Namibianizing The War

Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy

Chapter 15

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.

[151] Local self-defense has been a significant component of virtually every successful counterinsurgency campaign. As McCuen said, "One thing is absolutely certain. Self-defense by the population is a necessary element of the counter-insurgency organization. Without auxiliary police and militia to protect it, the population is likely to pass under revolutionary control, irrespective of how satisfied and indoctrinated the people may be. Personal security is one of the strongest of all drives."1

The South Africans paid a lot of attention to McCuen's dictum by organizing local self-defense units in Namibia. It made sense in a lot of ways.
No one likes to be at the constant merry and whim of a bully. Yet bullying tactics were the centerpiece of SWAPO's revolutionary program for Namibia. The only thing a bully understands and respects is force. Reason won't deter the bully, only force will. However, it is almost impossible to protect everyone from the bullying depredations of revolutionary terrorists -the security forces simply lack the manpower and resources.
Organizing local self-defense units among the population frees up elements of the armed forces to concentrate on destroying the terrorists instead of tying them down guarding villages and installations. Involving the population in their own defense also commits them firmly on the side of the government.

This automatically puts the person joining the local militia or self-defense unit at odds with SWAPO and makes him a target of SWAPO's [152] reprisal attacks. But now he isn't such a "soft target" as he has received arms, military training and, initially supervision by professional South African officers and NCO's. By joining others collectively they could and often did successfully resist SWAPO attacks.
It should be self-evident that joining the self-defense effort in Namibia against SWAPO, gave the individual a stake in the outcome of the counterinsurgency effort in which he was now personally involved.

Losers in most guerrilla wars throughout the world, and especially so in Africa, are not merely disarmed, given amnesty and told to be good citizens of the new regime. They are normally punished rather severely for being on the losing side. The best they can hope for is to be allowed to hold on to their lives, albeit in fear and misery. Their normal lot is liquidation as class enemies.

Thus, joining a self-defense group in a revolutionary situation can place one in a precarious situation-it commits him, for better or worse, to the government's counterinsurgency effort. This has a ripple effect in that it normally brings along the individual's family and some of their relatives into the pro-government circle. For example, it is estimated that by 1987, as a result of the formation of 101 Battalion in Owamboland, 10,000 Owambos were brought solidly on the government's side in the war against SWAPO.2

The presence of these self-defense units and their success in countering acts of terrorism serve as a constant on-going counter to SWAPO's attempt to coerce other Namibians to following the terrorist group.

As long as Namibians, not just the "boers from South Africa," are joining together, pursuing and killing SWAPO terrorists, it tarnishes the credibility of SWAPO and its supporters, such as the United Nations. If SWAPO were, as the UN proclaims, the sole representative of the Namibian people, then why are Namibians taking up arms to fight SWAPO?

In the eyes of the uncommitted, especially in Owamboland the scene of the revolutionary battle, the sight of armed Namibians protecting themselves and their neighbors from SWAPO "liberators" was becoming a commonplace occurrence. This action was in vivid contrast to SWAPO's method of sneaking across the border, like thieves in the night, and hiding out in the daytime from armed Namibian security elements hunting for them. The SWAPO terrorists emerged only at night to plant mines, most of which killed or maimed civilians, and to murder or intimidate before scurrying back across the Angolan border before their fellow Namibians caught up with them and ended abruptly their careers.
[153] One of the most critical problems in organizing any counter-insurgency self-defense force is the process of screening its recruits for loyalty to the government. Any revolutionary organization worth its salt would attempt to infiltrate the self-defense force and try to subvert it.

The situation in Namibia, however, helped the screening process as the self-defense units were set up on ethnic or tribal basis. Since SWAPO was an Owambo-centered organization, the non-Owambo units were neutral or even hostile to SWAPO's revolutionary program. They were susceptible to SWAPO's gun-point intimidation tactics, but the opportunity to participate with their fellow tribesmen in their own defense provided them with a way to resist their long-standing tribal enemy.
The security forces could thus devote the bulk of their screening efforts to Owambo recruits. Here events in Owamboland came to their assistance. There has been chronic unemployment in Owamboland and a career in an Owambo ethnic military unit provided one with a stable, steady source of income. (The self-defense force in Namibia was being paid the same pay as the South African soldier.) It also gave the individual a legally sanctioned method of retaliation against the SWAPO terrorists who had ravaged and murdered his kith and kin throughout Owamboland.

The South African efforts of establishing effective self-defense units in Namibia had an added advantage in that the organizational basis already existed.

During World War I, South African troops, under the command of General Louis Botha, invaded the then German protectorate of South West Africa to secure the territory for the Allied Forces. On July 9, 1915, the German forces surrendered and ever since the defense of the territory has been the responsibility of the South African Defense Force.
Not surprising, the defense of the territory was set up along South African lines. Up until 1975 only white citizens of Namibia were called upon to undergo military training. This training was done in South Africa not Namibia. Those white Namibians wishing to pursue a military career had to join the South African Defense Force and hope they could get assignments back in Namibia.
Those who didn't want to be professional soldiers but still wanted to be part of the defense of the territory could join either the Citizen Force or a local Commando.
Citizen Force units are comparable to the active reserve in the United States. They are trained as conventional soldiers and the units they belong to are part of the conventional military establishment-infantry, artillery, armor, etc. Like our active reserve, these units undergo a regular training [154] schedule in order to be familiar with current military weapons, tactics and techniques.

Commandos have no American counterpart. Commandos in Namibia also form part of the reserve force, but are specially trained in counterinsurgency warfare. They are organized on a regional basis and are trained to react quickly against any terrorist infiltration.
Since they operate in their own locale they have an excellent knowledge of the local terrain. This knowledge is important in successful counterinsurgency operations and the Commandos are trained and capable of putting it to good use.
With this system in being in Namibia, all that was really needed was to expand it to the non-white areas of Namibia.
It is well to recall that the military effort was not being carried out in a vacuum. There were important political decisions both inside Namibia and in the international arena that had great influence on military matters.

One of the major political processes taking place in the country was the effort to secure independence for the country. As these political moves were gaining momentum, it became obvious to the South Africans that an independent defense force for the territory had to be established. Because of the small population of Namibia it was also obvious that military training could not be limited to whites only and the government decided to recruit from all population groups. An integrated Namibian defense force would give all Namibians-blacks, browns and whites-a stake in the future of their own country. It was a decision that not only provided adequate manpower for future armed forces in Namibia, but, more importantly, it provided a big counter to SWAPO propaganda. It demonstrated that thousands of nonwhite Namibians not only opposed SWAPO but were willing to bear arms to prevent the terrorists from seizing power.
The fact that UN Resolution 435 has insisted upon the disbandment of these newly established territorial forces shows how much SWAPO and its UN friends feared them. This shouldn't surprise anyone. SWAPO has been committed to seizing power in Namibia by force and it could not tolerate the presence of an effective counter to its goal. Therefore, any armed opposition must be abolished. Since SWAPO couldn't prevail by force of arms, it had to get rid of its opponents by other means-using the efforts of its host and protector, the United Nations.
But in 1975, the evil machinations of UN Resolution 435 had not been committed to paper and the South Africans were concerned with setting up an embryonic South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF), as they termed it.

[155] Their first organizational efforts involved the Bushmen. They were trained as trackers in the Caprivi Strip. This unit proved so successful that it quickly mushroomed into an independent Bushmen battalion, designated 31 Battalion.
Based on the success of the Bushmen battalion, other battalions were raised in the populous northern region of Namibia: 33 Battalion in the Eastern Caprivi; 34 Battalion in Kavangoland; and, 35 Battalion in Owamboland.
Applications to enlist in these units far exceeded the requirements of the units. This allowed the authorities to be very selective and they chose only the most fit and reliable.
Subsequently, two more battalions were set up, one in Bushmanland -36 Battalion; the other in Kaokoland-37 Battalion.
The organizational and training effort didn't stop in northern Namibia, it continued in central and southern Namibia as well.
Because of the diversity of the population in the central and southern parts of the country, it wasn't feasible to establish ethnic battalions. Multi-ethnic battalions would have to be formed. Since tribalism is the curse of Africa, putting members of different and often hostile tribes together in a military unit was a venture not entered into lightly. Nevertheless, the authorities decided to form one and recruitment started in 1977. 41 Battalion was formed with its headquarters in the capital city of Windhoek.
The government took another important far reaching step on August 1, 1980, at the same time as the establishment of the SWATF, when it removed the color restriction and allowed non-whites to join the Commandos.
Non-white Commandos (non-white in that no whites lived in the area) were formed in Damaraland, Hereroland, Khomasdal, Katatura, Rietfontein, Aminuis and Namaland. This added further strength and national effort to the existing unconventional reserve force.
Successful counterinsurgency operations in Namibia depended upon security, force tracking ability and upon their mobility. Obviously, the territorial units would have to be proficient in these skills in order to be able to prevail over SWAPO terrorists.
On June 1, 1977, a Namibian specialist unit was formed to train the infantry in tracking, the use of dogs as trackers, as well as using horses and dirt-bike motorcycles for rapid deployment and patrol work in the bush. The training base was set up at Otavi while the headquarters of the unit, 1 SWA Specialist Unit as it became known, was at Oshivello.
Towards the end of 1979 the SWA Military School was established at Okahandja. Here is where the future officers and non-commissioned officers [156] of all races would be trained for the independent Namibian armed forces.
A major step towards the creation of this independent force occurred on August 1, 1980, when a Department of Defense was formed for SWA/ Namibia under the Administrator General of SWA. For the first time in the history of the territory, control over an independent Namibian defense force became the responsibility of Namibians.

As of that same date all the units created in the territory became known as the South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF). Overall planning, liaison and cooperation between the SWATF and the SADF is carried out by a joint committee. One of the joint committee's most important initial tasks was to establish an independent headquarters organization for the SWATS The changes also affected the designation of the battalions that had been raised during the past five years:

Prior unit Designation New SWATF Designation

31 Battalion in Western Caprivi 201 Battalion

33 Battalion in Eastern Caprivi 701 Battalion

34 Battalion in Kavangoland 202 Battalion

35 Battalion in Owamboland 101 Battalion

36 Battalion in Bushmanland 203 Battalion

37 Battalion in Kaokoland 102 Battalion

41 Battalion in Windhoek 911 Battalion

From the inception of the program to form military units composed of Namibians until they became an independent national defense force had only taken five years. The units were conceived and tested in battle. They proved their mettle and could compare favorably with other military forces on the African continent. On the day it came into existence in August 1980, the SWATF was larger than eight other defense forces in Africa. By 1984, its growth rate made it larger than thirteen other African armies.

Although manpower is one criterion for comparing armies, it is the fighting capability of the army that really counts. The SWATF can hold its head up proudly as it has been tested in battle and passed with flying colors, suffering no defeats at the hands of its enemy-SWAPO. The new defense force has even taken part in some of the cross border operations to destroy SWAPO bases in PROTEA and ASKARI. SWATF units were present along with SADF units to help Jonas Savimbi's UNITA halt the Soviet-directed 1985 and 1987-88 offensives against their stronghold in southeastern Angola.
How effective is SWATF? By the middle of 1987 it was very effective.
[157] According to the Institute for Strategic Studies, University of Pretoria: ". . . At present the counterinsurgency function is mainly undertaken by units of the SAW Territory Force, while elements of the AS Army in SWAIN are mainly responsible for providing for the conventional defense of the country and undertaking the specialist supporting functions. At present 72 % of the combat personnel in the northern border areas is made up of Black and Coloured soldiers and policemen of SWAIN and this ratio could be further increased if the country had the required financial and material capabilities to cater for further growth in their security forces."3

We will take a closer look at two units of the SWATS, 101 Battalion composed of Owambo soldiers and 201 Battalion composed of Bushmen. The author has spent a considerable amount of time with both units during numerous visits to the operational area in Namibia, and has been with them while they were conducting counterinsurgency operations against SWAPO terrorists.
The Bushman battalion actually had its genesis in Angola. During the SADF'S withdrawal from Angola during Operation SAVANNAH in 197576, they came across groups of Bushmen abandoned by the Portuguese in southeastern Angola when they gave up their former colony.
These Bushmen were in bad shape. They had been worn out by PAPUA troops who had hunted them down and tried to exterminate them whenever they could. Those who had so far survived were too sick and weak to secure even the barest necessities of food and shelter in the land ravaged by the on-going civil war. The South Africans gave the Bushmen food and medical treatment and brought them back to Namibia with them to keep them from the tender mercies of SWAPO's genocidal squads.

The Bushmen come from two tribes-the Mbarakwengo and the Vasquela. Although both were traditional mutual enemies in the past, the continuous warfare in the region has caused both groups to settle in the Western Caprivi Strip of Namibia.
There are close to 5,000 Bushmen living at Omega base, the headquarters of 201 Battalion. The Bushmen and their families live in a full-service community which is part of, and not separate from, the military compound at Omega. Here they receive food, clothing, medical and dental treatment and all the rest of the services and conveniences of a modern military base. The military also provides social services to help the Bushmen bridge the gap
[158] between his stone age hunter-gatherer culture and the modern twentieth century technological society he is now caught up in.
Bushmen soldiers get the same pay as white soldiers, although it took a bit of time for them to get used to it as the concept of "money" did not exist in their primitive culture.
Unmarried Bushmen soldiers live in typical military-style barracks, while the married live in family housing. A married Bushman gets one house for each of his wives-some have as many as three-and constructs his own dwellings with wood furnished by the government.
The Portuguese had used the Bushmen as local militia (like the Montagnards in Vietnam). The South Africans decided to capitalize on their exceptional natural tracking and bushcraft abilities and organized them into a specialized counterinsurgency unit.
The South African Defense Force has seconded five officers to the battalion. The rest of the white element, both officers and NCO's, are from Namibia.
The key operational elements of the battalion are its four rifle companies and a reconnaissance wing. Two of the companies are in the bush for a six-week tour while the remaining companies rest and retrain at Omega. After the bush tour the companies return to Omega and their place is taken by the other half of the battalion. At least half of the battalion is on operations at all times and the rotational schedule insures that fresh troops are in the bush hunting SWAPO.

Although a Bushman soldier can leave the unit whenever he wants, few do. The reason is simple: the Bushman is at the bottom of the social scale in black Africa. He is surrounded by ancient enemies who would like nothing better than to kill him. In the battalion he is not only safe from the depredations of his ancient enemies, but is able to use the skills his culture has honed to a keen edge over the centuries. He can use these skills to great effect to get back at his enemies. So why leave such a situation?
War, however, results in casualties and the fortunes of war extract a toll on friend and foe alike. But the Bushmen battalion, and most of the Namibian units, do not invalid out their wounded and crippled. They stay with their comrades and are given jobs such as base guard duty and other garrison duties that take up a soldier's time. This frees the regular Bushman soldier for rest and retraining so that he is able to concentrate on the job at hand-polishing up his skills as a soldier instead of doing necessary, but tactically useless' housekeeping jobs that are the bane of garrison soldiering-so that he is well prepared when it's time to return to the bush.

Many would think that after thirteen years of fighting these warriors [159] wouldn't need further training. But the Bushmen come from a society drastically different from our own. They have been hunters and gatherers for centuries and now they have been thrust squarely in the middle of a twentieth century counterinsurgency war. Their training periods at Omega are geared to help them rapidly adapt to the benefits and evils of the eighties. They are, to use an understatement, "widening the scope of their experiences."

For example, to attain a very basic military skill- shooting a rifle, they had to overcome centuries of acculturation. Bushmen from time immemorial have killed their game with a bow and arrow. They instinctively aimed their arrow above their target to compensate for the drop it takes on its flight to the target. When first shooting his rifle the Bushman recruit always aimed high to compensate for his assumed drop of the bullet. It took him months of patient practice before he could aim and shoot his rifle like other soldiers. After overcoming this cultural block, however, most have developed into excellent shots.
After individual training the Bushmen undergo extensive unit training, especially at the company level, in order to operate more efficiently in cohesive large-scale units. The units develop and incorporate new tactics into their bag of tricks for successfully countering the tactics of SWAPO.
This is a constant on-going process as SWAPO quickly adapts countermeasures to the tactics they face. One of the commanding officers of the battalion hit the tactical nail squarely on the head when he said, "If we want to win this war, we have to be one step ahead of SWAPO."4

After their initial difficulties with adjusting to military life, the Bushmen have caught on quickly to the complexities of modern warfare and have adapted their innate excellence in bushcraft to it. Able to survive long periods on minimal food and water, the Bushmen have an instinctive, highly developed sense of danger. They can run on a track, while figuring out where an enemy would go or should go to either escape detection, set up an ambush or booby trap, or any number of situations that might arise in bush warfare.
The Bushmen look for the unnatural-a missing spot of dew on a blade of grass that should be, but is no longer there. This is one small example of things they notice that indicate the passage of human feet that have upset the natural setting. They are plain as day to the Bushmen, and this skill has made life miserable for SWAPO.
Their ancient cultural skill also help them with some of the infantryman's weapons. They are deadly, for example, with the 60mm patrol mortar. [160] It is a weapon of simple but rugged design-a 60mm tube with the standard baseplate, legs and aiming assembly removed. A small interchangeable breechpiece replaces the base plate and a couple of hooks are welded on the tube so it can be carried over the shoulder by a sling attached to the hooks.

To fire the mortar, the Bushmen place it on the ground, use the hand holding the tube to adjust for trajectory and windage, drop a round down the tube with the other hand and fire. One man can effectively fire this weapon. The Bushmen are very good at determining projectile trajectory because of their proficiency with their age-old weapon-the bow and arrow. In their hands the patrol mortar has become a highly mobile and deadly weapon.
The reconnaissance wing, or "recce wing" as they're known in southern Africa, has a different tactical organization and mission than the rest of the battalion. It is made up of five operational teams of six people per team. Each team has two whites and four Bushmen. This gives it great flexibility as it allows the team to break into two units of three men each.
The battalion uses the recce wing primarily for surveillance or clandestine missions in its operational area. This involves dangerous behind-the-line incursions-such as sneaking around in the bush looking for SWAPO bases or arms caches, and gathering information and intelligence on SWAPO units moving in the area. More often than not these missions are done in Marxist Angola.
These operations require stealth, steady nerves, and well-trained, disciplined troops. To be successful, their presence must not be detected by SWAPO or by SWAPO sympathizers who may tip off the terrorists.
There is a true story told at Omega base about a recce team that was concealed in the bush about fifteen meters from a combined SWAPO/FAPLA camp in southern Angola. A FAPLA sentry was suspicious of a shadow behind a particular bush which was in fact a Bushman recce team member. But the sentry was either too scared or too lazy to walk over and check it out. Instead, he walked back and forth, staring at the bush. The team members were sure they were on the verge of being engaged in a firefight with over a hundred enemies.

Finally the sentry whipped out a wrist-rocket-type slingshot, picked up a small stone and fired it at the shadow. It struck the Bushman squarely on the thigh and at that range it struck with considerable force. But the Bushman stopped his involuntary impulse to cry out in spite of the excruciating pain. He didn't utter a peep, nor did he move even though his leg was throbbing with pain. Not getting any reaction, the sentry convinced himself that there was no danger and settled down. After a while he became complacent and [161] drowsy and this allowed the recce team to slip away undetected from the dangerous situation.

The struck Bushman, although walking with a limp for a couple of days, still was able to carry on and wasn't a hindrance at all to his teammates or their mission.
The Bushmen's tracking and bushcraft skills enable the recce teams to survive alone in the bush for long periods of time without outside support. Staying in the bush without need of constant resupply makes detection harder and allows them to keep on their mission.
Usually, the only inkling SWAPO has that the security forces are on to their presence, because the recce team has discovered and tracked them, comes when a reaction force of Bushmen suddenly attacks them.

Such tactics, in addition to the obvious one of killing the terrorists, also disrupts their lines of communication and supply and instills a sense of fear in the terrorists that it's not safe anywhere in southern Angola or Namibia. In short, SWAPO's program of revolutionary action gets a far distant second place priority to the increasingly prime duty of mere personal survival.
The origin of the Owambo unit, 101 Battalion, can be traced back to 1974, when it was designated 1 Owambo Battalion under the command of Captain McChlachlan. In point of fact, it was a battalion in name only for it was nothing more than a home guard unit of around 150 men.
In 1977, it was changed from a home guard unit and renamed 35 Battalion. Its primary function was training and support although it did have one company that was actively engaged in counterinsurgency combat operations against SWAPO.
It trained and provided Owambo trackers and other support elements such as interpreters and drivers for various SADF elements operating in Owamboland.
At this time all the soldiers were Owambos while all the NCO's and officers were white. This situation has changed dramatically. By 1988, eighty percent of the NCO's were Owambos and one of the companies was under the command of an Owambo commissioned-officer. Owambos were moving up in the battalion's rank structure as fast as they could be trained and qualified. All this was due to the far-reaching changes that occurred as a result of the establishment of an independent Namibian defense force.
In 1980, the unit was redesignated 101 Battalion and its mission was changed from an operational training unit to a support unit for other SADF [162] elements. This mission didn't last long. In 1981, the battalion got a new commanding officer whose influence changed and molded the unit into what its supporters claim is the best counterinsurgency unit in the world.
Col. Willie Welgemoed (then a commandant) assumed command of 101 BN in 1981 and changed the unit's emphasis from support to operational duties.
Welgemoed did not, however, jettison the battalion's prior emphasis on training and support. The battle with SWAPO over power in Namibia would be decided on who won the hearts and minds of the Owambo people. It was crystal clear to Welgemoed that his all-Owambo unit would play a crucial part in that campaign. In his mind, not only should the Owambo soldier be in the forefront fighting SWAPO, the battalion should and could become the leading institution in the Owambo's fight against SWAPO.
As there has been far more volunteers to join the battalion than available positions, the unit can be selective and take only the best possible recruits. To be chosen they must first pass a selection course that is basically a series of physical fitness tests including a ten kilometer forced march. Potential recruits must also have a basic knowledge of tracking and bushcraft.

Once selected they go through a rigorous basic military training course which turns them into tough, competent soldiers of the battalion. As a result of the training, the Owambo soldier in the battalion possesses characteristics that are sought in any army: loyalty to both the unit and his fellow soldiers; a strong sense of patriotism to his fellow Owambo tribesmen; and an aggressiveness that makes him a good soldier in conducting war against SWAPO terrorists.
Welgemoed's program for the battalion used these characteristics and emphasized five factors in the battalion's modus operandi:
1. The unit would deploy as a reaction force throughout Owamboland.
2. It would support SADF units by supplying them with trackers, interpreters, intelligence, and civic action personnel. In addition, the battalion would also supply two mounted platoons on either horses or motorbikes to work in conjunction with SADF units.
3. It would carry on with its old training function by providing basic and advanced training for Owambo recruits. The battalion would also provide other training through its civic action schools at Miershoop and Otavi along with advanced courses at Okayanga.
4. The battalion would provide schools and other social and medical services for the Owambo soldier's families.
5. The battalion would work closely with the local population through [163] its civic action company and assist the local Owambo government in its efforts to provide protection and services for the Owambo people.

Welgemoed intended that 101 Battalion would play a major role in the counterinsurgency effort in Owamboland and that it would be local Owambo's doing it. "The war is actually in Owamboland, not in the south. So it makes sense to use them: they know the area, the customs, and they can talk the language," summed up Welgemoed.5

He envisioned not only the local tribesmen taking over control of the war on the ground, but through their civic action programs, negating and destroying SWAPO's organizational infrastructure as well. The key to winning the hearts and minds of the Owambo people lay with using their fellow tribesmen to carry out the counterinsurgency mission.
The military centerpiece of 101's counterinsurgency program was their company-size mobile Romeo-Mike force. These highly mobile forces operated not only throughout Owamboland but often went north of the border to intercept SWAPO terrorists enroute to Namibia. This practice became more widespread after Operation PROTEA, but was temporarily halted during the period of the joint Monitoring Commission (JMC), and was only discontinued after the Tripartite peace agreements signed by Cuba, Angola and South Africa.

The Romeo-Mike force had an enormous impact on SWAPO as now they were not even safe in their would-be sanctuaries in southern Angola. Since the Owambo tribal boundaries spilled over into southern Angola, 101's presence there served to remind their fellow Owambos that SWAPO wasn't the only game in town.

Each Romeo-Mike force company consisted of a headquarters unit and four reaction force platoons. Each platoon had three sections, or squads in US military terminology Each reaction force platoon also had five vehicles-four Casspir mine-proof fighting vehicles and one logistical truck to carry the platoon's extra ammunition, fuel, spare parts, and rations. The platoon commander and his platoon sergeant had one fighting vehicle while each of the three sections had its own separate Casspir.
The Casspirs were designed and built in South Africa for the South African Police (the name is an acronym derived from CSIR-Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-and SAP-South African Police), and are used by both 101 Battalion and Koevoet. They are constructed with small-arms bullet-resistant steel and are designed to deflect and minimize the [164] effects of exploding anti-tank mines-a favorite weapon of SWAPO. They are extremely well-built. They have a maximum road speed of sixty miles per hour. It is the ideal vehicle for 101 Battalion's wide-ranging operations. There was an actual incident in the Kaokoland that proves the Casspir's effectiveness. A battalion commander was traveling in a Casspir when it detonated four SWAPO land mines stacked one on top of the other; he and his RSM (regimental sergeant major, the equivalent to our battalion sergeant major), the only occupants of the vehicle, both survived the blast. The RSM had the wind knocked out of him as he was thrown out of the vehicle. The battalion commander, who was driving, suffered a compression fracture of the spine as he was strapped in the driver's seat via a shoulder-harness seatbelt.

Romeo-Mike force's tactical operations all flow from their constant patrolling, looking for signs of the enemy or collecting intelligence about his movements, bases, arms caches, anything that could provide a clue as to SWAPO's whereabouts. The platoon sections scour the bush looking for SWAPO spoor. While the Casspir inches along at a speed of five to six miles per hour, several Owambo soldiers are fanned out in front of it on foot looking for tracks. The soldiers remaining in the vehicles are not just resting, they are also searching the ground and the area looking for signs of the enemy

If fresh SWAPO spoor is picked up the whole team will begin to follow it. Back and forth, cutting across the spoor, the team will sweep not only to follow the original spoor, but to see if the terrorists have split up. Over the radio the other teams are notified and they will leapfrog the tracking team to try and cut off SWAPO's escape and force the terrorists into a fatal confrontation with 101's soldiers.

Unlike the Bushmen, who dismount and engage the enemy on foot, 101's Romeo-Mike forces fight on wheels using the mobility and protection of the Casspirs. A typical contact would entail a charge by the Casspirs towards the cornered terrorists with all guns blazing. This can be an awesome amount of firepower as each soldier has an automatic assault rifle, and the Casspirs carry mounted machine guns and some even 20mm automatic cannons. The charge is usually sufficient to crumble any SWAPO resistance, but the action doesn't stop there.
After the initial charge the Casspirs will circle the contact at top speeds, constantly enlarging the circumference of their circling movement. This is done for two reasons: by moving at high speeds while circling, they can avoid hits by surviving SWAPO terrorists using the RPG-7 anti-tank rocket; and they can catch and destroy the SWAPO terrorists trying to flee from the contact.
[165] The mobile tactics of 101 Battalion are extremely effective and the unit consistently leads all military organization in Namibia in the number of SWAPO terrorists killed in contacts with the security forces.

Successfully combatting an insurgency requires good thorough police work. The campaign against SWAPO was no different.
The authorities involved the local population through the use of special police constables. These were volunteers, recruited locally in Owamboland, the Kaokoland, Kavongoland and the Caprivi. Their duties were local protection. They guarded the local government and tribal officials and also protected installations, kraals and villages from SWAPO terrorists.

Special constable guard detachments varied in size depending on the terrorist threat in their area and the type of targets they were protecting. If the threat was large or the target critical the detachments could be bigger than a platoon. Normally, they were made up of just a few men.
All volunteers attended basic eight weeks training at a special police constables school in Ondangwa before being sent out to their local guard detachments.
One of the most successful police counterinsurgency units in Namibia was the mobile unit called koevoets (pronounced "koofoos"). Koevoet is an Afrikaans word meaning "crowbar." Like a crowbar, the unit has pried the SWAPO terrorist out from the midst of Owamboland better than any other Namibian or South African security force unit. (Koevoetr produce eighty percent of the terrorist kills in the-operational area.) From its inception until the end of 1988 the unit had killed at least 3,000 SWAPO insurgents.6

The unit was the brain child of Col. (now Maj. Gen.) Hans Dreyer, who had some opinionated and forceful views on a special police unit to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit was originally set up in 1978 to develop and exploit intelligence that was gathered by the police. Their original task was to collate and pass this intelligence along so the security forces could react quickly and exploit the information. In addition, the unit provided trackers for other units.
Relying on other units for a reaction force, however, caused problems and often by the time the intelligence was collated, passed on to the reaction force and then acted upon, it was too late.
Dreyer continued to press his view that a special police unit should combine both tracking ability and reaction force capability. Finally, the [166] authorities bowed to Dreyer's arguments, and in 1980, the unit formed its own reaction force to cut through the red tape and eliminate all the delays. The new reaction force was a tremendous success, engaging in thirty-six contacts in its first ninety days of operation. It didn't take long for the koevoets to become well-known throughout the operational area. During its first year of operation, the unit had killed 511 SWAPO terrorists while losing only twelve of its own men.

Koevoets are a mobile counterinsurgency platoon-sized group made up of locally recruited special constables and NCO's. They were led by regular police officers of the South African Police (SAP) seconded to the unit or by officers of the South West African Police (SWAPOL). The unit headquarters exercises overall control of operations from its command center located at Oshakati. Upon the analysis of intelligence throughout the operational area, headquarters will concentrate koevoet units where needed. Thus, the units are not bound to any specific area, but can go wherever they are needed.

Each group has four Casspir anti-mine personnel carrying vehicles and a mine-protected logistical truck. Each Casspir carries a section of ten men, commanded by a sergeant or a senior special constable. The overall group (platoon) commander is either an officer or a warrant officer.
The arms carried are the R-5, a short version of the SADF standard R-4 assault rifle, the FN MAG, 7.62mm machine gun, the 60mm patrol mortar, and one Casspir in each group has a mounted 20mm cannon.
Koevoets are highly mobile and have an awesome amount of firepower at their disposal.
A koevoet group's normal operating procedure is to alternate one week in the bush and one week back at their base for rest, repair and maintenance.

The secret of koevoet's success is working with and relying on timely information from the local population in the operational area. The information they get is up to date and obtained through normal police work. Their approach to counterinsurgency is that it is essentially normal police work involving a lot of combat and that it is not warfare in the normal military sense.
Koevoet, like 101 Battalion, also use the principle of setting a thief to catch a thief by employing former terrorists to catch SWAPO. In fact, about a quarter of koevoet are ex-SWAPO terrorists. Not only do they pursue their former comrades with the zeal of the converted, but their knowledge and use is invaluable due to their uncanny insight into the likely movements and reactions of the hunted SWAPO groups. They have been there and know what goes on in the mind of a SWAPO terrorist. They will follow a trail to a [167] conclusion no matter where it may take them. They are not restricted by battalion, company or military sector boundaries. It is not unusual for koevoet groups to chase their target back and forth through Owamboland, over the border into Angola and to catch them near their bases some distance into Angola.

Contacts with single terrorists or small groups of SWAPO are handled by the tracker pursuing them on the ground. Larger contacts are normally carried out mounted, taking advantage of the vehicles' firepower, maneuverability, protection and fields of vision. Being mounted lessens confusion in that all one's men are mounted while those running on the ground are the bad guys. This procedure eliminates most of the confusion as to friend or foe, common to a major contact.
In general, koevoet personnel come from the ethnic group in whose area they will be operating. Owambos work in Owamboland, Kavangos in Kavangoland, etc... .. . . However, the groups are not made up exclusively of subtribes within the main tribal area. They are usually mixed so that each group will have at least one or two men from each area who will be familiar with its terrain, people, dialect and customs. This procedure is similar to having policemen patrol the neighborhoods they grew up in-they know it and the people living in it.

Koevoets have been so successful that SWAPO and its disinformation network of leftist friends have mounted a world-wide campaign to discredit them. They use the usual tactic of the left: when all else fails accuse your opponent of committing atrocities. This is the tack SWAPO and its leftist supporters have taken against koevoet. They have charged them with alleged barbarous acts against the people of Owamboland.

The propaganda conveniently ignores the fact that the success of koevoet operations depends upon the friendship and cooperation of the people of Owamboland. This fact puts the lie to such SWAPO-inspired accusations. It is the local Owambos who point out the hidden terrorist in their midst, show the policemen which tracks are the terrorists' and not the locals'. SWAPO terrorists may be misinformed, but they are not brain dead. They have learned the hard way not to wear military boots with their characteristic treads. Instead they wear civilan shoes or even go barefoot. Their tracks then are picked up through intelligence which almost always comes from the local population. If the policemen brutalized and alienated the local population, they would not volunteer such information. On the contrary, they would keep their mouth shut and avoid the police like the plague. But they don't. Instead they give them the information that has led to the failure of SWAPO's revolutionary action in Owamboland.
[168] Has the South African counterinsurgency effort paid off? Did it affect the attitude of the population and win their hearts and minds? The following show that indeed it did:
1. The flow of tactical information from the people to the security forces increased (see graph);
2. After 1984, the ability of SWAPO to voluntarily recruit terrorists inside Namibia ceased;
3. SWAPO terrorists were unable to survive among the people, especially in Central Owamboland, the most densely populated part of the country, where approximately twenty-five percent of the people of the country live;
4. SWAPO clearly contracted possible areas of operation due to the inability of the terrorists to survive among the people of Kaokoland, Kavongoland and the Caprivi Strip;
5. The size and efficiency of the local security forces grew as a result of their voluntary recruitment and training in the northern areas. This has evolved to the situation, prior to the implementation of UN Resolution 435, where over seventy-two percent of the combat soldiers in the northern operational area were Namibian black and colored soldiers and policemen.

[169] Numbers of incidents where the people have voluntarily supplied information to SWATF:

A prime purpose of any counterinsurgency effort is to provide a stable situation for the government to carry out needed reforms. This was done in Namibia. As result of these reforms, the emotional wave generated years ago by SWAPO has been neutralized to a great extent.

[170] The security forces, by ensuring protection of the people of Namibia, played a major role in giving the government the time and the ability to carry out the political, social and economic reforms that blunted SWAPO's revolutionary efforts in Namibia.

The counterinsurgency effort also aimed at bringing about a division between the population and the terrorists - in effect isolating the terrorists. The inability of SWAPO terrorists to survive in Owamboland shows the success of the security forces in isolating them from the population.

The success was not due to blind luck, but because the security forces used the right counterinsurgency tactics. Perhaps, nothing better illustrates the success of the SADF and SWATF counterinsurgency efforts in Namibia than the words of Sir Robert Thompson. His prescription for achieving success against guerrillas shows why there was success in Namibia:

"Getting government forces into the same element as the insurgent is rather like trying to deal with a tomcat in an alley. It is no good inserting a large, fierce dog (conventional forces with tanks, artillery and bombers-ed). The dog may not find the tomcat [SWAPO insurgents-ed]-if he does, the tomcat will escape up a tree [fade into the bush and hide, or high-tail it back to sanctuaries in Angola-ed]; the dog will then chase the female cats in the alley [alienate the population, destroy their crops, homes, etc., as it wanders around the area; or they do it out of spite and frustration because they couldn't find the terrorists]. The answer is to put in a fiercer tomcat [tough, well-trained small counterinsurgency units such as the Bushmen, 101 Battalion, and the Police Counterinsurgency Units, to name a few]. The two cannot fail to meet because they are both in exactly the same element and have exactly the same purpose in life. The weaker will be eliminated."7

The SADF and SWATF were not the weaker tomcats.


1 McCuen, op. cit., p.113.

2. Author's conversations with Namibian officials in Windhoek, Ondangwa and Oshakati.

3 "The War in SWA/N;' ISSUP bulletin, 4/87, Pretoria, p.9.

4 Conversation with Cmdt. Brian Adams, OIC, 201 BN. July, 1983.

5 Interview with Cmdt. Welgemoed, April, 1984.

6 The New York Times International, January 15, 1989, p.3.

7 Thompson, op. cit., pp.119-120.

@ 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 12
@ Chapter 13
@ Chapter 14
@ Chapter 16
Chapter 18
@ Chapter 19
@ Chapter 20
@ Chapter 21

@ Civil supremacy of the military in Namibia


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