The hallmark of the Selous Scouts was Psuedo-Terrorist Operations. The intent was to infiltrate the enemy without them knowing it. That sounds very simplistic but it was a vital strategic prong in Rhodesia’s War on Terror. The RLI, Rhodesian African Rifles and Independent companies of the Rhodesian Regiment were available to meet the enemy on open fields of battle. The SAS took the fight out of Rhodesia and into surrounding countries on External Operations that hit the Terrs where they based up and launched their forces into Rhodesia, shutting them down before they could cross the border.
The Selous Scouts essentially fought the war in a manner that engaged the enemy either from the rear or spontaneously erupted in the midst of the rank and file on both sides of the border. The enemy termed them ‘Skuz’apo’. This roughly translated means ‘Excuse me while I put the knife in your back’. These are the words you would hear from a criminal holding your wallet after he had robbed or harmed you. Such was the psychological impact that the Scouts had on the Terrorists mindset. They were never sure if the group who wandered into a kraal were comrades or a Selous Scout who intended to take their life. It was a new level of Psychological Warfare.
The beginnings of the Scouts did not come from Army Staff Officers. The British South African Police (BSAP) and the Special Branch (SB), which was the intelligence element of BSAP envisioned an operation that would have black soldiers or constables roam freely with the enemy and gain intelligence for combat operations. In time, SB would come under the control of the Central Intelligence Office ( CIO ) and the Intelligence arm of the Rhodesian Army. Many Constables of BSAP had experience in Kenya and other Southern African countries that dealt with insurgencies as the Colonial Rule of the British Empire began to wane. Pseudo gangs operated in the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya during the 1950’s uprisings. Black constables were able to penetrate the gangs and help the British fight the insurgents.
Early on in the Bush War, the main focus was on the northern avenues of approach and infiltration by Terrorists from Zambia and Botswana. The RLI and the SAS were able to gain control of this area due to their skill as well as the harsh environment of the Zambezi Valley. To the East lay Mozambique, a colony of the Portuguese. They were dealing with their own Colonial breakdown there and in Angola. Rhodesia had maintained a good structured and strategic relationship with the colonial power. However, in the early 1970’s FRELIMO began a communist backed civil war and Portugal cut its losses and ran for cover. Up until that time, the Rhodesian SAS had run external operations independently and as advisors to Portuguese soldiers. Reports from those missions were not favorable and it was obvious that the country was soon to fall. When it did, that opened up a whole new front of 600 plus miles of borderland to patrol and protect. ZANLA seized the opportunity and moved into the northern section of Mozambique, broadening their AO.
As time wore on, ZIPRA too, moved south all the way to the South African Border through Mozambique. Rhodesian manpower was stretched to its absolute limits. Every mission every man, every bullet, needed to have a maximum impact and intelligence needed to be raised to a new standard in order to support the effort. With a small Air Force, Rhodesia could not depend on strategic bombing of terrorist bases and groups. In Vietnam, Americans had the advantage in the sky and an endless supply of bombs and planes. Pinpoint strikes could hold off an advancing force on the smallest of Recon units and lift their men out of harm’s way. The men on far reaching External Operations fought the war on foot, soldier to soldier. This is perhaps the reason that the Special Forces of Rhodesia have become legendary. Operating in groups down to a single man, it was the cunning and skill of the Selous Scouts and others that won them the day on the battlefield, only to succumb to Politics at the sundown of Rhodesia.