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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I remember clearing for mines around a young soldier who had just stepped on an anti-personnel mine. His broken body had been dragged him into the shade of a tree and the medic was gently tending to his injuries and bandaging him up. The injured soldier was a good tennis player and he had just lost a leg.

Another sapper, eating some bully beef out of a tin with a stick, ambled over to his injured friend.  In shock and in pain, the injured man, understandably too scared to look at his injuries asked the sapper “Is it bad?”

His friend the sapper knelt down next to him and said: “Always look on the bright side – in future you only need to buy one “takkie” (tennis shoe)”.

This remark was made without malice or flippantly. It is the way soldiers talk to cope with the horrors they need to deal with. Living on the edge gives rise to a dark sense of humour only those who have been there can fully appreciate and even understand.

It therefore shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to find some in the media complaining about recent photo of a French soldier wearing a skeleton mask. Wearing a mask or a scarf to protect one from the dust and debris is rather normal. The fact that his mask resembles a skull is part of the dark humour soldiers develop. It keeps them going.

 Photo by Issouf Sanogo, AFP

What did they think he was doing in Mali – baking a cake for the extremists? The next thing they will probably complain about is the aggressive-looking weapons soldiers carry or that their uniforms frighten the enemy. Or maybe even that their weapons can actually kill people.

I am sure that if a company of soldiers wearing masks such as these appeared out of the dust, even the most hardened enemy will be taken aback and worried that he is being attacked by death itself. Which is exactly what should happen anyway.

The photo has resulted in a flurry of condemnation. Even a French military spokesman apologised and stated that the wearing of the mask was unacceptable and not representative of French military action. A hunt is now on to identify the soldier in the picture. Why on earth is that?

Similarly, there are those in the British media who are complaining about Capt Wales (Prince Harry to those who know him better) commenting on the fact that he had fired his Apache helicopter guns at the Taliban and had taken some of them “out of the game” – a common term used instead of “Hell, yes, I blew them to smithereens and there was blood and gore splattered over the entire area”.

Predictably, his frank comments – which do not in the least appear to have been boastful - drew a backlash from anti-war activists who, no doubt when their lives are threatened will call for people such as Capt Wales to save them and take the threat “out of the game”. Perhaps they will hope that someone will come along and “whack” or “slot” the threat to keep them safe so that they can continue to complain.

Even the extremists are complaining – and getting publicity - about his attitude to killing – something they certainly have no qualms about.  

Now what did these good armchair analysts think he was doing in an Apache helicopter? Was he supposed to merely observe the enemy whilst they were firing at him or his friends on the ground?

Soldiers need to deal with the stress and fear that accompanies them every day of their lives when in a combat zone. They cannot grieve for their friends who have lost life and limb in a firefight – they need to get the job done as quickly as possible. To do this, they develop their own language to cope with the horrors they need to deal with, smell and witness.  This language is littered with dark humour outsiders will not understand. To maintain some sanity in an insane world, they wear strange things, do strange things and say strange things.

However, war is not some game that is played according to gentlemen’s rules.  The aim is to identify, locate, neutralise, annihilate, disrupt or destroy the enemy or break his will to such an extent that he no longer has the stomach to fight. If wearing a mask and using dark humour or saying strange things will speed-up the process of achieving the aim, then it should be done.

If the media and the politicians don’t like the way in which soldiers cope with their jobs or if they don’t like their humour or their sayings, perhaps they should go and do the fighting instead. We can then sit on the sideline and criticise.

To the soldiers out there, regardless of where you are, do not let the media and politicians dictate your humour and prevent you from “wearing a mask”. If that is what you need to do to cope or scare the hell out of the enemy and destroy him, then do it.   

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Some of my Nigerian friends and I were discussing the situation in Mali and the apparent lack of good advice, intelligence, strategy, training, intelligence forecasting and threat analysis that led to the current situation there. Virtually everything required to make a government strong, secure the state and protect the populace was sorely lacking. (To the folks who asked me about Mali, www.beegeagle.wordpress.com will be able to offer a lot of insight into the current efforts in West Africa and Mali. My friend “Beegeagle” runs this very popular blog - 10 000 visits a day should give an idea of its popularity).

During these discussions, I suggested that it is time for African governments to begin asking some very hard questions, especially in terms of some of the “free” advice and training governments and their armed forces are given. After all, even the SANDF has “benefitted” from some of this advice and training.

But, back to Mali where a very simplistic background is as follows:

The geo-political, economical and threat changes, challenges and developments that have taken place since the so-called Arab Spring have impacted severely on both North and West Africa. The pre-coup Malian government was certainly not as pure as the driven snow. As early as 2003, the former President of Mali allegedly allowed extremist control of the North whilst allegedly raking in huge sums of money from narco-trafficking and ransom payments.  Added to this was the issue of depleted land resources – one reason for Tuareg discontent with the Malian government -  overgrazing of the semi-arid lands bordering Mali and Niger and the subsequent desertification of those lands. Then there was the steady rise of AQIM, MOJWA and others who had the potential to form hostile anti-government alliances. The collapse of Libya added to the flow of weapons and combat experience into the conflict areas. It appears that no-one was able to predict this or even noticed.

Initially the removal from power of President Amadou Toumani TourĂ© by a coup may have appeared to be to the benefit of Mali and the region. This regime change took place a mere five weeks before a presidential election was to be held with the outgoing President stating that he was not interested in running for office again. But then, a poorly foreign-trained army’s discipline collapsed, opening the door to uncertainty, chaos and an offensive by the extremists in the North. Whilst the extremist offensive was being planned, we twice warned the new government of Mali of the threat build-up and the need to take immediate and drastic action to curb it before the extremist offensive could gain momentum. (To those who think this was an attempt to gain employment – don’t let your imagination run away with you).  They were either advised not to listen to the warnings or to simply ignore our “disinformation”.

Poor governance resulted in Mali’s Vital Interests and National Interests becoming even more threatened as the country’s pillars of state came under increasing attack. Some of these interests happened to coincide with the Foreign Interests of France, who arguably had the courage to intervene to protect their interests and their citizens living in Mali.

Nigeria and its West African allies also committed men to the conflict as a successful takeover of Mali by the extremists will certainly pose a threat to West Africa. Extremist success in Mali would only embolden the enemy and provide other similar groups with a safe haven/springboard from where to plan and launch their operations into Europe and deeper into Africa. Additionally, success in Mali will give the extremists a new front from where to launch operations into Algeria. Perhaps they will do this under the guise of “democratic forces” and the international community will once again jump in to help “democratic extremists” as they did in Libya, Syria, Egypt and so forth.

Regardless of the situation, it is the development and escalation of the crisis in Mali that prompted us to beg whether questions should not be asked - and answered. These questions included inter alia the following:

1.     Did the “free” advice given to Mali not indicate or even hint at the importance of threat analysis and intelligence forecasting? If so, why not?
2.     What advice and support were the Malians given by their advisors during the development of their National Security Strategy?
3.     What did the “free” military advice and training consist of?
4.     Who trained the Malian armed forces?
5.     What happened to the Mali intelligence effort?
6.     Who trained the Malian intelligence services?
7.     Was no one able to predict the proliferation of weapons into Mali after the collapse of Libya?
8.     Why were Malian army units so rapidly overwhelmed by the extremists?
9.     Where was the so-called Rapid Intervention Unit?

The list of questions goes on and on...

To anyone who doubts my comments – and concerns – about the level of training given to the Malian armed forces, take a look at the training of their “Rapid Intervention Force” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=01NBUiA3Tjs 

I have witnessed the results of a lot of this so-called “free” advice and training that is given to African armed forces. In a nutshell, it is pathetic. A look at what happened and is still happening in CAR, DRC, S Sudan and other states is testimony to poor training, bad advice, incoherent doctrines, a lack of intelligence, a lack of strategy, poor discipline and a lack of motivation and will.  

African armies have a choice in terms of training, advice and support: Accept the freebies and suffer the consequences or pay for it and have someone to hold to account.

But, the answers to many of these questions will be found in a line in Bob Dylan’s famous song: “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind...” 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


The armed forces can, despite their relative strengths in terms of manpower, firepower and other resources, fail at effectively neutralising and destroying an armed insurgency. The reasons for these failures include, inter alia, the following:

1.     Lack of support: When the armed forces are tasked to respond to an insurgency, they need maximum government support to achieve mission-success. This support extends beyond mere political and moral support but also in terms of providing it with the equipment and resources it requires. A lack of support from government will result in a lack of determination from the armed forces to accomplish their mission. Similarly, a lack of support from the local populace will cost the armed forces dearly in terms of manpower, intelligence, national support and may result in the populace giving support to the insurgents.

2.     Lack of intelligence: A lack of sound and credible intelligence at the strategic level will impede the armed forces’ strategy to counter the coming insurgency whilst at the operational and tactical levels it will restrict the armed forces’ efforts to plan and execute effective COIN operations. Intelligence must provide clear options on where, when and how actions can be conducted and with what force levels. Misappreciating the enemy will result in poor plans and efforts to locate and destroy the enemy and add to the enemy’s momentum. Additionally, a lack of intelligence will lead to unclear and vague orders. A lack of intelligence also prevents knowing the enemy – a crucial factor in defeating the enemy.

3.     Poor strategies: Poor strategies – and a subsequent lack of relentless strategic thinking - are not only the result of a lack of intelligence but also due to an inflexible, non-adaptive approach to formulating strategy.  The inability to formulate a strategy that attacks the insurgent forces over both a wide and a deep front will cost the armed forces in terms of domination, momentum, initiative and success. Additionally, operational developments must never drive strategy although operational developments can lead to an adjustment of strategy. Poor strategies also result in “mission creep”.

4.     Belief: An over-confident belief in their own abilities coupled to a belief that the enemy is inferior, poorly trained, ill equipped and operating with poor leadership will place the armed forces at a disadvantage of their own making. This misguided, at times arrogant belief can result in the armed forces suffering tactical defeats at the hands of the insurgents. In a COIN conflict, relative strengths is not a decisive factor.

5.     Lack of preparation: If the armed forces are not correctly prepared in terms of training and equipment, they will remain ineffective and reactive. Using incorrect doctrine, TTPs, approaches and equipment are indicative of a lack of preparation.

6.     Poor training: Conventional TTPs are not always relevant to COIN operations. Training must be mission-specific and aimed at allowing the armed forces to “out guerrilla” the insurgents. This requires an in-depth knowledge of the enemy and his TTPs. Initiative, adaptability and flexibility must be emphasised in training. Command and control must be decentralised.

7.     Foreign intervention: Foreign intervention must be viewed with caution as Africa has witnessed numerous interventions by foreign forces in COIN situations, only to see the insurgent activities escalate. Where foreign forces intervene in support of government COIN operations, their interests need to be clearly defined and understood. Similarly, foreign NGOs, despite their utterances, do not always wish to see an end to the conflicts as such will result in their reason for existence being questioned as well as a reduction in their income.

8.     Neglect of principles: By neglecting the principles of COIN whilst ignoring the principles employed by the insurgents, the armed forces posture themselves incorrectly and give the initiative to the insurgent forces.

9.     Expected to govern: The armed forces are not trained, prepared and equipped to fulfil the role of government and the civil service. This results in the misguided belief that the armed forces must conduct “hearts-and-minds” operations as opposed to destroying the enemy. Whereas the armed forces must create the climate in which government can function ie do its job, expecting them to govern is giving the insurgency new impetus to continue.

10.  Collateral damage: Unnecessary collateral damage to the populace creates resentment, anger and even a desire for revenge. Collateral damage is also perceived by the populace to represent government policy and, as such, breeds a deeper desire to replace government, in turn swelling the ranks of the insurgency.  Collateral damage will, furthermore, reduce the support of the populace towards the armed forces.

11.  Disrespect and maltreatment:  A lack of respect towards the populace, their property, culture, traditions and religions will breed resentment towards the armed forces. As with collateral damage, disrespect and maltreatment, along with an unwillingness to defend and protect the populace, will be viewed as government policy and reduce any support the populace may have towards the armed forces.

12.  Incorrect approach: COIN forces’ primary mission is to conduct enemy-focussed (enemy-centric) operations. By altering the mission of closing with and destroying the enemy in favour of population-centric missions, presents the armed insurgent with numerous advantage as well as the initiative. Disregarding indirect approaches will not favour the armed forces. Agility, flexibility, manoeuvre and relentless aggression must be part of the approach.

13.  Constraints: The armed forces are faced with numerous constraints when conducting a COIN campaign. These include poorly formulated Rules of Engagement, international interference (often aimed at assisting the insurgent forces), UN mandates that counter-act the actions of the armed forces and so forth. Unnecessary constraints prohibit the armed forces from achieving mission-success and can severely impact on morale.

14.  Poor discipline: Poor discipline in executing tactics as well as in relation to obeying commands is indicative of poor training and a lack of leadership. Fire-discipline and when necessary restraint, requires discipline as does the immediate execution of orders. Poor discipline will also manifest itself in the armed forces behaviour towards the populace in the form of rape, theft, assault and so forth.

15.  Inappropriate doctrine: Conventional warfare doctrine does not serve as a template for COIN doctrine. Doctrine is guided by experience, intelligence and the terrain. A failure to develop an appropriate doctrine and to continually assess and adapt it to ensure its relevance will place the armed forces at a disadvantage.

16.  Lack of flexibility: Rigid, inflexible operational plans can lead to disaster, especially when senior officers refuse to adapt their plans to cope with an ever-changing environment and situation. This lack of flexibility is often the result of a lack of knowledge and understanding of the insurgent or his strategy.

17.  Lack of motivation: Poor training, along with a lack of discipline, leadership and equipment will impact negatively on the morale of the armed forces. Demoralised armed forces will lack the motivation to achieve their mission.

18.  Lack of resources: A lack of resources, especially tactical airlift and special weapons can render a well-intentioned and aggressive armed force powerless against the insurgents. A lack of resources can also indicate a government’s lack of faith in its armed forces or even a concern by the government that the armed forces may use their equipment to threaten government.

19.  Not understanding the OE: Failing to understand the operating environment will ultimately result in mission-failure. Terrain, weather, demographics, vegetation and infrastructure all influence the operating environment. Similarly, weapons and equipment are determined by the OE. At the operational and tactical levels, failure to exploit the OE will result in the armed forces surrendering the initiative to the insurgents.

20.   When politicians make the plans: It is not unheard of that politicians want to determine and dictate military strategy as well as influence military operations. These misguided beliefs on their military prowess will hamper the armed forces and afford the insurgents numerous advantages. Politicians are not trained in generalship and the art of war. Instead, they must set the guidelines and policies for war and support the armed forces to execute their mission(s).

Perhaps the greatest danger the populace face is when the government does not trust its armed forces and the armed forces, in turn, do not trust the government. This can result in internal struggles in which the populace will have to choose sides to survive.

Both governments and their armed forces can be successful in combating an armed insurgency if they negate the above reasons for failure and jointly cooperate to defeat the threat.