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, December 17, 2013


The future conflicts and wars in Africa will seldom, if ever comprise large conventional forces pitted against one another.

Whereas conventional engagements will occur in primarily government-versus-government actions, they will be on a much smaller scale than witnessed in the past decades. Mobility, manoeuvre, surprise, speed and firepower will still remain of critical importance yet these operations will be hampered by a lack of intelligence, unreliable air support and inadequate logistics coupled to challenging terrain and varying climatic conditions.

The presence of the local population and other non-combatants has always – and will always – add a very real and unavoidable complexity to the battlefield. Whereas the government forces will attempt to co-opt and win over the support of the population, the enemy will attempt to take control over the population to force and maintain their support.

However, when the populace believe and feel they have been forgotten, failed and neglected or oppressed by their government, their support for an insurgency or an invading enemy will be more energised. This in itself ought to be cause for alarm to African governments.

In the early stages of an internal uprising or revolution, there is often a common popular belief that the coming conflict will provide the populace with “freedom” and “a better life”, hence their tentative support for the insurgency or revolution. As the conflict escalates, the enemy will take steps to protect their gains by tightening their control over the populace. This can result in the populace being subject to physical abuse, torture, executions, forced labour and recruitment. Any attempt by the populace to rid themselves of this yoke of control will result in vicious and swift retribution from the enemy.

Regardless, the populace – along with refugees - will form an integral part of the battlefield and will play a large role in the plans of both the government and the enemy as they will become both the prize and the victim of the opposing forces.

The future conflicts and wars in Africa will comprise a host of different threats, groups and forces utilising both urban and rural terrain. They will be driven by different actions and motivators employing both unconventional and limited conventional methods. These actions and motivators will cover the spectrum of general civil disobedience, violent and non-violent protests, political anxiety and isolation, violent criminal activities, insurgencies, proxy wars, state-sponsored cross-border actions, religious differences, terrorism, tribal and ethnic anger and xenophobia, territorial and resource greed along with poverty and hunger and so forth.

Attacks on tourist areas, shopping malls, business enterprises, hotels, resource mining and production areas, industrial areas, airports and harbours, isolated farms and villages, energy-supply systems, transport networks, government buildings and communication systems will become prime enemy targets. These attacks will be aimed at eroding the economy, over-stretching the security forces, creating negative national and international perceptions and sapping the will of the populace whilst creating a sense of panic.

Enemy successes will be widely proclaimed using the mainstream and social media networks to market their successes, however limited, and instil a sense of despondency and fear in the populace. Marketing of successes will also be aimed at showing the inability of the government forces to successfully counter or stop the enemy.  

When unconventional enemy forces sense defeat, they will withdraw and call for a “cease fire” and “negotiations” – a tactic aimed at gaining time, replenishing losses and creating the impression that they want peace. This tactic was and has been used in Angola, Sierra Leone, DRC, CAR, Nigeria, Mali, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Mozambique and so forth. However, peace is the very last objective they have in mind, especially when the enemy forces are acting as proxy forces on behalf of foreign sponsors to secure foreign interests. Governments will heed these calls for negotiations and unconditional ceasefires at their own peril.

Whereas both the armed forces and the law enforcement agencies will play a significant role in defeating these groups and forces in the field, they will need to be correctly trained and equipped and have access to actionable intelligence. Without intelligence, the enemy will always retain the initiative and government forces will remain unbalanced and blind to enemy plans, trends and shifts and thus remain reactive as opposed to proactive.

To ensure success, government forces will require political, military and populace will along with resolute leadership to defeat the enemy. Furthermore, African armies will need to break-away from their current organisational structures and reshape themselves to take the battle to the enemy and rapidly respond to enemy plans, actions and threats. Current structures prohibit rapid, proactive actions.

African governments will, additionally, need to reassess the manner in which governance is applied and maximise their use of the Pillars of State to identify, locate and neutralise these threats. It is at the political level that serious actions will need to be coordinated and integrated with the other Pillars.

Unless governments begin serious preparations to protect and defend themselves, their territory and the populace, they will be ill-prepared to face the coming conflicts and wars – and they are coming.


Feral Jundi said...

Excellent post Eeben and happy holidays to you and your family and readership!

One area of concern for me when it comes to Africa, is the spread of jihadists. That, and how organized they are getting. The whole Mali thing, or the Westgate Mall shooting in Kenya, the Il Amenas attack in Algeria, or all the attacks Boko Haram have done in Nigeria. Their latest attack in Maiduguri was astonishing. A prime example of attacking weakness with strength.
So definitely, countries need to pay close attention to what works when defending against such threats or how to prepare.

Feral Jundi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Africa has been and still is the target of numerous threats Matt and it will get a lot worse before it gets any better. However, a lot of these threats masquerade under the guise of “democracy” when in fact they are anything but. However, there seems to be a desire to promote conflict on the continent and with the escalation of social media, this complicates matters for governments. Let us also not forget the role foreign interests are playing in fuelling tensions as well as supporting both sides of the conflicts or, as in the case of Syria actually supporting anti-government forces with a very definite anti-West sentiment.

The vanguard for many of these threats is crime and from there it escalates into bigger problems. This can be traced back to inadequate law enforcement. Again, this is where actionable intelligence is sadly lacking. Couple that to very poor advice and you have a disaster in the making.

These groups and threats do not follow a dogmatic doctrine as western armies do. Unlike many standing armies, they learn from their mistakes. This hands them the initiative on a golden plate. Rigid, inflexible TTPs continually place the armed forces in a state of permanent reaction as opposed to proaction.

Knowing we lack intelligence and are slow to react, they can do infiltration attacks, pseudo operations, conduct terror campaigns etc and when we react, it is usually a kneejerk reaction with massive collateral damage. For many reasons, this suits their agendas.

Until such time as African armies take a long hard look at their organisations, training and equipment along with the numerous current weaknesses they have, they will be unable to identify, locate and counter the threats they face. But, for the armies to do that effectively, governments need to reassess how they govern and develop coherent national and national security strategies.



graycladunits said...

Dear Eeben:

Speaking of the population getting caught in the middle in this post, I was wondering if you can tell us anything about a guy named Sam Childers who has been trying in some very unconventional ways to alleviate the suffering of kids in Southern Sudan. I am writing to ask because a movie has been released in my country called Machine Gun Preacher. Gerard Butler plays Childers and the movie claims to be based on a true story. I think Carl Alberts mentioned this guy when I was in Malagas last year. Is there any truth to the movie or does it grossly blow Childers's actions out of proportion? I kind of expect Hollywood to do this. What, if anything, have you heard about Childers?

Good to be back with the blog, graycladunits

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Good to hear from you again GCU.

I have heard of Sam Childers but I have never met him.

From what I understand he too was someone who tried to do something other than talk but I also never saw the film. However, Hollywood’s depictions of “real life events” are, in my opinion, usually very far from it. If anything, I suspect Sam may have harboured some feelings about his role.



Ttroubadour265 said...

Anyone in this forum happen to be in Somalia in the early 90s?

Unknown said...

How might environmental change lead to conflict? Some experts propose that environmental change may shift the balance of power between states either regionally or globally, producing instabilities that could lead to war or as global environmental damage increases the disparity between people. Poor nations may militarily confront or struggle the rich for a greater share of the world's wealth. Warmer temperatures could lead to contention over new ice-free sea-lanes in the Arctic or more accessible resources in the Antarctic. Population growth and land stress may produce such environmental refugees. This may cause recipient's domestic and international stability. Countries may fight over dwindling supplies of water and the effects of upstream pollution” Environmental change as a source of conflict” http://bit.ly/2gIQVuT

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Environmental change can have massive implications Aseni - and I believe we are already seeing some of those implications. The points you raise are, in my opinion, spot on.