The Bush War Heats Up

Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy

Chapter 12

By Morgan Norval

Copyright 1989 Published by: Selous Foundation Press, Washington DC

ISBN: 0-944273-03-3 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-62602


NOTE Page numbers appear between [square brackets] at the start of the page. Footnotes appear in red, and appear at the end of the chapter, although in the original book they appear at the foot of the page in question.

[109] Mao Tse-tung, the master practitioner of guerrilla war, stressed the importance of bases for the guerrilla. He said: ". . . as the war is at once protracted and ruthless, it is impossible to sustain guerrilla war in the enemy's rear without base areas . . . What then are the base areas for a guerrilla war? They are the strategic bases on which a guerrilla war relies for carrying out its strategic tasks as well as for achieving the goals of preserving and expanding oneself and annihilating or expelling the enemy . . . There have been in history many peasant wars of the roving insurgent type, but they all failed. In the present age of advanced communications and technology, it is more than ever an entirely groundless illusion to attempt to win victory after the fashion of roving insurgents."1

Bases are of critical importance to the success of the guerrilla. They are no less important to the efforts of the government that is fighting the insurgency. Establishing bases by themselves will solve nothing except giving the government control of the precise real estate occupied by the bases. For a successful counterinsurgency effort these bases must be used as stepping stones for the government's efforts in winning back control of the country.
This requires some hard choices for the government. First of all, they have to accept the fact that if successful guerrilla operations are being carried out against them then the guerrillas must have some support among the local population-perhaps even a majority of it.
Tempting as it may be, the government in all likelihood doesn't have the resources to try and do everything at once. They can't run around the countryside trying to stamp out all the little incidents started by the guerrillas.
[111]
Instead, they must take a cold, hard look at the situation and develop a plan of action based on what that reality is and not on what they wish it to be.
From this hard-nosed appraisal of the actual situation a plan must be drawn up that will accomplish the counterinsurgency goal of winning back the country and defeating the insurgents. This plan, encompassing the realities of the situation, must in a step-by-step manner carry out the government's counterinsurgency program. Probably nothing is more important to the government than the early realization that this effort is going to take a long time-years rather than months-and their plans should reflect that.2
McCuen advocates, and the South Africans have agreed, that a successful counterinsurgency program used by the governing authorities be based on the oil spot strategy They needed to set up bases, designed not only to protect the population from attack, but also to allow the government to carry out political and socio-economic measures which would win the population away from supporting the guerrillas. The government influence would spread out from these bases like an oil stain or tache d'hude, as its innovator Joseph Gallieni, termed it, eventually engulfing the population.3
This means the establishment of firm bases as centers for launching a counterinsurgency effort. These should be established not merely on the basis of territorial considerations, but also on population considerations. These bases fall into three rough classes: those bases in areas already under government control; those in hostile areas under control of the insurgents; and, those in areas not controlled by either the government or the guerrilla.

Consideration must also be given to controlling, if not initially then by regaining control, the major population and other essential areas such as food producing, mining, oil, industrial, etc..

It should be apparent that the job requires more than simply scattering groups of soldiers or policemen willy-nilly throughout the countryside to show the government's presence and hoping the insurgents will be cowed into submission. Such an effort is doomed to failure as the Nationalist Chinese efforts in China during their long civil war and the French efforts in Indochina demonstrated.

The problem then for the South Africans in Namibia was to undertake a [112] carefully planned, long-range effort, to accept the tremendous costs involved, and not only defeat SWAPO militarily, but remove its socio-political influence.
Having made the decision to travel on the long, lonely, costly and hard path of counterinsurgency, they set out to do the job with a determined effort.
As a result of the South African incursion into Angola in 1975-76, the military already had some base facilities in Namibia to support that effort. Thus, when the decision was made to launch an all out counterinsurgency campaign against SWAPO they did not have to start from scratch.

The presence of South African troops for the Angolan venture also had a detrimental effect on SWAPO's efforts to sec up permanent bases inside Namibia. Instead, SWAPO set up their main bases a short distance over the border in Angola. By being close to the border SWAPO terrorists could walk across and remain in Namibia until detected and chased out by the security forces.
In the early stages of the counterinsurgency effort SWAPO cadres were seemingly crossing the border back and forth at will.
Nevertheless, the South Africans, heeding McCuen's dictum, began adding to their military infrastructure in Namibia. They built a series of strategic bases, especially in the northern border area where the bulk of SWAPO's activities were concentrated.
Bases were built or enlarged at Katima Mulilo, Bagani, Rundu, Tsumeb, Eenhana, Grootfontein, Ondangwa, Otjiwarango, Oshakati and Ruacana. 

These bases were located not only for their military value, but with other criteria in mind as well: near areas of large population groups, near sources of water and electrical power, sources of mining, farming areas or important logistical facilities such as paved roads and railway lines.
Katima Mulilo, near the eastern end of the Caprivi Strip, was turned into a fortress to cope with SWAPO infiltration from neighboring Zambia. An important nearby airstrip, Mapacha, was enlarged to provide air support for the operations in the Caprivi Strip.
Rundu, the administrative capital of Kavongoland, became the focus of counterinsurgency operations in the Kavongo. Located on the banks of the Kavongo River, which in this area forms the border with Angola, it was also the terminus of a hardtop road running in a northeastern direction from Grootfontein.
Grootfontein was an important location for many reasons. It was near the large commercial farming areas; it sat astride an important road junction; it was an important rail terminal linking northern Namibia; and a large air [113] base was located near the town. Grootfontein soon evolved into one of the most important logistical centers serving the operational area in northern Namibia. From it supplies move northeasterly to Rundu and the Caprivi Strip or northwesterly to Ondangwa and Owamboland.

Otjiwarango was important in that it protected the large cattle farming areas in its vicinity; linked by a paved road and rail line, it sat astride the line of communications from Windhoek north to the operational area.
Ruacana, located on the Cunene River, which forms part of the border with Angola, had strategic as well as economic significance. It anchored the western end of the security forces operations in Owamboland and, equally important, it provided protection for the hydroelectric and water facilities built at the Ruacana Falls. The electricity and water were vital to the economic well-being of Namibians, especially those in northern Namibia.
Ondangwa was a key logistical, air and personnel base for operations in Owamboland. Supplies, moving up from the south were stored here for further distribution throughout Owamboland. Many of the SADF fighting units involved in the counterinsurgency effort were located in small bases surrounding the town. From these bases smaller units were established in company-sized camps throughout Owamboland. These camps, in turn, became the focal points of security force activity in the area surrounding them.
The huge airbase at Ondangwa was the center of air operations throughout the operational area.
Ondangwa became the jumping off center for most of the future cross-border operations the South Africans were to conduct as they drove the SWAPO infrastructure further away from the operational area in Namibia.
These, then, were the key strategic bases set up by the South Africans as they faced the difficult challenge posed by SWAPO's insurgency.

From these strategic base areas and the company-sized bases located in areas undergoing heavy SWAPO guerrilla activity, the security forces carried out the war against SWAPO. Operating from these bases, the security forces were constantly seeking to engage any SWAPO guerrillas operating in their assigned areas. They were constantly on the move, patrolling the area, setting up ambushes and whenever possible attacking the SWAPO guerrillas. All the while, they were establishing an intelligence system in their area, collecting information that could help them in their future efforts against their elusive enemy. Perhaps most important of all, they were contacting the people and assisting them in many ways, from treating their sick to digging water wells and teaching their children.

The security forces constant presence in the areas around these bases [114] had the eventual effect of altering SWAPO's cock-sure practice of strutting around the operational area as they pleased. Contacts with the security forces resulted in heavy casualties for the terrorists and soon they were forced to switch most of their activity to night.
Since the majority of the population of Namibia was located in its northern border areas, so too were the, majority of the strategic bases and their affiliated scattered company posts. The bulk of the population was, therefore, within access of the government's counterinsurgency effort. On the other hand, this population concentration was still accessible and vulnerable to the politicizing and terrorizing of SWAPO who could sally forth from their nearby sanctuaries in Angola.

Having decided to follow McCuen's "oil spot" strategy, the South Africans quickly moved to make life as miserable as possible for SWAPO inside Namibia. By carrying the fight to the enemy with small well-armed mobile units operating from both the strategic bases and the numerous satellite company-sized bases, the security forces concentrated on seeking out the SWAPO insurgents; destroying them; preventing them from establishing permanent bases in Namibia; disrupting their organization and hindering their plan for revolutionary action; finding and destroying arms and supply depots and disrupting SWAPO's logistics and communications systems inside Namibia. All this was done not only to destroy SWAPO personnel, but to keep the survivors more worried about their own security than to think about carrying out the organization's revolutionary program.

As a result, SWAPO was forced to change its tactics. Instead of being able to wander freely, day or night, terrorizing the locals, terrorist groups now crossed the border from their bases in southern Angola, mostly at night. Once in Owamboland, they hid during the day in some isolated kraal and ventured out at night laying their mines, intimidating the local population and trying to spread their gospel of Marxist dogma.

Often the first indication of their presence was when some vehicle, often a civilian, set off a landmine. When such mine incidents have occurred, security force units with trackers have been called in to find and destroy those responsible. Arriving at the scene of the incident the unit's trackers search for the tracks, or spoor, of the terrorists who had laid the mine. Often no tracks would be found as they had either been obliterated by the terrorists or by the wind. If tracks were found they were often days old and the terrorists were long-gone from the area. (A mine can sit for months before its victim happens to trigger its deadly mechanism.) Tracks, however, are followed to determine where the terrorists were heading next and other security force units are notified that the terrorists may be operating in their area.
[115]
If the mine was set off shortly after it was laid, there was a good chance the security forces would find the terrorist spoor and be able to track it. Often their tracking accomplished nothing more than chasing the terrorists back over the border to their sanctuaries in Angola. But sometimes the unit caught up with the terrorists and a short, sharp little battle ensued. Usually the security forces, because of better training and fire discipline, decimated the SWAPO unit that had made the mistaken decision to stand and fight. Even in the rare occasions when a well-laid SWAPO ambush caught the security forces and inflicted casualties on them, SWAPO knew that reinforcements were nearby As a result, SWAPO seldom exploited any temporary tactical advantage they had, but quickly broke off contact and headed for the safety of their bases in Angola.

At times the security force reinforcements caught them before they made it back to the border and inflicted numerous casualties on the fleeing terrorists. This had the result of forcing the terrorists not only to move during the night, but to split up their forces into smaller units.

Soon a pattern evolved in the security force operations in Owamboland. Small units, normally no larger than a platoon, would sweep through the bush, looking for terrorist spoor, or gathering intelligence on the whereabouts of SWAPO. The most common form of intelligence gathering was questioning the local population encountered during their sweeps. The units also would stop at kraals periodically to seek intelligence from the natives living there.

The vehicles, or the horses carrying the security force personnel, would stop in battle formation (Most patrols and sweeps were mounted either on vehicles, horses or both.) and either an Owambo soldier, or one who could speak Owambo, would approach with the unit's leader and talk to the headman of the kraal. These chats would take some time as the process followed a somewhat rigid informal ritual, all done according to local Owambo custom and in one of the Owambo tongues.

"Good morning, or afternoon . . . nice weather . . . how is your family . . . how are your crops . . . etc."?

To follow our customary Western practice of getting right down to business is an insult and a good way to alienate the headman. It would then be next to impossible to get any useful information out of him.

After several minutes of protocol and chit-chat, it was possible to get down to business.

"Have you seen any strangers in the area?"

"How many and how long ago?"

"Were they carrying weapons . . . etc?"

[116]

This was a slow, time-consuming process that often as not didn't produce much except the fact that the security forces were showing the flag, and keeping SWAPO away from that particular kraal.

In addition to being visible to the local population, it also gave the security forces an opportunity to practice some civic action. The unit's medic would dispense vitamins, aspirin, candy for the kids, and other common medicines for simple ailments. They would make arrangements for those with serious ailments to get proper medical treatment by either arranging transport to a nearby medical facility or, depending upon the situation, have the unit's medical doctor visit the kraal to treat his new patient.

In this way the security forces were showing the local population that not only were they there to protect them from SWAPO, but were there to help them in other ways and slowly win their trust.

Oftentimes, and with increasing frequency as the government's "oil spots" began spreading together, the security force's patience was rewarded and a local tip would lead to the destruction of a terrorist unit operating in the area.

Many times, especially in a "hot area," a patrol would come across tracks made by the terrorists. When such an event occurred, and the tracks were fresh enough, the patrol would immediately report the find to its headquarters, then set out to track down and capture or kill the terrorists.

If the tracks indicated a large group of terrorists and they were fresh enough, other units might join in to pin-down and destroy the SWAPO group.

The original patrol would still continue in pursuit of the SWAPO unit, following its tracks. The other units would be moved to positions in anticipation of cutting off the terrorists' escape route, or to set up an ambush in the hope that the terrorists will be driven into their killing ground.

Then a deadly game of hide-and-seek would ensue with the hunted usually hoping for one of two things to happen: for darkness to come as the security forces couldn't track them in the dark, or they would reach the safety of Angola.

The thick bush of Owamboland favored the hunted as it was extremely difficult for the security forces to cordon a leak-proof area around the fleeing terrorists. Kill many they did, but others slipped through gaps in the security forces line and, using the thick bush to their advantage, the survivors would make their way back to Angola.

Two personal examples and one made famous by a Bushman tracking and reaction force unit will provide some typical examples of small unit security force operations in the operational area of Owamboland.

[116]

This was a slow, time-consuming process that often as not didn't produce much except the fact that the security forces were showing the flag, and keeping SWAPO away from that particular kraal.

In addition to being visible to the local population, it also gave the security forces an opportunity to practice some civic action. The unit's medic would dispense vitamins, aspirin, candy for the kids, and other common medicines for simple ailments. They would make arrangements for those with serious ailments to get proper medical treatment by either arranging transport to a nearby medical facility or, depending upon the situation, have the unit's medical doctor visit the kraal to treat his new patient.

In this way the security forces were showing the local population chat not only were they there to protect them from SWAPO, but were there to help them in other ways and slowly win their trust.

Oftentimes, and with increasing frequency as the government's "oil spots" began spreading together, the security force's patience was rewarded and a local tip would lead to the destruction of a terrorist unit operating in the area.

Many times, especially in a "hot area," a patrol would come across tracks made by the terrorists. When such an event occurred, and the tracks were fresh enough, the patrol would immediately report the find to its headquarters, then set out to track down and capture or kill the terrorists.

If the tracks indicated a large group of terrorists and they were fresh enough, other units might join in to pin-down and destroy the SWAPO group.

The original patrol would still continue in pursuit of the SWAPO unit, following its tracks. The other units would be moved to positions in anticipation of cutting off the terrorists' escape route, or to set up an ambush in the hope that the terrorists will be driven into their killing ground.

Then a deadly game of hide-and-seek would ensue with the hunted usually hoping for one of two things to happen: for darkness to come as the security forces couldn't track them in the dark, or they would reach the safety of Angola.

The thick bush of Owamboland favored the hunted as it was extremely difficult for the security forces to cordon a leak-proof area around the fleeing terrorists. Kill many they did, but others slipped through gaps in the security forces line and, using the thick bush to their advantage, the survivors would make their way back to Angola.

Two personal examples and one made famous by a Bushman tracking and reaction force unit will provide some typical examples of small unit security force operations in the operational area of Owamboland.

[117]

In World War I, two weapons apparently spelled doom for the horse cavalry: the machine gun and the tank.

Old traditions, however, die slowly, and the cavalry didn't bow out of modern warfare until the Polish cavalry died in a last futile charge against German tanks in 1939.

Although most of the world's military organizations have relegated the horse cavalry either to the museum or a small ceremonial detachment (like that prancing around Buckingham Palace in London), not everybody has gotten rid of their horses.

The horse cavalry is alive and well in southern Africa. Here in thick bush mounted soldiers have become an important element in the war against SWAPO Marxist terrorists.

There are basically five reasons why the old horse cavalry has been revived, minus the sabres, in the terrorist war in Namibia: visibility, range, speed, the ability to operate in terrain where it is impossible to use mechanized vehicles, and, last but not least, the lack of sufficient numbers of helicopters.

The bush covering most operational areas in Namibia is both high and thick. However, a soldier mounted on a horse, riding tall in the saddle, has a better, often unhampered, view of the situation and can see much further ahead than if he were on foot. (Purists may shudder at my designation of them as horse cavalry, claiming they function more like dragoons-they travel mounted, but fight dismounted. My view is that horse cavalry is a more common term than dragoon.)

A man on foot, carrying his combat load, can track through the bush for about fifteen kilometers before tiring and becoming less attentive and thus less effective. On a horse, that same man can stay on the track for about thirty-five kilometers, much farther than a chased SWAPO terrorist can run.

A horse is also faster than a man on foot, so mounted soldiers can, and often have, run down pursued SWAPO cadres, many of whom have died from being trampled by the pursuing mounts.

If caught in an ambush, the mounted troops can spur their mounts and get away more quickly from the killing zone to cover.

Motorized bush bashing (chasing SWAPO through the bush where roads are non-existent) is normally done in the mine-proofed Buffel and Casspir vehicles. These are able, widely used, and effective transport which carry the infantry through the bush into battle. But chasing SWAPO by knocking the scrub bush flat with your vehicle is obviously no way to sneak up [118] on your enemy. Horses can do it much more quietly, and a horse can go places a Buffel or Casspir can't, especially places that are often terrorist hideouts.

One motorcycle and horse mounted unit operated out of a small company-sized base called Okatope in central Owamboland. Okatope is located just off the main paved road from Oshivelo to Ondangwa, the main convoy route for supplies running from Grootfontein north to the operational area. It is also a few short kilometers west of a powerline that runs from the Ruacana power complex on the Cunene River down to the agriculture and mining areas around Grootfontein and Tsumeb.

The powerline, in addition to being an inviting sabotage target, also happens to be an infiltration route for SWAPO terrorists coming from their bases in Angola. They slip across the border and follow the line south to their target area.

The security forces know this and take countermeasures to foil their efforts. Part of this effort is to use the mounted troops at Okatope, which consist of three platoons of horse-mounted infantry, or cavalry if you wish, and one platoon of motorcycle-mounted infantry

The 500cc Honda motorbikes patrol the roads and the powerline, and can be used for high-speed, cross-country sweeps and searches.

The chief assets of the motorbikes are speed and operating range. The bikes can roar through the flat bush at speeds, depending on the terrain, well in excess of horses or other motorized ground transport vehicles. Their operating range is over eighty-five kilometers per day.

Motorbike tires are their most vulnerable point: long, tough spines of the thorn bush can easily puncture a motorbike tire. The motorbike troops are so well trained, however, that they can change and fix a flat in a mere twelve to fifteen minutes.

One incident in the routine at Okatope typifies the small unit conduct of the counterinsurgency war against SWAPO from the viewpoint of a company of mounted-infantry.

One night in April 1984, SWAPO had blown down five telephone poles in a futile attempt to cut the phone lines from Ondangwa to the south. In this case SWAPO's attempt failed because, although they blew down five poles, they didn't bother to cut the phone wires held up by the poles.

The first troops on the scene, at dawn, picked up the spoor, now several hours old, of five terrorists who had been involved in the incident.

A platoon of Captain Bariss Barnard's (the CO of Okatope) mounted infantry was going to sweep the bush in the vicinity of the incident. They were hoping to find more evidence of and perhaps even flush out the terrorists.

[119]

Captain Barnard's cavalry would sweep from the site of the incident eastward, following the tracks of the five, towards the powerline and infiltration route. The tracks soon disappeared as the terrorists had either persuaded or forced some locals to drive their cattle through the area obliterating their tracks.

Nevertheless, it was apparent the terrorists were heading towards the powerline when their spoor was destroyed and Captain Barnard decided to continue a general sweep towards the line. Other elements of 53 Battalion, to which Captain Barnard's unit was attached, would set up ambushes and stopper groups on the flanks of the sweep. A force of 53 Battalion's motorized infantry in Buffets would sweep down the powerline, wait, occupy a blocking position and, hopefully, scoop up anything fleeing from the approaching cavalry.

Due to the size of the forces involved (about a company of troops) and the area being swept (several square kilometers), it was impossible to blanket the entire area. The pursuit force hoped that if the terrorists had gone to ground in the area, the movement of the troops would stir them up and force them to move. Then their spoor could be picked up and they'd be hunted down.

An infantry section (a squad in American terminology) mounted in a Buffet follows the mounted infantry platoons sweeping the area. The noise of the Buffet, in which the section is riding as a backup force, is not a factor, as the cavalry, depending upon the terrain and thickness of the bush, is normally moving anywhere from 500 meters to a kilometer ahead. Any terrorist lurking in the bush would be stirred up by the horses long before the sound of the Buffet would carry to any terrorist hidden in front of the sweep.

A word about the South African developed Buffet. It is a mine-resistant armored personnel carrier which sits on a truck chassis. This chassis is its main weakness. While the vehicle gives an amazing amount of protection to its human passengers, the blast of a mine usually ends up bending the vehicle's truck frame. This puts it out of action until extensive repairs are carried out.

The newer anti-mine vehicle, the Casspir, is an improvement on the Buffet, because its chassis is part of the main body of the vehicle. When it strikes a mine, a wheel assembly is often blown off. This can be replaced in the bush in a matter of a few hours. But the Casspir is new and expensive, so the Buffet is still being widely used in the counterinsurgency effort in Namibia.4

[120]

Both vehicles have one thing in common: riding in them is a bouncing, jolting experience. Half of the time is spent hanging on for dear life to prevent body and gear from bouncing out into the dirt. This in spite of being strapped in via a shoulder harness. The rest of the time is spent dodging branches that tend to sweep back into the passengers' faces while bashing through the bush.

Once the sweep got underway a routine quickly developed. The mounted infantry would move ahead in a skirmish line looking for signs of the terrorists, and the Buffel would follow.

The route would weave around as the kraals in the sweep area where checked out. Kraals in the bush are not laid out in a suburban developer's neat geometric patterns, so the skirmish line would move back and forth to check them all out in the course of the sweep. When kraals were close to one another two riders would split off and check them out.

It was routine and sometimes boring work, especially when the sun beat down unmercifully as you toiled through the seemingly endless bush, breathing dust from the ever-present fine sand stirred into the air by your passage. Boredom was resisted by the realization that contact could come at any moment, especially for the horsemen. They resisted boredom more easily -their necks were on the line.

Back and forth the patrol continued its sweep, although steadily pressing eastward towards the power line, looking for signs of the pole-blasting SWAPO terrorists. Periodic stops were made to rest the horses and troops, and to maintain a slow and as thorough and consistent search of the area as possible.

As part of their design, the Buffel and Casspir carry an enormous quantity of drinking water (which helps absorb some of the force of a mine explosion) for resupplying the troops and horses. This water is available through a tap on the vehicle to replenish canteens or water cans. This mobile source of potable water also gives the security forces an edge over the terrorist he is pursuing as the SWAPO terrorist must either carry his water supply with him or get it from the local population. When running for his life from the security forces, he is likely to feel the effects of thirst long before his pursuers who carry a large supply in their vehicles.

Finally, the patrol reached the power line. The company commander and some of the mounted troops with him were sitting on the edge of the powerline clearing in the meager shade waiting for the patrol. It had reached the end of its sweep and had turned up nothing.

That's the way it often is on operations in Owamboland. You cover miles and miles of hot, dusty bush, often to find no signs of the terrorists. But such [121] seemingly endless, unsuccessful sweeps still were important facets in the overall counterinsurgency effort. They not only established and continued security force contact with the people letting them know that protection was at hand from the SWAPO terror tactics, but also prevented the infiltrating SWAPO cadres from settling in and establishing permanent bases in Owamboland.

The security forces can't relax their vigilance. If they do, that's when the infiltrating terrorists will plant their mines or murder innocents, all to the detriment of the overall counterinsurgency effort in Namibia.

Another incident, again from Okatope, brought home the usefulness of the motorbikes in the counterinsurgency effort. It was touched off by a report from two of Captain Barnard's Owambo soldiers who had just returned from a little off-duty relaxation at a local cuca shop. (These are small, privatelyowned shops operated by local Owambos that dispense goods, including the local home-brewed beer. These shops are named after an award-winning beer that was brewed in southern Angola while it was still a Portuguese colony.) It seems that a couple of terrorists were patrons of this particular cuca and were bragging about their SWAPO affiliation to the assembled customers. Since the terrorists were armed and the two Owambo soldiers, who were dressed in civilian clothes, weren't, they decided to slip out, return to Okatope and get help.

Captain Barnard decided upon immediate action and assembled the motorcycle platoon. Off they went followed by two sections of infantry accompanying them in the Buffels, toward the cuca hoping to bag the two boastful terrorists.

The reaction force sped north up the hardtop road towards Ondangwa for about eight kilometers, then turned off the road and plunged into the bush. The cuca was located a few kilometers west of the road, across table-flat sandy bush country, near an old mission and a school run by a teacher suspected of being a SWAPO sympathizer.

The motorbike force with the Buffels behind them roared up to the cuca, riders peeling of to the right and left, encircling the cuca to cutoff anyone trying to flee. Captain Barnard and a dozen of his men searched the cuca, safeties off their weapons and ready for action.

But the troops had been seen as they rode across the flat terrain, and the two SWAPO terrorists had fled toward the school. Barnard ordered a remount and the force headed for the school, a short distance away

The school was a different matter than the cuca. Bigger, and with about [122] 400 students from the fourth grade through high school, the school buildings proved more difficult to surround. The line of troops stretched a little thinner.

Captain Barnard talked to the headmaster-teacher of the school, the suspected SWAPO sympathizer, and told him it was necessary to search the school and he must clear all the classrooms. That proved to be easy because most of the students had already poured from the classrooms to stare curiously at the armed men.

The remaining youngsters trooped out and joined their classmates. As they did so, they were scrutinized by Captain Barnard and the two Owambos who could identify the terrorists if they tried to sneak out with the kids.

The students enjoyed the spectacle because it gave them an unexpected break, but their teachers didn't like it one bit. Many of them didn't even try to keep looks of hostility off their faces as they sullenly watched the troops search the classrooms.

One by one the classrooms were searched. Then, as the troops were preparing to move to another building of the school complex, one soldier noticed a small trapdoor in the corner of a classroom.

"Check that out!" ordered Captain Barnard. A soldier was given a boost up by two others and pounded open the trapdoor.

A loud crash was heard at the other end of the building, and a great shout went up from the milling school kids outside as two frightened terrorists burst out through a door and ran through the crowd.

Apparently panicking when the trapdoor was raised, the terrorists evacuated their hideout by simply crashing through the ceiling and bolted out of the classroom door.

No fusillade of shots followed them, as the security forces didn't want to risk hitting any of the kids, many of whom had wandered from the immediate vicinity of the school to goof off and play Thus they were scattered out all over the area and the terrorists used them as a buffer to get away.

Off went the troops in hot pursuit, following the fresh spoor. But the terrorists, running literally for their lives, didn't lose their wits. They hit a couple of the many scattered kraals in the area and played hide-and-seek among them with the security forces. The security forces were forced to slow down as they had to search each kraal along the path of the fleeing terrorists. At one kraal the terrorists delayed the biker patrol many precious minutes by forcing the kraal occupants to drive their herd of cows over their tracks, obliterating them.

By using such tactics, they slipped away from Captain Barnard's men, and managed to hitch a ride in a truck before a police anti-terrorist unit that [123] had taken over the pursuit from the army tracked and trapped them. Both terrorists were killed trying to shoot it out with the police not far from the cuca and the school.

****

A more typical anti-terrorist operation was carried out in late 1982 by elements of 201 Battalion, composed entirely of Bushmen from Namibia. The battalion's primary area of operation is Owamboland, but occasionally they operate in Kavangoland and Kaokoland as well. The battalion is composed of four rifle companies, A, B, C, and D. Of these two are always in the bush for six-week long operations while the other two rest and retrain at their primary base-Omega-located in the Caprivi Strip.

The Bushmen rifle companies are organized into seven teams of twenty to twenty-three men each. The weapons used by the Bushmen are the principal infantry assault weapons used by the South African army. Captured weapons, such as the Soviet RPG-7 antitank grenade launcher are widely used by the Bushmen, and other security force elements as well. They are plentiful as huge quantities have been taken from captured SWAPO bases and caches. The RPG-7 is an extremely versatile attack and support weapon in the bush war.

Most of the teams in the Bushmen company are reaction force teams. They are held in reserve until any security force unit makes a contact with SWAPO terrorists or fresh SWAPO spoor is discovered. Since the modus operandi of the terrorists is to break contact and flee, the usual action of the security forces is to track and chase them. The Bushmen reaction force teams are well-suited for this task.

Each team is further divided into two or three smaller groups, each with a motorized fighting vehicle-the Buffel anti-land mine troop carrier.

Upon picking up the SWAPO spoor and following it, half of the group will run on the track while the other half rides in the Buffels as a mobile reserve. After an hour or so, they switch roles, giving their buddies on the ground a chance to rest. It is therefore possible to keep fresh crackers running on the track-and run they do!

In late 1982, elements of 201 Battalion picked up the spoor of seven SWAPO terrorists in eastern Owamboland which led to a 238 kilometer marathon tracking operation. Of that distance, the Bushmen actually ran on the spoor for 190 kilometers. They followed the terrorists for three days before making contact. It took two more days and two more contacts to stop the fleeing terrorists. All seven were killed during the course of this operation, while the Bushmen suffered no losses.

[124]

The seven dead terrorists were part of SWAPO's so-called "special forces" detachment. SWAPO recruits, whether volunteers or shanghaied civilians, are sent to Lubango, SWAPO's military headquarters in Angola for training. After six months of basic military training, the better recruits are selected and sent to other SWAPO bases for specialized training as SWAPO's "special forces."

They take advanced courses in such terrorist tactics as sabotage, ambush, assassination and anti-tracking techniques to prepare them for small-group infiltrations into their target areas inside Namibia. However, they have not been very effective and they have been largely neutralized by the counter insurgency efforts of the security forces.,

The South African security forces were slowly but surely expanding their areas of control. They were seriously disrupting SWAPO's timetable for a violent Marxist revolutionary takeover in Namibia.

Yet a vexing problem remained that caused the South African counterinsurgency program enormous difficulties-the presence of SWAPO bases and sanctuaries over the border in nearby Angola. As long as SWAPO could cross the border with ease, the South African effort to successfully counter the guerrilla was seriously flawed. The enemy was still too close to the population and could slip with ease in to Namibia to kill, maim, and intimidate the local population.

The presence of these bases hung like an ominous cloud over Owamboland, creating a climate of fear in the local population that kept them aloof from the security forces. Those bases had to be sorted-out or else the counterinsurgency effort would soon be spinning its wheels.

Punitive cross-border strikes on these bases were the solution, but it was not an easy course of action to take, as we shall see in the next chapter. 

FOOTNOTES

1 Mao Tse-tung, "Strategic Problems in the Anti-Japanese Guerrilla War, Selected Works, Vol. 11, p.135.

2 McCuen, op. cit., p. 196.

3 Beckett, Ian, The Roots of Counter-Insurgency: Armies and Guerrilla Warfare, 1900-1945, Blandford Press, London, 1985, p.15.

4 For more information on mine proof vehicles, see: Stiff, P, Taming the Landmine, Galagos, Alberton, RSA, 1985.

@ A Forgotten War
@ No more heroes
@ What happened to the boys on the border?
@ In conflict

@ Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy Chapter 6
@ Chapter 7
@ Chapter 13
@ Chapter 14
@ Chapter 15
@ Chapter 16
@
Chapter 18
@ Chapter 19
@ Chapter 20
@ Chapter 21

@ Civil supremacy of the military in Namibia
@ NO MEAN SOLDIER

Contact:

 
E-mail: info@namibweb.com

Bookmark and Share

Page created and serviced by

www.namibweb.com

Copyright 1998-2017 NamibWeb.com - The online guide to Namibia
All rights reserved
Page is sponsored by ETS & www.namibweb.com
Disclaimer: no matter how often this page is updated and its accuracy is checked www.namibweb.com and ETS will not be held responsible for any change in opinion, information, facilities, services, conditions, etc. offered by establishment/operator/service/information provider or any third party