in total victory ? ww 2 maybe ?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It will need to be quite a thick book, Simon. But – and here I am basing my thoughts on what I have read – the US soldier in Vietnam was again betrayed by his political masters. Of course, the media helped whip up the anti-war frenzy but the blame has always been placed at the feet of the soldier. Likewise, the Taliban will continue to flourish as long as the poor strategies of containment are put in place – and then changed on a regular basis. It is that type of action that has led to the huge distrust in the USA.

Counter-insurgency wars can be won if the military strategy is correctly formulated and military is allowed to do its job. Politicians however have a strange fear for the generals when a war is going well as they fear the generals will get public support at the expense of their own support.

Your assessment of Israel’s situation is very valid. As Jake pointed out, if the two sides are allowed to fight it out till the end, it will resolve the situation – but it will be an unfair fight. I still believe the war will finally be won on the propaganda front and not on the battleground. And as each day passes and civilian casualties mount, Israel looks a bit worse off.



bathmate said...

Thank you for your fantastic posting


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you for visiting the blog, Bathmate.