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.

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...” 


Unknown said...

Good day Eeben, the question begs,,, where next?
With the current trend and direction could the "Arab Spring" head to Mauritania ,Morocco, Western Sahara? It is a nice long line of countries from where the extremists could sow the seeds of destruction and draw Nigeria`s already fragile political/religious clans into the quagmire.
If the west does nothing and allows this "Arab Spring" to continue unabated it could end up as the West`s own "winter of discontent."

The way i see it is that we are all on a slippery slope and the hand rails are being chopped down. The trend seems to be running East to West across Africa and will surely start flowing down like a disease.

My humble uninformed 2 cents

Spec-Ops Medic said...

During my last journey to Nigeria I talked with civilians and military about the same problem. They were also aware that Mali would be next.
It seems most people know what is happening but no one knows what to do about it or has the resources to deal with it. If Africa could ever overcome tribalism or the islam/christian divide it could be the most powerful continent in the world.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A not so uninformed view, Mike.

It is spreading and what the Arab Spring did was provide access to uncontrolled flow of weapons. What I still cannot get my head around is the provision of air support to extremists in one country and then the bombing of them in the next.

Africa has such potential but it is being wasted. But, I believe that Foreign Interests have replaced Vital and National Interests. Mali has, in many ways, itself to blame – as do many African countries. For this reason, they should not be entertained when they provide poor governance or sell the birthright of their people. Yet, when these governments finally realise they are in deep trouble, they blame someone else – and yes, there are some to blame – but had they governed and strengthened the pillars of state, they would never have found themselves in the predicament they are in.

Strengthening the state by making use of dubious foreign advisors is a shot to the head.

After all, when you are perceived as weak, the enemy appear strong.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I agree that many know what is coming SFMedic but I do not believe that they do not know what to do. I think they know what to do but do not know how to do it. I attribute this to poor advice, lack of training, lack of will, etc, etc.

Whereas tribalism definitely plays a role in many of these conflicts, I have also seen it being encouraged and exploited by advisors. Any advisor worth his salt should not involve himself in tribal and cultural issues he knows nothing about.

The resources are there but many leaders have sold this birthright – or nationalised it to their own advantage.



Unknown said...

Hi Eeben
No training is free. The West knows how to play the “for free” game. On top of that, the training is sub standard, and the equipment, their rejects. As soon as a receiver of such equipment becomes a bad guy, no spare parts are available for their Western equipment.
As soon as Western forces deploy in countries, strangely enough, rebel groups’ start forming and become threats to Governments. (CAR, DRC, South Sudan, Nigeria? etc.)
As you rightly point out, who trained the Malians, Algerians etc etc.
To add to some comments on the “Arab Spring” – The West are sending their troops to be killed and maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but support the extremists in Libya, Egypt, Syria…. The support they gave them via SF troops on the ground, airstrikes etc. and then they turned around and bite them in the back through an embassy attack and 4 Americans killed, amongst them the ambassador who in fact supported the rebels in Libya. So the strange thing here is, as soon as a Government is actually trying to control/suppress an extremist/terrorist uprising, they are criticized by the West as being dictators and not wanting a democracy. The West in return assist the “freedom fighters” and after the smoke clears, are surprised at the results!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

From the tone of your comment, I deduce that you are from Africa, Unknown?

Yes, you are correct. There is no such thing as “free” training – I have witnessed the disastrous effects of many of these so-called free training programmes. The scramble for Africa started several years ago and both the West and the East are hedging their bets to see who can claim Africa’s resources. “Free” training is one way to ensure that the so-called beneficiary has to continually look to you for help when they need it. (As mentioned, look where this approach got the SANDF). This help then comes at a price that is often unaffordable.

Your comment on the sudden rise of rebels groups once SF teams arrive in a country is something many Africans I speak to have noticed and it is causing them extreme concern. Unfortunately, this approach to foreign policy is driving governments in exactly the opposite direction and they are beginning to view the West with a growing suspicion.

As for bombing and fighting extremists in one theatre and then supporting them in another theatre is furthermore equally alarming to many on this continent. It is indicative of foreign governments’ inability to identify the enemy/threat – a critical factor in any strategy or operational plan development. You are correct – when the real threat emerges, they feign surprise and cannot understand how their supposed ally – who was actually their real enemy to begin with – could attack them.

One cannot blame the soldiers and airmen who are providing this training and advice as they are simply following their orders. However, it is putting them increasingly at risk – something that in turn is equally concerning.



Feral Jundi said...


Excellent analysis and here is a toast to a new year and a farewell to the bloody and chaotic prior year!

What kills me about Mali is that the US spent over 500 million on training forces in Mali, and I am wondering what was taught? Classes on coups and how 'not to be a soldier'? lol

Here is the money quote from this article I read recently.

"The U.S. spent more than $500 million in a “counterterrorism” program backing the Malian military against the insurgents, including the training of elite military units by U.S. Special Forces. U.S.-trained units under Tuareg leadership then defected, leaving the Malian forces demoralized. In March 2012, a U.S.-trained officer, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, led a coup to overthrow the government of President Amadou Toumani TourĂ©."


With that said, someone in the hi command needs to re-evaluate the process of training these folks, and future forces that will be used against the islamists throughout Africa, because this is unsatisfactory in my book.

Also, I talked a little bit on my blog about the possible PMSC contribution in this new phase of the GWOT. I think this ECOWAS force will require much hand holding and training, much like with the AMISOM force. We will also see security upgrades and manpower adjustments with private companies all throughout the region.

I was curious what you thought about the possible contributions of PMSC's in Africa as the islamists continue to take land? Take care. -matt

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

That is an astonishing amount to pay for failure, Matt! I can only shake my head at the gross incompetence we witness with these so-called training teams.

Well, PMCs with a real reputation (I am not talking about the wannabees which seem to be all over the show getting contracts) can make a massive contribution. Sadly though, your Dept of State seems to pettily view my company as some sort of enemy so the chances of us getting involved are about zero.

I have long maintained that African forces are completely incorrectly structured – they are semi-clones in terms of organisation of their European or old-Soviet masters. But that mind-set prevails and noting will change it.

My argument is that if you haven’t won a war, how the heck do you teach soldiers how to win? A great many PMCs – and foreign army training teams – have records of failure. One cannot therefore expect to get a winning team out of that. I know this will upset many but it is the harsh reality of life.