About Me

My photo
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.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Much is said and written about the different environments soldiers need to conduct operations in.

A crucial factor that needs to be appreciated when developing and formulating the operational design/commander’s intent is the operating environment (OE).  Failure to appreciate this environment in detail can lead to problems and even disaster once the operational design is implemented. This is because the OE has a major impact on our tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).

The operating environment can by defined as the result of the appreciation of a combination of factors that include – but not restricted to - terrain, climatic conditions, population distribution and their feelings towards opposing forces, vegetation, infrastructure (or lack of), tribal distribution, religion, culture and so forth.

               The OE can vary within a single AO

The OE is therefore the result of several appreciated factors in order to determine their impact within the Area of Operations (AO) that can, may or will influence combat operations.

This will allow the commander to determine to what extent the OE favours either own forces or those of the enemy and what can be done to negate enemy advantages as well as ease and sustain own forces combat operations.

The OE is classified as friendly, neutral or hostile. In turn, this can result in limited activity operations to highly complex operations and can result in both conventional warfare operations and COIN operations within a single Area of Operations (AO).

Combat operations in Africa can, within a single AO, result in operations being conducted in a savannah-type area to very dense jungle. Dry, flat, sparsely vegetated desert-like conditions to hilly, swampy, water-logged areas are not uncommon.  This variation within a single AO will determine the type of transport assets that will be required and will greatly impact on the type of logistical supply lines to sustain combat forces.

A detailed appreciation of the OE will provide guidance on:

1.      Classification of the OE

2.      Type of area(s) operations may or will be conducted in

3.      Type of environment that operations may or will be conducted in

4.      Infiltration or deployment possibilities

5.      Type of warfare/combat operations soldiers will be expected to carry out

6.      Offensive options

7.      Adaptions to TTPs

8.      Logistical possibilities and options

9.      Medical possibilities and options

10.   Communications possibilities and options

11.   Advantages /disadvantages OE presents to own forces

12.   Advantages /disadvantages OE presents to enemy forces

13.   Termination and withdrawal options, etc.

Additionally, this appreciation will expose vulnerabilities that own forces may face during the conduct of operations.

Assessing the OE is part of the commander’s appreciation, the result of which is his operational design and intent. This, in turn, forms part of the larger formation design for battle, a design that ultimately stems from the military strategy.


Mike Da Silva said...

fully understandable and was practiced to perfection by EO in the Angola contract which i worked in and didnt spend an iota of a thought about the planning and logistics behind it all. i personally believe that contracrors today are just too keen to get into the area of operations to get the contract going without having clearly thought out the stuff that makes a contract really work. things like, what happens when an "employee" breaks his ankle going to the long drop to take a dump and what about the guy who contracts malaria? these types of things are often cer taken into consideration in the pre planning phase as everyone is simply looking at the end goal and dollar signs. EO was different in that it was run like a unit within the old south african army with daily routines such as parade and pt. this instilled a modicum of discipline that all units require to operate effectively. Rieme De Jager was a hard task master but we all respected him and did as he said. without military discipline these contracts always degenerate into chaos. i wonder if Simon Mann ever really considered these things before departing on a key stone cops type appproach to coups in africa? i met him once and was very disappointed by his ridicule of the hearts and minds approach EO had toward its employees. i have once before related this meeting with SM on your blog and i was very unhappy at his crap attitude. today`s PMC companies need to take stock (in my very humble opinion) and thoroughly plan all aspects of deployment before committing personnel to the ground. its all about accountancy and accountability. you knew this way back then and practiced it to perfection and that is why you never ended up in some shit hole third world prison wearing grey pyjamas and looking lost , forlorn and shell shocked. i respect the way you ran the company and the lengths you went to, to secure our well being. thank you for the adventure of a life time. ex EO employee, Mike da silva bk nr 32.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you, Mike. However, let us not forget that there were competent (often not well liked!) men who took command and made sure that operational plans were executed as best possible – usually under very difficult conditions. Then of course there were the pilots who flew through hell to insert or uplift men when it was needed. And the Loggies, the Medics, the Signallers, the Admin guys and many others...They deserve the credit.

Many times, even the best laid plans can go wrong because someone somewhere is not pulling his weight. Sometimes the equipment is simply lacking – or the political will.

There is no greater gift a commander can have than men who do what they are asked to do, when they are asked to do it. Again, I am proud of every commander we had regardless of his position.



Anonymous said...

How was it with self-imposed restrictions as is rule in A-stan now, did you guys back in the times have to wear ballistic all the time (so all long range dismounted recon ops are screwed), and had other limitations, like minimum size of the unit leaving the wire (bye bye covert sniper ops) etc?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Having not spent a day in Afghanistan, I can’t comment on how these orders are implemented there, bushcraftercz.

In the SADF of old, we never had body armour and simply had to take our chances. However, given the heat we had to endure carrying very heavy packs, I doubt anyone would even have thought of wearing it.

In EO, we provided body armour but the decision to wear it lay with the man on the ground. Some would wear it but many simply left it in the stores.

Minimum size of a unit being deployed – our Special Forces would sometimes use 2-man teams for reconnaissance and at 32 Bn’s recce wing our smallest element was 4-men...and that was in a very hostile territory.



John said...

Good Morning Eeben,

This looks very much like a "systems engineering" approach. Looking at everything imaginable, accounting for the effects on the operation and executing.

As long as the "commanders/leaders" do not get lost in process and concentrate on good product it works every time. Of course the men/equipment have to be capable or there is no chance - it is slow starting but can work very quickly depending on the skill of those executing and adapting.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

One needs to appreciate every conceivable factor, John. However, it is not the appreciation that matters as much as what we do with it.

There is a “formula” for the appreciation and essentially it is a structured, logical thought process – but sometimes it is difficult to think logically when crocodiles are snapping at your butt.

You are correct, the best strategy or plan is worthless without correctly trained men and the equipment they need to conduct operations in the OE.



Alex said...

Hi Eeben,

A very interesting piece, and an element of military command I had never thought much about if I'm honest. The more I realise how much an officer must take into consideration the more I recognize I probably wouldn't make a very good one!

Also, a related but random question if I may. Are there any particular types of insect repellent which were particularly favoured by the SADF, or indeed in South Africa in general? I have read that many British and American soldiers use Deet, sometimes in extremely concentrations, but wondered what Africans themselves use, since you probably have the most experience operating in jungle environments.

Now I'm just going to read your post again to make sure I got it all...



eet kreef said...

http://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2009/Fitzsimmons1.pdf - a very interesting analysis of EO operations in Sierra Leone.

rogerpociask said...

Just Wondering: Have you ever seen a need to offer PSYOPS support to a client through social media? @roger_pociask Windhoek

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Hi Alex,

In those days, we weren’t really too aware of insect repellents apart from the compulsory Daraclor (anti-malarial) we were supposed to take. I think we had other things on our minds – such as trying to do our jobs without a thought of ever getting ill.

Obviously, any area that is “foreign” and that will be deployed in needs to be assessed in terms of what sicknesses and diseases are found there. Things such as cholera, typhoid, malaria, diphtheria, sleeping sickness, etc need to be considered and pre-emptive action taken (thanks for pointing this out to me!).

Nowadays, we mostly use a soap impregnated with citronella oil (when we can wash) as well as a liquid anti-mosquito/bug repellent. We also use a very small electronic device that scares off mosquitoes and bugs. Some of us also sleep in hammocks and make use of the mosquito net to its fullest.

Hope that helps.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Hi Eet Kreef,

Thanks for the link.

Yes, I read this piece a while ago and it is actually quite good. Of course, there are issues I would disagree with but then again, I suppose that I am still very touchy when it comes to EO.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Hi Roger,

To date, no. Although it is something that has been discussed, there has never been a real need for it.