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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

OVERCOMING THE CRISIS IN COMMAND


The current crisis in command many African armies are faced with can be traced back to the manner in which current and future commanders are identified and prepared for their missions and roles. Commanding and leading soldiers—including airmen and sailors—in both peacetime and conflict is not a game to be played for personal gain.

When it comes to the national security of a country, difficult choices need to be made. When it comes to appointing those who are charged with maintaining the security of the state, even more difficult choices are called for.

The old adage ‘There are no bad soldiers, only bad commanders’ certainly holds true for many African armed forces. Soldiers can only do what they are trained and equipped to do—if they are correctly commanded and led. When command and leadership is lacking, soldiers become confused and lacking in direction and discipline, morale is negatively impacted, orders are questioned and disobeyed, and the combat efficiency of the armed forces rapidly deteriorates.

But command leadership is not ‘business management’.

Whereas ‘command’ ought to be emphasized in the armed forces, I have met commanders who are, sadly, unable to exercise effective command. Not because they don’t have the ability or personality to do so but rather because they have been appointed by a system that is failing them, the armed forces and the country. Their inability is then amplified by being taught ‘management techniques’ and thereby softening the already failing approach to command. This ‘business’ approach to military operations has resulted in some spectacular failures across the continent. It has also added to a deepening sense of self-delusion that needs to be exposed.




 On-going education remains important at all times


The armed forces cannot be equated to a business enterprise where management techniques hold relevance. Commanders are faced with vastly different situations and decisions than managers of business enterprises.

Whereas ‘command’ gives those who are entrusted with it the opportunity to use power for the good of the state, many use this as an opportunity to abuse power for personal gain and satisfaction. Abuse of power thus becomes entrenched and junior officers and NCOs follow the example and trend of abusing their power while ignoring their responsibilities.

Commanders need to realise that they command at the behest of the state and not for themselves. Commanding for themselves has resulted in numerous moral failures that include personal enrichment, corruption, and the misuse of state assets, to name but a few. This immoral view of command permeates through to the lower ranks encouraging moral failures amongst junior officers and NCOs. After all, this is the example their senior commanders are setting for them.

Command has also increasingly become synonymous with bullying.

Impacting severely on the current crisis in command many African armed forces face is the lack of selection, training, further education, and competence of commanders. To rectify this troubling situation, more promotions take place adding to an already top-heavy command structure. As and when the command structure, ie the officer corps, exceeds more than 10% of the force level, command problems are dramatically increased. (This has historical been proven on numerous occasions).

Whereas promotions ought to serve as an incentive based on competence and results, command positions are instead given to political appointees where tribal, race, language, religious or ethnic considerations are valued over competence. Thus when defence cuts are implemented, or budgets constrained, the command element remains in position, at all costs and instead, troop levels are cut, training neglected or critical equipment left to rot. Budget cuts also often see the command element increasing at the expense of combat readiness.

Without effective, disciplined command that follows the National Military Strategy and for the good of the nation and its people, an armed force has the potential to become a leaderless group of armed men. 

This, in itself, poses numerous grave dangers to the state and its citizens.

Regardless of thoughts to the contrary, African armed forces are currently facing a crisis in command that needs to be rapidly rectified. If not, our armies will continue to remain at a disadvantage.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

THANK YOU ROOIPLAAS – AGAIN!

To say that I enjoyed myself at the recent Rooiplaas gathering would be somewhat of an understatement…
Conceived by Nico Beneke and ably assisted by Johan Landman - the Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively - Rooiplaas hosts several get-togethers throughout the year with the aim of bringing together ex-SADF airborne soldiers to socialize, make new friends, and reacquaint themselves with old friends. 
It has, since its inception, become a home for many men who served in the SADF’s airborne units and it is growing from strength to strength. What appealed to me is that this organisation is devoid of the politics and petty personal grievances some of the other veterans’ organisations are tainted with.  
Chappies van Zyl, the man who twisted my arm to join Rooiplaas

Chappies van Zyl, one of my ex-airborne sappers from days long past, eventually gave me no choice but to join the Rooiplaas community and Nico and Johan were very gracious to accept me into their ranks. And so it was that I was invited to attend their get-together in Bloemfontein on 23 February 2017.
On arrival, I was given a Rooiplaas T-shirt and cap just to make sure I was able to blend-in and not stand out like a sore thumb.
I was both honoured and privileged to give a brief discussion to the men (and their wives) on Executive Outcomes and STTEP, their founding, deployments, operations and so forth. Some of the talk was also centred on the disinformation and myths regarding both EO and STTEP.
After my talk, I was awarded my Rooiplaas Certificate of Membership (#0245) that will take pride of place in my study.
However, the success of any such event depends on numerous players who are not always visible but whose contributions make such an occasion a great success.
Thank you to Chute Systems who were kind enough to allow Rooiplaas to use their magnificent Bloemfontein facility. One of the owners, Waldo Krähenbühl, was on hand at all times to give his support and assistance wherever he could. Sadly, his colleague and co-owner, Douw Raimondo, was elsewhere and could not attend the evening with us.
Andre Botha deserves a special thank you for taking control of the ‘ kitchen’ and preparing a great meal for us. The meal was way better than any of us had ever experienced in our army days. Nico provided the food we all enjoyed.
Some of the Rooiplaas members

To the members of Rooiplaas and their wives, thank you for accepting me into your ranks and for not falling asleep during my talk.
To Nico and Johan a special word of thanks for organizing the get-together and for being such great hosts. A great thank you also to Nico Beneke for accommodating me at his wonderful guesthouse and for getting up early to make me coffee and see me on my way.
And finally, a special thanks to Chappies for twisting my arm…
I look forward to the next Rooiplaas get-together…






Friday, February 10, 2017

'INTO THE VORTEX' by TOM FULTON


I count myself fortunate that I was able to lay my hands on a copy of Tom Fulton’s book ‘Into the Vortex’. Despite the many books written about the wars and conflicts in Southern Africa, this book is worthy to stand on its own.

Perhaps it was inquisitiveness or perhaps I was trying to relive the days of growing up in a slow-boiling Africa through Tom’s eyes, or perhaps both. Regardless, Tom’s book did not disappoint me.

The book is a vivid and exciting glimpse into days long gone—days when boys were boys and were forced through circumstance, challenges and conflicting politics to grow up and stand tall as both men and soldiers called on to fight a dirty war.

Tom takes the reader into his home as a young boy growing up in a sometimes difficult environment, but there is no pity as that was how it was—instead he uses his humour to lighten the situations he and his brother frequently found themselves in.

His entry into the Rhodesian Army and the subsequent humour and oftentimes sorrow that followed is well written and intense.  Commissioned as an officer in the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR), he goes on to discuss the bonds made and shared as only men under fire can do. Readers who are unfamiliar with Africa and the closeness and comradeship of black and white men at war will do well to take note of the respect they had for one another.

The scenes of combat are well and intensely described along with the tension before triggers are pulled and the exhilaration of success and survival when the guns fell silent. At times, the fast pace of combat is softened with humour and the aftermath of a deployment where young men go about their social lives—social lives that were lived and enjoyed to the maximum.

Tom’s easy style of writing brings to life many sad and traumatic events, yet there is no trace of victimhood—the mark of a man and a soldier with character.

As clichéd as it might be, ‘Into the Vortex’ will stand on its own as a Rhodesian classic.

Well done Tom Fulton!   


For ordering information
The book can be ordered directly from Tom at:


Monday, February 6, 2017

THINK QUICK OR DIE...BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE


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

https://www.facebook.com/andrew.franklin.5076?pnref=friends.search

Saturday, February 4, 2017

ROOIPLAAS PARATROOPERS COMMUNITY


I have never been a member of any SADF Veterans Organisation for numerous reasons. Many have asked me to join them but I have always declined and walked away. That is until my old Parachute Sappers (specifically by name of Chappies van Zyl) twisted my arm to the point that it almost broke.

I finally relented when the founder of ‘Rooiplaas’ (Nico Beneke) graciously—and without Chappie’s violence—convinced me to find a home with them.  

I therefore dedicate this short piece to the men of Rooiplaas…a great group of ex-paratroopers from 1 Parachute Battalion…A true paratroopers’ community (http://www.rooiplaas.co.za)



To my new ‘home’, here is a story I wish to share with you all:

My sapper section (at that time, very few sappers were jump qualified) and I arrived in a cool Bloemfontein in early September 1978.

Our mission was to support an exercise of 1 Parachute Battalion known as Exercise Caledon Downs, an operational training exercise in the Wepener area of the Orange Free State.

Having no clue what equipment was required for the training exercise, we left Bethlehem (22 Field Squadron) with an old Bedford truck laden with mines, mine detectors, assault boats, explosives, and a mobile water point (I need to emphasise that whoever came up with the name ‘mobile water point’ must have been delusional!)

On arrival, and while my men wandered around the battalion area like lost sheep—or rather lost sappers—I attended the Orders Group (O Gp) for the exercise. Amongst the paras, the rumour mill was already hard at work—this they said, was to be a rehearsal for a large scale airborne operation into Angola.

The battalion’s pathfinders were to freefall into the designated target area under cover of darkness, and mark a drop zone (DZ) for the incoming parachute assault early the following morning.

In my absence, the men found what appeared to be a deserted bungalow and they would seek me out later to give me a bed they had ‘scored’ for me.

In the meantime, I left the O Gp feeling rather dejected after receiving our orders. There would be no big demolition tasks, no clearing or laying of minefields, no assault river crossing…only a damn water point for the paratroopers.

Giving my orders to my sappers was akin to addressing a rugby team that had suffered its worst loss ever. They were utterly disgusted at what they were supposed to do to support the exercise.

Early the next morning, my sappers, under the capable command of my troop sergeant Cpl L Steyn, left feeling rather miserable for a grid reference somewhere in the eastern Free State.

The following day, I was to jump with (then) Major Anton van Graan’s HQ element while my sappers drove to a grid reference specified in the O Gp.

Being a well-trained sapper officer, I snivelled around for the rest of the day, fearful I would be given a task I was unable to do—that is, until a Major Grundling found me hiding in a deserted bungalow. After giving me a severe dressing down, he finally told me where to report to the next morning.  

Due to the nature of the exercise, we were not going to jump with Personal Weapons Containers (PWCs). Instead the parachutes would simply be strapped over our battle order equipment.

On the road to the airport, there was great excitement. On arrival, we kitted-up and waited…Soon we were all shuffling off to board the C-130s.

I was part of the second wave and was to jump second in Major van Graan’s stick on that fateful day of 7 September 1978.

After the usual “Stand up! Hook up!…” the door opened and out we went.

The green canopy billowed…Phew! But there was no time to admire the view.

I recall two things very vividly: (1) We were very low and (2) I saw a barbed wire fence and a large anthill next to it…I knew I was going to meet the one or the other.

And I did.

No amount of pulling on the risers or trying to climb up the canopy worked. It all happened too fast.  

After a very hard landing and what I thought was a broken foot, I limped off to find my company commander, Major van Graan. I was certainly not going to show the paratroopers that I had been hurt. Sapper pride took hold.

It was then that I came across Captain Blaauw (I think it was David but I am not too sure anymore!) looking rather forlorn and visibly upset. On asking if he was okay, he told me that Major Grundling had landed in a farm dam and drowned. I was shocked but also realised that had any of us landed in a dam, the weight of our equipment would have dragged us down. Plus, as it was still early morning, the water was freezing and those brave troops who tried to rescue him were simply unable to do so.

In addition, several other paratroopers had been hurt when they went off the edge of some high ground.

Needless to say, and despite the great loss to the battalion, objectives had to be assaulted, captured and consolidated before we could move on to the main objective which was a farm house some distance away.

And so I hobbled across the Wepener fields, humping my equipment and trying to keep my pose as best I could.

After a river crossing (I thought we were supposed to do that with the boats we brought from Bethlehem!), my sappers finally arrived later that afternoon to collect me and ferry me across to the water point where we spent the rest of the entire exercise—purifying water for the paratroopers.  

I had not broken my foot but instead, had very badly bruised the sole of my foot. To this day, I have an aversion to anthills.

After the exercise, we made the long trip back to Bethlehem.

We never did deploy for the great air assault operation that was rumoured to be in the offing…but we all went to war.

And now, almost 39 years later, I have become a member of the Rooiplaas Paratroopers’ Community—a long time to find a home amongst men who share common values. I am still a sapper at heart but also feel at home with the paratroopers of Rooiplaas.  

Thank you Nico, Chappies and all other members of ‘Rooiplaas’ for welcoming me into your community. .


Friday, January 27, 2017

THE MESSAGE AS A WEAPON OF CONFLICT AND WAR


Lately, there appears to be an increase in using the media as a medium through which to generate and distribute so-called ‘fake news’ to drive specific agendas. One must therefore investigate the origin or source of the 'fake news' as that will determine the agenda(s).

The ability to sell a lie and deceive people through ‘controlled media’ is nothing new. By trying to force the people to believe and think only what the media wants them believe and think, has long been the hallmark of the mainstream media. But, people are beginning to question the validity of the ‘news’ as opposed to suffering from media hypnosis.

The media needs to question why it has willingly allowed itself to be used as a conduit for the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda. But, strengthened with the advent of social media networks, both disinformation and propaganda have received new impetus. Indeed, social media is currently being used to provide credibility to numerous disinformation and propaganda messages that appear in the mainstream media and visa versa.

Both techniques are used to alter, shape and manipulate perceptions, promote sectarian and political interests, and entrench and exploit attitudes and further conflict, divisive politics, and war between opposing groups. They differ in the manner in which they are developed and applied. However, both techniques are used to influence people, and the side that dominates the informational environment is the side most likely to achieve the best end result.

As an influence technique, disinformation is a planned and purposeful act of deception. It is essentially a lie that is intentionally injected into the daily lives of people. Its aim is to mislead and alter attitudes and perceptions, evoke anger, create fear, encourage resistance and violence, and vilify an enemy or threat sufficiently to justify action.  Extensive use is made of all controlled mainstream and social media assets and platforms. Paid social media platforms are increasingly harnessed to further disseminate false and misleading information or give it credibility. 

Disinformation uses a variety of methods to achieve its aim. One of them is dress up a lie so it appears as the truth. Another method to intertwine valid information with false information but in such a manner that it is not obvious. Covert influence campaigns utilising well-developed disinformation can result in acceptance as opposed to doubt. The end-product is then be disseminated via real and false news media outlets, and fake documents, books, photographs, posters, and malicious and dangerous rumours and innuendo. Its ability to become believable lays in continually repeating the lie to make it become the reality of people.

To disguise its origins and intentions, it is often attributed to ‘sensitive’ or ‘unnamed’ sources or even the names of non-existent people.

Political disinformation is aimed at provoking scaremongering, discrediting political opponents, distorting the messages of political opponents, exploiting divisive politics, and influencing opposition voter support. Used extensively during political speeches and rallies, where it is intertwined with propaganda, it has the potential to generate immense anger, fear, hatred, and uncertainty. It is often reinforced with flags, marches, songs, T-shirts and food to distract and confuse voters.

Propaganda is the deliberate propagation of messages, information, ideas, concepts, rumours, and thoughts to influence, strengthen and support a specific cause, and to unify people. It is also applied to counter opposing information and thoughts where elements of disinformation are used. It is used primarily to reinforce a cause or damage an opposing cause. It is sometimes based on twisting the message of an opponent and using it to appeal to people’s fears, and self-interest and evoke emotions. It hopes to subtly force people to think and act in a manner they would not generally have considered.

Like disinformation, propaganda makes use of media platforms, marches, flags, posters, songs and so forth to entrench the message.

To underpin these deceptive messages, words such as ‘deterrence’, ‘threat to our values’, ‘foreign aggression’, ‘our stability’, ‘creators of poverty’, ‘inequality’, and so forth are used.

Polluted information presented as ‘fact’ can result in misguided strategies, and distrust, increased antagonism, diplomatic, political and economic sanction, marginalisation, increased racial, tribal, and ethnic disdain, an increase in political tensions, and criminal actions.

An unintended (or possibly intended) consequence can result in mass demonstrations, civil war or indeed even a regional conflict or war. Indeed, the Cold War was a perfect example of both sides using both disinformation and propaganda to unify their citizens whilst vilifying those of the opposing side.

Disinformation and propaganda are entrenched via repetition of the messages. It is, however, the first communicated message that carries the most weight, especially if it is continually disseminated via the mainstream and social media. To rectify the damage is often impossible.

Disinformation and propaganda can destroy national unity, create regional tensions, and cause irreparable damage a country and its citizens. These messages become increasingly dangerous when military force is threatened, projected, or used. 

It is increasingly evident that both disinformation and propaganda are being used on a massive scale, and on a daily basis by politicians and political organisations and supporters alike.

Misleading people with false news or disinformation and then reinforcing it with propaganda (and visa versa) can have very serious implications—implications that can last for generations.

It is of great importance that we start looking more closely at what is published and said—and why—and start connecting the dots. If not, we will continue to be manipulated and exploited to act in a manner we never considered.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A MERRY CHRISTMAS ALL AND A GREAT 2017!


I would like to wish each and every visitor to the blog a blessed and merry festive season. To those who celebrate the meaning of Christmas, I wish you and your families a blessed, happy and joyous festive season.

To those who do not celebrate Christmas for whatever reason I wish you all a time of happiness and peace with your families and friends.

I would also like to wish each and every one of you – and your loved ones - a great 2017. May the coming year be filled with good health, happiness and safety.

Thank you to everyone who read and contributed to the blog throughout the year. Your comments are always appreciated and highly valued as they give me insight and allow me to broaden my own knowledge base.

To everyone who is far from home at this time, and to those who are deployed in the conflict zones around the world, beit as soldiers, sailors, airmen, law enforcement officers, spooks or PMC contractors, keep your heads down, your eyes peeled, your weapons close at hand, stay safe and be ready to do what needs to be done.

Let us also remember those who will not be able to be share this time with those they hold dear as well as those who have lost friends and loved ones. They should never be forgotten. Nor should the sacrifices they have made ever be forgotten.

A very merry Christmas season to all!