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.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


In my previous posting I listed the reasons why I believe governments fail at COIN. Most insurgencies start either as a result of a perceived lack of – or poor - governance or to resist an invader when the government and the armed forces have been overrun.

Governments, despite often being the prime reason why an insurgency starts, are often only too keen to make the armed forces responsible for establishing workable governance in areas that have become positively disposed towards the insurgency.

As it is an internal problem, countering the insurgency is essentially a law enforcement responsibility. The problem is that often the law enforcement agencies do not realise that an insurgency is developing and through ignorance and denial, mislead government – and the nation - on the seriousness of the situation. This provides the insurgents with numerous advantages, most crucial being time to organise, train and escalate the insurgency.

The end goal of the insurgency is political in nature and therefore, the main effort aimed at countering it ought to be political and not militarily. This “passing the buck” approach places the armed forces in a position they can seldom if ever win as the military’s role is not to govern but to ensure an environment in which governance can take place.  

An insurgency is neither a strategy nor a war. It is a condition based on the perception(s) of a part of the populace that poor governance exists, that government only governs for its own benefit and that they – the populace - are being marginalised or politically suppressed. In reality, an insurgency is an internal emergency that, left unchecked, can develop into a civil war. The insurgency itself is a means to an end and it is an approach aimed at either weakening or collapsing a government’s control and forcing a negotiation in the favour of the insurgents.   

The role of the armed forces, once it has been mandated by government to take control when the law enforcement agencies are unable to contain the insurgency, is to create an environment that will allow government to negotiate from a position of strength – and govern. To achieve this, the armed forces must destroy the armed elements of the insurgency and “out-guerrilla the guerrillas”.

The armed forces can, despite their relative strengths in terms of manpower, firepower and other resources, fail at effectively neutralising and destroying an insurgency. There are many reasons for this failure but not all of the reasons can be laid before the door of the armed forces.

Intelligence failures, poor strategies and a lack of training, equipment and preparation as well as a lack of understanding of the Operating Environment (OE) are major contributing factors. So too are attempts at utilising conventional TTPs to fight an unconventional enemy. Being unable to apply relentless pursuit and locate and destroy the insurgents with ruthless aggression add to the reasons for failure.

However, all the firepower in the world will not end or contain the insurgency if government fails at its responsibilities. The armed forces cannot build national cohesion nor can they be expected to govern in the absence of government.

I suspect that what I was taught many years ago still holds true; countering an insurgency requires an 80% effort by government and a 20% effort by the armed forces. However, in executing their 20% responsibility, the armed forces must give 100% of their effort to succeed in creating the climate government requires to fulfil its duties. This climate is characterised by safety and security.

In the execution of their mission, the armed forces must continuously guard against:

1.    Unnecessary collateral damage – this will alienate the populace towards them
2.    Disrespect and maltreatment of the populace
3.    A lack of operational flexibility
4.    Imposing unnecessary restraints on the troops
5.    Believing the enemy to be inferior
Inability to adapt
6.    Poor discipline
7.    Routine
Foreign interference 
8.    Neglecting the principles of COIN.

Misleading, emotional mainstream and social media in favour of the insurgency can weaken the national resolve and demotivate the armed forces.  Furthermore, this type of reporting will give credibility to the insurgents and add impetus to the insurgency.

It is furthermore crucial that the armed forces know when to stop and when government must take over and govern and the law enforcement agencies enforce the law.