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 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.


Herbert said...


Very well done. You have thoroughly and thoughtfully laid out your points on this evolution which will continue as long as man is on this earth. I would just hope that governments and armed forces who undertake counterinsurgencies would attempt to first digest your exposition of the hurdles their armed forces must navigate. My guess is that they will leap first--as usual.

As I mentioned in a comment a year or so ago, I have lost faith in the ability of at least western governments to successfully prosecute a counterinsurgency. They have neither the spirit nor the stomach to see it out. I realize that your post refers to armed forces, but, and as you point out, complete coordinated support from the government is critical. That is all too often where the grip is lost.


Tango said...

Eeben ,
A great post

It made me think of the following quotes:
“War does not determine who is right- only who is left.” ~Bertrand Russell

“A professional soldier understands that war means killing people, war means maiming people, war means families left without fathers and mothers. All you have to do is hold your first dying soldier in your arms, and have that terribly futile feeling that his life is flowing out and you can’t do anything about it. Then you understand the horror of war. Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still, there are things to worth fighting for.” ~ Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf ( RIP )

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks, Herbert. This is actually another extract from my forthcoming book – and must be read in conjunction with a previous posting titled “Why governments fail...” What I wish to illustrate in particular is that the government must work with its armed forces (unity of effort) and not in a different direction.

Whereas the armed forces are tasked to find and kill the enemy – or force the enemy to lay down his weapons – unconditionally, governments need to accept both accountability and responsibility for losing the conflict. The perception that the armed forces are alone responsible for the mess is simply a manner in which politicians attempt to divert criticism away from their own incompetence and shortcomings.

When government strategies and those of the armed forces are not aimed at a common end-goal, the wheels will definitely fall off the wagon. But, the armed forces are not blameless. They too need to take responsibility for poor strategies, a lack of leadership, poor training, lack of equipment, bad discipline and so forth.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for those great quotes, Tango. What many people fail to realise is that the armed forces often become the victim of poor political strategic policies, guidelines and decisions and are often misled in terms of government policy.

Professional soldiers know the responsibility they carry with them – as well as the risks. As Gen Schwarzkopf very correctly stated “. Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still, there are things to worth fighting for.”



Unknown said...

Hi Eeben, a little off topic but this little nugget just popped up in my inbox. Seems it takes some people a little longer to grasp when someone is a dunce and total charlatan.

Robert Black has left a new comment on the post "General Magnus Malan":

Since the date of this exchange, I have, because of the ravings of Patrick Haseldine, been reluctantly driven to introduce pre-moderation of comments. Mr Haseldine is now barred from commenting on this blog and readers are warned that he is a malign fantasist with not a scintilla of evidence for his "theories".

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It seems as though some people are unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy, Mike. Thanks for passing it on. As you know, we are aware of Mr Haseldine’s disinformation campaigns. It is sad when grown men have nothing other to do than generate disinformation – and don’t get me wrong, I was no fan of Gen Malan and the feeling was very mutual.



Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You can interpret my posting any way you want, Anon. I write what I know and what I see and if you and your friends want to interpret it as criticism against French, US and UK policy, then that is your right. However, if you look at the posting carefully along with my posting “Why governments fail” – you will note that there are many reasons why good men die when they are sent to fight for causes they do not fully appreciate, against enemies they do not understand and in terrain/environments they are unable to cope in. That is not criticism but fact.

These deaths are the result of essentially two things: Lack of intelligence and a lack of a realistic strategy/operational design. (Even France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian admitted that they had “underestimated” the enemy in Somalia). Again, with no intelligence on an enemy, no one can make even the faintest of predictions. Included in “strategy” is having a strategic vision and being able to predict enemy intentions and actions. One cannot simply assume that because you have technology, you will win. Unless, of course, the entire aim is to ensure protracted conflicts and wars and make sure the enemy can triumph.

If my blog can save the life of a single soldier and help politicians understand war and conflict a bit better, I will be happy. However, your comments that “no @#&*# wonder we hate your guts” is like water off a duck’s back. I write and do what I do to hopefully give soldiers a chance in the field. If people like you don’t like that, it is your problem and not mine – but then the intentions of sending men off to die must be seriously questioned.



PS: I will not post a comment filled with blasphemy and foul language. Also, please ask someone to show you how to check spelling on your computer.

Unknown said...

How to spot a Troll, step 1.
If the dude posts obsenities and a supposed higher than thou opinion as an ANONYMOUS poster. He (she) does not have the stones to make their comments by their name. A true soldier or person of honour would stand to their word and make it known in open forum. Those who post the type of tripe you received from ANONYMOUS just proves how dilly these "agent provocateurs" are. If you have something to say or a bone to pick then say it openly or simply crawl back into your little tiny teeny hole and keep quiet.

I recently wrote a silly piece on my blog pertaining to the ANONYMOUS hacktivist group where i give my 2 cents worth on how i percieve the group and its obvious shortfalls, i did so using not only my name but my picture so there is no mistaking who is saying precisely what. Funnily enough this tongue in cheek post has had the highest number of views, i am quite bemused by this as i definately wrote it from an off the cuff manner and even asked ANONYMOUS to please hack my bank account and deposit some cash in it for me (alas, to date my account is still R1.85cents!)

It sure has taken Robert Black a long, long time to finally discover that Patrick Haseldine is a clueless buffoon. It has only taken a year+ to suss him out as a deranged camper.(Then again he is a huge legal brain in Britain)-- i am still looking for the sarcasm intended button on my keyboard--

This dude ANON seems to be aligned from what i read in your response to the United Nations possibly who still believe that they are seriously doing good! The funniest thing is that whenever you google images for "misery, war, starvation, opression you normally find pictures of the UN somewhere in there. The dudes parade around in their nifty blue helmets and berets but stand idly by as warlords loot right in front of them. I say take their weapons away and give them pompoms so they can cheerlead.

The minute someone starts a post comment with over the top swearing and blasphemy of any religion you can be sure that dude is in no way actually in the field or in the know, hell i would hazard a guess that they are not even outside of their lounge.

How can anyone decide that your post is in any way harmful or war mongering in any way whatsoever? (a keyboard warrior, thats who)

Best regards: Mike (just my 2 cents worth)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Very true, Mike.

When someone has the inability to express him/herself without having to resort to blasphemy and foul language, you suspect that he/she has crept out from under a rock. When he/she is unable to check the spelling on a computer, you know he/she has escaped from under a rock.

I would love to post some of these anonymous comments but do not do so because of the vile language. The world is full of agent provocateurs but sooner or later they are exposed for what they are.



Purgatus said...

Hello Eeben,

I am an Iraq war veteran (U.S. Marine Corps, Fallujah 2005-2006).

Upon my return home I pursued a bachelor's degree and studies COIN doctrine quite closely as a matter of personal an academic interest.

I would be very interested for you to dive a bit deeper into these thoughts, specifically in terms of the doctrines appropriate for effective COIN.

I would specifically ask for your thoughts on Gen. Paetraeus and Col. Kilcullen and their work on U.S. COIN doctrines.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I believe that doctrine must tell us how to do things and not what to do, Purgatus. That said, doctrine is both dynamic and flexible and cannot be viewed as a rigid approach to anything. But, it is formulated using numerous factors such as past experience, lessons learnt, the OE and AO and so forth.

No matter how politically incorrect it may be, the South African bush wars – had many very important lessons that could have been transposed onto numerous COIN AOs. The only lesson the US and its allies took was the mine-protected vehicle. We called them MPVs and not MRAPs and were using them as far back as 1979 but they were used for motorised infantry and were never construed as mechanised infantry vehicles.

As I have never been on the ground in either country you speak of, I therefore feel I am not qualified to answer your question. However, I believe it is a doctrinal failure to expect the armed forces to govern. Whereas the armed forces must create a climate in which to govern, the government departments/civil service must do their jobs.

By expecting the armed forces to govern created numerous situations where they lost sight of military objectives and instead focussed on civil actions, thereby losing the initiative.

I could go on for ages but would probably bore everyone.