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.

Monday, February 6, 2017


Note: This is not a verbal attack on the KDF and I will not entertain comments in that vein.

The very tragic events at El Adde (Somalia) surrounding the recent fall of the Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) base to Al Shabaab’s ‘Saleh al Nabhan Battalion’—al Qaeda’s East African affiliate—is a good example of how many things that are wrong with African armies came together in a perfect storm.

The video produced by the enemy is equally disturbing as it illustrates the unpreparedness of the KDF.

The video can be viewed here, but a warning: It contains graphic scenes that may be disturbing to some: https://www.funker530.com/brutal-al-shabaab-raid-wipes-entire-kenyan-army-unit/

Regretfully, African governments and their armies continue to ignore the warning signs that result in an inability to prepare and defend against the coming storm…it is not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when’ the storm will make landfall and increase the damage to their countries and their credibility.

Africa is both today and tomorrow’s battlefield and it is being shaped today through a series of secret or shadow wars, proxy forces, covert actions, diplomatic and economic pressures, and domestic and regional terrorism. Added to this is a failure of governance that many African states exhibit and that has given rise to populism—a movement that is increasingly turning to violence and armed actions.

More worrying though, our armed forces are failing to keep pace with the ever-increasing speed of conflict and war. The pace at which technology has enabled information, intelligence, instructions, and disinformation to be transmitted via cell phones, social media and radio messages, has dramatically increased the pace and tempo of operations. It has also increased and underlined the requirement for in-depth intelligence operations to distinguish between fact, fiction and deception.

Filming these attacks, and highlighting many KDF failures, merely adds to the enemy’s propaganda efforts, and motivates and inspires potential recruits, when indeed, it ought to be the other way around.  

Armies need to realise that we need to think quick, act and react with agility and speed—or die. If quick thinking and agility is discarded, our armies may as well call it a day.  

Instead, we try to stick to what we think we know—ill-equipped, unbalanced World War 2 organisations totally unsuited to cope with the demands and fluid actions on the modern African battlefield.  This has resulted in poorly planned and uncoordinated operations, a lack of balanced forces, a lack of operational sustainability, a lack of momentum and great sluggishness when tasked to move rapidly—to name but a few.

These outdated approaches are then taught to African armies by trainers that have no or very little experience of the continent and indeed, seldom if ever, understand the enemy. Oftentimes, a different agenda is at play and the conflict is encouraged to continue as long as possible.

All too often, people want to point fingers at how bad their armies are, and the politicians are quick to blame them for a lack of battlefield success. But, the reality is that soldiers can only do what they are trained and equipped to do—and if they have the leadership they require supported with political and military will.

To fulfil their missions, African armies need to do a very serious doctrinal rethink, reorganize themselves to be agile, have mobility and firepower, ensure they have clear and unambiguous missions and mandates, and ensure the leadership group know how to lead—from the front.

The attack on El Adde ought to serve as a dire warning of what can happen to any armed force if we do not get our act together, sooner rather than later. Our armies need to be correctly trained, equipped, and postured, and not taught rubbish that is irrelevant.  

We need to start thinking very seriously before it is too late.

Note: For those interested in the developing situation in Kenya, more can be found by visiting Andrew Franklin’s Facebook pages at



Unknown said...

Sir, I have worked with several foreign militaries, from raw recruits to elite forces. There were two problems I ran into in almost every country and situation. That was a lack of modern logistics support, and a lack of a competent officer corps. These were crippling issues and I have run into them everywhere. It seems to me that the logistic systems we take for granted in the west are a cultural artifact of western civilization. On the officer issue, a lot of the countries I worked in were deathly afraid of a competent military (especially if the current regime came to power in a coup) and did not want their military well supplied. They used their military more as an internal security force, focused on internal threats such as coups, rather than outward external threats; and officers were selected for political reliability and connections (one and the same really) than for competence. I can understand why officers are selected for loyalty over competence...the west did the exact same thing not so long ago. But the fact remains that the logistics and leadership issues are a crippling factor. I will say that my viewpoint was mostly at the platoon and company level, occasionally battalion, but not any higher. Any views on this?

Kai Isaksen said...

A good article with many valid points Eeben. The speed of information exchange has completely altered the modern battlefield.

Unfortunately governments are slow to change and enact the changes needed to make their forces suitable for fighting today's and tomorrows' wars.

Not the last time a Kenyan or Ethiopian unit will be surprised and destroyed in Somalia I am afraid.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I tend to agree with you Unknown.
If we look at how these armies were transformed from highly politicised guerrilla forces—which the majority were—into modern armies and how they were trained to fulfil the role of a modern state army, then something has gone very wrong somewhere. Unfortunately, there has been an increased politicisation of African armies that has had an incredibly detrimental effect on them. Whereas being politically astute and non-partisan should echo throughout the armies, it doesn’t.
Being dressed and equipped in modern kit also does not constitute an army.
So where did it all go wrong?
I note the very outdated organisational structures as a starting point. A large sluggish organisation often serves a political purpose as opposed to a deterrent purpose. Logistically sustaining this force then becomes very costly and complicated. Within the logistical system, many items go missing or are simply considered irrelevant and are therefore never purchased to equip the soldiers as a belief exists that this large organisation is in itself a deterrent. When called upon to respond rapidly, it cannot.
Leadership is often a problem as governments are afraid that the military officer corps may pose a threat to them. This is sadly a product of politicisation within the armed forces where political loyalty oftentimes overrides military ability. So this large sluggish organisation that oftentimes lacks true military leadership is unable to pose a credible threat to a government.
Usually one sees a Republican or Presidential Guard that is better trained, equipped and led to act as a counter to the armed forces. So, the armed forces are then used in the role of policemen whilst the Republican Guard protects the Head of State.
I also note that after years of foreign involvement in training African armies, these issues have never been addressed.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A very valid observation Kai.
I am afraid this is not the last we see an African army suffer these casualties. As Unknown also commented above, sustainability and leadership are not found where they matter.

Herbert said...


I read the article you posted a couple of days ago, got angry over the KDF debacle at the hands of Al Shsbaab, saw your analysis, said "right on" to your conclusions, and decided I would not weigh in as I am no Africa expert. I just re-read the piece and decided I cannot stand not to speak up. I'm sure the alcohol plays absolutely no role.

Your remarks on discarding WWII organization and thinking are of course on target. WWII organizational structures are insane in today's conflict. It leads to WWII thinking--paralysis in modern violence. I understand all too well that the "training" missions sent to African nations by Western nations (shall we say US) have a lot to answer for. We have been over this before: How are African leaders to resist the big ice cream cone? They salivate over all that equipment that is implied by big heavy organization. The road to perdition.

Agility and mobility, as you point out, have got to be the watchwords of today's fight. You stop and rest at your peril. Check Al Shabaab. Sure, they hole up sometime--that's when they die. I learned over four decades ago in Laos (I was the only "non-Southeast Asian" member of a battalion-sized light infantry unit) that we couldn't even stop for resupply without having to fight for our lives. But as long as we moved and didn't let the enemy choose our destination, we could have our way and hurt them. That is indelibly tattooed on my brain.

Of course you cannot keep troops in the field forever on the move. You rotate your units and wear your competition down. I apologize for preaching to the choir. My frustration is showing.

Intelligence, intelligence, intelligence. If your idea of intelligence is a package of overhead photography in the hands of the current Western salesman, you are lost. I will go out and say no non-African training mission can teach Africans how to develop an effective intelligence program--and the same for Asians or Icelanders or Texans or anyone else.

And ah yes, leadership. If it is based on money and privilege, you are lost.

I could froth on; however, I will stop here and thank you for the opportunity to unload a bit of my impatience with some of our fellow strugglers who seem to never learn. Again, I'm no Africa expert. I certainly understand if you choose not to post this comment. I've offered nothing new; just reiterated basic stuff.


Huntingdog said...

Hi Eeben, all valid comments. But I also have to say, as we all know too well, most of the coups performed in Africa, were indirectly under the orders/control/will of foreign governments and role players - sadly usually western governments.

So the officer taking power through a coup will obviously try every trick in the book to not fall by the same fate.

However, this scenario has probably nothing to do with the Kenyan situation. It has been a relative stable country for a long time compared to most African countries. From the video its clear that it was a massive failure in appropriate training, and everything that goes with that.

This was not the first disaster for the Kenyans, but the Ugandans and Ethiopians all had their unfortunate incidents with Shabaab. Rightly pointed out, it will not be the last.
The psychological victory here for Shabaab will only seal future victories. You know from what we have seen in other places we were involved in, how fearful and superstitious soldiers become after incidents like that.
When they hear the enemy is coming, they usually high tail it out of the place without firing a single shot, leaving all equipment they have behind.

So this was in more than one way a massive disaster for all countries involved in this war, and it might change the future dramatically, and tip the scales far over into Shabaab's favor.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your comment Herbert.
I do not view it as a regurgitation of past words but given your experience, an emphasis of the importance of learning from the past. If lessons are not learned and carried over to the incoming soldiers, we simply repeat past mistakes at their (and our) peril.
I am so tired of seeing African armies being trained to fail. I speak up much to my own disadvantage as such comments do not go down well with those who offer the ice cream cone.
Our armies are so poorly trained at times that the take their frustration out on the local population and then the ice cream cart points fingers at them.
It is a sad cycle of events indeed.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A very accurate observation Huntingdog.
As you also know, those who shout the loudest when a government finally ignores their threats and contracts us, are usually the ones supporting the enemy, either directly or indirectly.
This psychological boost you refer to adds to the enemy’s momentum in the field and allows then to operate with a certain amount of latitude, thereby giving them much of the initiative.
The KDF will do well to take note that more of the same will be coming if they do not do a rapid shift in their approach to conflict.

Anonymous said...

Every defensive or offensive success or failure is dependant on the quality of its on-the-ground intel. Clearly the establishment of properly deployed covert intelligence gathering was not in effect. This alone is the fatal flaw. Conversely, the other side would have done it's recce and had probably established it's own 'internal' intel ... I had first hand experience of this on ops and being on the receiving end is no picnic. The debrief of this particular incident highlighted a complacency that, to my knowledge was immediately corrected, but it took this action to wake us the hell up. Steve

Anonymous said...

Hi Eeben, the fatal flaw lies in the lack of 'on-the-ground' intel, whether you're in offence or defence. This, coupled with inadequate training, less than adequate hardware and/or complacency is going to spell failure. The deployment of covert intelligence gathering resources is not only a source of the ability to be prepared, but simply having it, is a constant reminder that even sitting in a JOC, you are constantly vulnerable, as I learnt on one occasion,the hard way. After this particular incident it was discovered that our enemy forces themselves had very accurate intel on us, even down to the date that one commando was taking over from another. This incident smacks of the same, except in our case, fortunately, the will to carry out the attack to this degree.
On the other hand, many, many successes were had as a result of exceptionally accurate intel as a result of covertly inserted resources or fully fledged pseudo groups. But, as we all know, you are only judged by your last failure ...

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your two comments Steve.
I agree fully as our operational planning, regardless of the type of operation we are planning, ought to be driven by sound, credible intelligence. Oftentimes, Intelligence is ignored and substituted with innuendo and pie-in-the-sky make believe. This can result in operational complacency, especially when we believe the enemy does not learn from our mistakes.
When we lack intelligence, we need to find it. This can only be done by the deployment of reliable assets as you indicate. But, I believe not enough time is spent on ground reconnaissance and the use of pseudo teams.
Being on the receiving end of a lapse in intelligence is, as you say, most unpleasant.

Unknown said...

Hi Col,

I watched the video and have read the above commentators views and your revert, with whom i agree 100%. It seems to me the CO and OC on the ground had taken zero field security measures in protecting their chaps and structure apart from a firing nest here and there.

This of course reverberates back to poor supply and delivery of logistics from Command to this FOB, having said that, one has to ask the hard questions (otherwise nothing changed as you know well) where was the basic field security SOP's and defences in this instance?

The bush was so close to the base i could have crawled up and tapped on the front door for a bowl of sugar, no armoured QRF at the forefront, no roving patrols or towers....... the mind boggles Sir. This is back to basics for all African standing forces. I cannot imagine a scenario where the CO or OC would not have taking this to the forefront of opening operations once he or she arrived at the FOB. The fact there was no handover brief of intel brief is staggering. So what is the answer? clearly the KDF needs to reevaluate their War College materials and training with the utmost urgency. We are talking Soldiering lol here as you know Sir.

On a side note, apart from the barbarism and slack assault of the enemy, i was rather shocked to see their new tacticals with field communications and heavy weapons in place. Even their DPM's looked well turned out for insurgents/Militia/Terrorists. Be this a warning to our Comrades and brothers in the KDF. Clearly the enemy is on the march and have their game in order.


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing such an awesome blog...

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your comment Maj Moose.
It is such a sad video yet filled with many vital lessons you rightly point out. It is astonishing that a force can be caught napping as these poor souls were. Apart from the very valid points you make, it appears to me that there was a massive mismatch between training, doctrine and reality and the threat.
One can only hope these shortcomings have been taken care of.
Stay safe.