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.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


The unseating of the government in Mali was nothing other than an intelligence failure of epic proportions, not only by the Malian intelligence services but also by the member-states of the AU.

The aim of any intelligence service is to identify potential and real threats to the national interests and vital interests of the state. These threats are then targeted for intelligence collection, interpreted and disseminated. Furthermore, these agencies need to be able to make intelligence predictions based on the database of knowledge they have built up over time. It is apparent that if this was done, it was done very poorly.

In early March 2012, it was already evident that the Malian forces had lost the initiative in the north of the country. The garrison at Tessalit was under siege by the Tuareg-led separatist movement known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Awawid (NMLA). The NMLA claimed it is fighting for “independence” from Mali. Reinforcements were unable to break through to the garrison.

The NMLA had apparently been boosted by “freedom fighters” from Algeria, Chad and Nigeria. Additionally, the Malian government claimed that the MNLA had been boosted by “drug dealers, Al Qaeda factions and other Islamists” – a claim no doubt made with the hopes of getting increased foreign (US and French) support as these are matters that lie close to the heart of the US government – and Mali was a French colony.

Cut-off from reinforcements, outgunned and ultimately defeated by the NMLA in Tessalit, morale in the Malian forces was bound to take a downward turn as soldiers began deserting.

On 20 March 2012, the AU’s Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) met in the capital of Mali to discuss the ever deteriorating security situation in the Sahel region. On 21 March, the demoralised Mali forces toppled the government of Pres Amadou Toure – in the capital – by means of a coup. How the unfolding dissatisfaction in Mali military ranks was something the AU – and its numerous member-state intelligence services – had not foreseen defies belief.

For some time the Malian army has been fighting the NMLA. They have, also on numerous occasions voiced their concern at the lack of equipment, arms and ammunition with which they are supposed to fight the NMLA with. They also voiced their concern that Pres Toure had adopted a too soft approach towards the NMLA.  

Pres Toure, however well intentioned he may have been, forgot that one cannot negotiate from a position of weakness – a situation that was very evident in the north of Mali. Ironically, the leader of the coup, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, is now voicing his desire to negotiate with the NMLA separatists. The coup has however created a power vacuum and presented the NMLA the initiative in their fight against the Malian forces and it can be expected that their determination has been increased.

Given the fragility of the Sahel region with its famine, poverty, Islamic terrorism, porous borders, droughts, uncontrolled flow of weapons, along with the NMLA insurgency in the north, it is surprising that this situation was not viewed by intelligence services as a threat to both the national and vital interests of the state.

The deposed president’s seat had hardly gone cold when the fingers began pointing.

Some African government officials were quick to lay the blame for the NMLA’s insurgency the subsequent coup at the door of NATO and its allies for their involvement in Libya.

Whereas it is true that the NMLA insurgency intensified after the collapse of Gadaffi’s Libya – many of the Tuaregs fought against Gadaffi’s forces and returned to Mali after the “regime change” - it is somewhat disingenuous to blame NATO for such an intelligence failure. It will be interesting to see how the new Libyan government views this situation as the Touregs can rightly be seen as their allies.

The fact that the Malian intelligence services (if they were not part of the planned coup) along with the AU member-states’ intelligence services were unable to identify the dangers of a pending coup or anticipate a coup, shows that there was a massive intelligence failure. No amount of finger pointing can and will dispel that fact. Nor will it dispel the threat the Mali coup poses to regional stability.

The domino effect of the “Arab Spring” poses a very real danger to African governments. They need to take note of what happened – and what is happening in their own countries. But, as long as they remain complacent and ignore the dangers developing in their own countries the danger will keep growing.

If other African intelligence services remain reliant on open source information (OSINFO) and believe that just because they are not seeing things and accept that all is well in their countries, they too can look forward to their own intelligence failures in the future.  


Herbert said...


Several thoughts:

-- Intelligence failures, even massive ones, are always with us. In my own 20-plus year intelligence career I observed and participated in some significant ones. That NATO and the US "Africa Command" could miss the coup is not surprising at all.

-- Probably some elements of the AU were aware of the impending coup, and for their own reasons chose to let it proceed. The puffed-up grandees of the AUPSC meeting in Mali the day before the coup might well have been denied the information by their "own team." Just surmising here.

-- As you well know, coups are usually driven and supported by the "what's in it for me?" mentality--not by thoughts of what's best for the people, region, or continent. Personal agendas rule; hence, some intelligence gets buried.

-- In the end the Law of Unintended Consequences holds the field.


Ben said...


The software seems to have eaten my post so I'll try this again.

Absolutely a spot-on observation. What stuns me the most is that Mali has been facing a predominantly Tuareg insurgency for almost the past century and they somehow failed to realise that an influx of battle-tested Tuareg fighters from Libya would be a problem (actually, that reminds me of an important African lesson - tribal affiliations laugh in the face of our silly borders). Especially since Libya was a Huge Thing that everyone was watching even if they never took an interest in Africa before.

As for the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb connection, the impression I've gotten from OSINT is that the NMLA is not necessarily aligned with AQIM but they use each other for their own ends. Does that sound right?

I think the CIA and our special operations forces should take note if they have not already. Rumour has it that the three major Islamist groups in the region are already talking to each other and getting more sophisticated in their practices.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Very valid comments about intelligence failures, Herbert – I too have witnessed them and although not part of the failures, I was deployed on intelligence that was beyond wrong.

As the coup leader was US-trained, I would have thought that the US maintained contact with him and that someone somewhere would have known what was coming.

Even though one cannot blame the AU in total for the failure, I would have assumed that the member-states’ intelligence services, especially those from that troubled region, would have had matters covered. Perhaps the problem really lies with sub-standard training? I suspect that part of the problem lies in that domain.

Mali was considered to be somewhat of a “model state” in terms of democracy in that region, following Amadou Toure's the coup in 1991. As you know, he handed power back to the civilians and then stood for president and was elected to office in 2002.

Whereas most if not all coups are of the “what’s in it for me”-type, I suspect that the reason for this coup is different and is part of the ripple effect of the Arab Spring. The Touregs, although mostly nomadic, have seen this as an opportunity to force the Malian government’s hand. Then of course, there is the religious aspect too.

The Law of Unintended Consequences will certainly hold the field here.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The Tuaregs have been a “problem” for a long time Ben, but mainly because they were not considered when borders where drawn and enforced. The impetus of the Arab Spring, the experience they gained in Libya as well as the free flow of weapons has no doubt inspired them and strengthened their resolve.

On the other hand, the Malian government chose to deploy the armed forces but apparently did not give them the support they needed to do their job. Even the best trained troops with no support will not achieve much. For some reason, governments and their advisors seem unable to grasp this very basic and logical fact. Perhaps this is due to government complacency and the misguided belief “it will never happen to us”.

The talks between the three main Islamic groups in the region does not hold good for the region especially as these talks are aimed at establishing a closer cooperation between themselves. Till now, they have all used one another to gain an advantage. If their talks succeed, they may become a major destabilising force in the region. That ought to make governments and their intelligence services sit up and take note.

I am sure the CIA and your special operations forces have taken note. I just hope that the region has too.



Feral Jundi said...

I was not aware of these talks between the three Islamic groups in the region. It would be interesting to see how much influence they will have in Mali after this coup. Politically speaking, the islamists have been doing pretty good after these rebellions. Folks like the Egyptian Brotherhood cleaned house politically in Egypt.

The other thing I am wondering is if this coup had any advisers or help? Or if they are getting help now as they re-arrange the pieces to their favor.

Finally, as I read through the details of this thing, I can't help but to think about this book I checked out last year. It was basically a handbook on how to perform a coup. The thing was based on findings from numerous past coups and discussed what works and what does not. This book is called 'How To Stage A Military Coup' and it was quite entertaining. Here is a link.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I suspect they will join forces despite their differences, Matt. Once they have achieved their aim, they will settle their own differences but right now it is a matter of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. They have the experience and weapons to launch an offensive and do some damage, if not physically then at least psychologically and politically.

I believe the Arab Spring did a lot to destabilise North Africa. Time may prove me wrong but it will probably spread to other areas of West and East Africa. I hope I am wrong.

Thanks for the link. I am sure it will be an interesting read.



Unknown said...

another country , another coup. this is getting all rather boring really. its time for a good old fashioned kick ass civil war to make paying our television licences worth paying. the ongoing trend that was started way back in egypt?? is geeting real stale. one thing for sure is that the first victim of all these little regime changes and low intensity campaigns is 'intelligence". apparently intelligence was the first victim claimed in the opening salvo. i always get this sneaking suspicion that the press and the idiot brigade at the UN are the ones responsible for the irretrievable breakdown in intelligence === on all levels. i am going to start running bets on which african country is next to be deposed and the odds are looking sweet on syria hitting a speed bump , a big one soon. i may be wrong but i mentioned syria a while back and the pressure cooker has boiling there for some time now. the syrian president does have a sexy wife though. something worth fighting for i suppose? mike. just brain farting.

YEP, GEDDON! said...

Hi Eeben,

I'm a third year undergrad student studing International Politics, specialising in Security Studies at City University, London.

I'm currently writing a dissertation on the impact of Executive Outcomes (as well as Ghurka Security Guards, and Sandline) on Sierra Leone.

I'm not interested in the moral/legal issues that many people in my field probably would be. Instead, I'm interested in the material impact of EO during the civil war.

I was wondering if you could explain, in your opinion, the impact EO had on the conflict? Also, what gave you the initiative, and facilitated your ability to start EO?

I understand your a busy man, so I won't take offence if you don't have time to answer questions for an undergrad project, but let me know.

Yours faithfully, Matz

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Another African tragedy, Mike. We are simply witnessing the results of political armies operating in intelligence vacuums. Added to that is the fact that people are now becoming frustrated at a lack of governance and political direction.

Syria, although not part of Africa, is also reaping the benefits of intelligence failures on numerous fronts.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your visit to the blog, Matz.

The impact EO had in SL was rather well covered in my book but the long and short of it was that EO’s strategy was to deny the rebels access to funding ie the diamond fields and then conduct a war of attrition against them by taking the fight to them in the jungle and outmanoeuvring them.

Much to the disgust of some, EO was successful.

GSG and Sandline were never part of EO.

Good luck with your studies.



Unknown said...

yes, i did get a tad ahead of myself there. i was darn good at geography but i was just in too much of a hurry to think logically. syria is definately not in africa, i skipped a few sentences while doing the two finger type technique. please excuse my idiocy. back to syria though, i believe we will see something similar happen there as what happened way back in romania with the Ceaucesku`s( spelling is way off here). the presidential family ended up very dead in the streets of the capital. the only true solution to somalia`s woes is to obliterate the rebel group al shabbab and force peace. sending the UN to stand around idly and "observe" while hoodlums ransack aid supplies only to sell them on the black market is as good as complicity in the crime. i wrote a short concise email to the UN and added 3 pictures of what their legacy of somalia will show. people starving to death in the streets of the capital city (what is left of it). i am still waiting for some pencil neck to reply and tell me i am an evil person. i put it bluntly that the only way to end the misery is to beat the rebels decisevly on the battle field and force peace. i read that somewhere before,, wonder where????? i also mentioned that it is blatantly obvious that the UN has no real mandate other than self preservation of budget for next year. peace breaks out, war halts, UN budget gets reduced, UN fat cats end up on the "unemployment line". it is very apparent that misery is big bucks.(apparent to the UN that is)to those caught up in the quagmire its just plain misery.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I thought you did it tongue-in-cheek, Mike.

I regarded Egypt as the centre of gravity for North Africa and the Middle East. My view was that if Egypt fell, there would be a domino-effect throughout North Africa and the Middle East. I think Syria is part of that effect.

Somalia is a different kettle of fish simply because it has been a failed state for so long. As regards the UN, my thoughts are well known on that organisation. Whereas it can play an important role, it chooses not to do so. The article I wrote for the Counter Terrorist magazine was titled “Is the UN above the law?” Given what we have witnessed them doing, I think the answer is “Yes!”

You are correct – conflicts and war equate to big money for not only the UN but to some NGOs as well. It is just a pity that those who really mean to do good have not yet realised that.