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.

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.  


Herbert said...


Good on you for cleanly differentiating between government and armed forces responsibilities. My experience (and frustration) is that governments expect the armed forces to shoulder the entire load--including the governance bits. I sense yours is the same. Hence my comment to your last posting that western governments just are not up to the job of dealing with insurgencies.

I'm tempted to chatter on, but let me just close by taking this opportunity to say that as one who is getting on a bit and is neither beginner nor expert in this business, I always enjoy your postings and insights, finding them indicative of the respect I have always held for the select units of the old SADF, warts and all--and I know there were plenty warts. Those who choose to be offended by that statement can do so at their leisure or mania; I could not care less.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I sometimes watch in almost morbid fascination at some of the COIN efforts being carried out, Herbert. More so, I sympathise with soldiers who are expected to be politicians and shake my head at politicians who want to dictate military strategy in an effort to avoid giving political guidance and governance. I agree with you that governments expect the armed forces to shoulder the load but I suspect it is to have someone other than themselves to blame when the wheels fall off.

The old SADF certainly had plenty of warts. But, being under the pressure we were, we did what we could with what we had. But in SA, as elsewhere, the conflict was political in nature and no amount of stepping up operations could achieve a decisive result if the political animals were not prepared to do their jobs.

Looking back on what happened, one can always be a rocket scientist. I think however that there were valuable lessons to be learnt but no one wants to either see or learn from them.

I agree – those who wish to sulk about your comment should do just that.



Unknown said...

Good day Eeben, a tad off topic but i would like to ask a quaestion.
I was contacted by gmail out the blue by a woman named Marlene Jaeckel asking if i had ever met her father who worked for EO apparently around 1993-1996?.
I don`t have any knowledge of this name, Dr Waldie Jaeckel. Do you have his name in your data base of employees?

Many thanks: Mike

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Yes, I know him Mike.

Dr Waldie worked very closely with EO and was actually part of the medical contingent of Stuart Mills. By the time he arrived, we had already established a dedicated medical company and he joined them, working alongside Dr Francis and co.



Unknown said...

Good day Eeben. Well it seems the new RSA has eventually made its own Sharpville.

Having watched the video numerous times it seems clear that the police were surprised by the sudden appearance of a horde of marauding protestors. Gun shots are heard before the "rain" breaks out from the police R5's and a trail from either a tear gas or smokey is seen travelling from the flank of the police line. The cop in the fore ground almost looks freaked out when more shots are heard and he opens fire. The firestorm that erupts kicked up dust and dropped the miners in their tracks.

This sad event will have repercussions for sure but i personally don't find fault with the police response. They were effectively flanked and then ambushed. The fact that during the week 10 people including 2 police men were murdered by these "miners" must also therefore be taken into consideration surely? These were not your garden variety peaceful Mahatma Ghandi protestors.

I hope there will be a turning point in our country when it comes to protest action. Weapons of all sorts must be prohibited at marches, the very inclusion of weapons incites aggressive behaviour and besides, a protest is that, a protest not a riot! The recent "service delivery" protests are indicative of mob rule and have led to deaths of innocent peripheral outside citizens who had nothing to do with the action.

I believe the police were ambushed and they reacted in self defence. The riotous miners were obviously not running over waving weapons to slow dance and coochy coo with the police..
To think that all this hubhub supposedly began because of differences between two unions with wage hikes chucked in later for effect.

Just my uninformed view. Mike.
Yes, cry our beloved country! Even Alan Paton's widow is leaving!

Unknown said...

Military Challenge Coins
There must be some problems other wise Armed forces does not fail easily.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I fear that what we witnessed at Lonmin’s Marikana mine was another link in the chain that is choking SA and is a continuation of what we witness on an almost daily scale, Mike.

No one can dispute the valuable role miners play in our economy but that does not give them the right to murder policemen and security guards or to take the law into their own hands. Like all employees, they were not forced to work for the mine – they asked to be employed and with that employment, came a contract that stated what their salaries would be. If they felt so aggrieved about their income, why not leave? There is also a tipping point where salaries cannot be increased at the expense of the longevity of the mine. Adding fuel to this potential fire was the bad blood between two unions.

On the other hand, the SAPS have lately come in for a lot of negative publicity – much of it very warranted – but in this instance, it is claimed that the protesters/strikers (maybe some would prefer to view them as “freedom fighters”?) were the first to open fire at the police. Additionally, it was also reported that the SAPS used teargas as well as water cannons to disperse them but when they became even more hostile and threatening, the SAPS had to act to protect themselves.

The service delivery protests – some very destructive and violent - are another factor that is developing to a point where the SAPS have had to - and will have to act. Again, this is a threat that, should it not be addressed, will result in a large-scale problem for government. We regularly see that even students are burning universities and libraries as they feel that they should not have to pay for their studies. The fact is that government promised “free education” – and the promise is coming back to haunt them. But in this process, hooliganism and lawlessness has become almost endemic. Add to all of this, protests over houses, water, soaring food and fuel costs, toll roads, militant labour forces and so forth. This does SA no good as the already over-burdened taxpayer has to continually foot the bill to enable repairs to the damage done. (See my previous posting on “Why governments fail at COIN”).

Then of course, there will be little space left on the bandwagon as people try to exploit the situation for their own political agendas.

What is disconcerting is that, in my opinion, we have already entered into a phase of low-intensity insurgency – and no one seems to have noticed.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A good way to advertise your coins, Leesa?

There are numerous reasons why armies fail – and all of them are the result of problems.



Unknown said...

Eeben your last paragraph in reply to me is tight on the money. We have indeed entered a low intensity insurgency and yes, no one seems to notice or care? We are ALL collectively staring into the abyss toghether as South Africans regardless of our personal politics and creed etc.

I have tried in my own way to impart my feelings on this issue to the ruling party via email and on there facebook portal along with the exact posts to the chief opposition party but it seems that everyone has adopted the "ostrich head in the sand approach"?

Thank you for your time in replying to my comment, at least someone out there has. I posted the thread on my blog as well titled MARIKANA MAYHEM and i also took the time to send a response to the official police web site where i state that i for one stand by the brave men who faced certain danger on the day. I also sent a scathing comment to a supposed trustworthy news paper who show a police man obviously exhausted sitting in the passenger side of a Nyala armoured car but the caption reads that the police man is sitting in his (and i quote spelling here) CASPER. It is blatantly obvious that the journo is trying his best to "militarise" and "demonise" the police as if they were akin to the old 32BN and Koevoet. I openly scorn the journo for trying to create a story as opposed to reporting the facts and if he cannot even get the armoured carrier correct then how the hell are we supposed to believe anything else he reports?!?!?

I distrust the media and believe them to be a part of the problem in the country.
many thanks: Mike

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

That abyss, unless someone notices soon, will open wide and swallow us all, Mike.

Despite what anyone has to say or shout about this – and I notice some have already started using the Marikana incident to boost their political careers – I would love to see what they will do when faced with hundreds of machete-wielding, muti-induced strikers who believe they are invisible and have already committed murders.

Writing to anyone about what happened is a waste of time and effort.

The reality is that our country is already a powder keg waiting for a spark. Unless something is done – sooner rather than later – it will implode.