When asked about the tactics that STTEP mentors their Nigerian counterparts to use, Eeben Barlow, the company’s chairman, replied, “The strike force was never intended to hold ground. Instead, it operated on the principle of relentless offensive action.” Barlow has previously indicated that this tactic is key to waging an effective counterinsurgency.
In the doctrine Barlow advocates and made use of in Nigeria, relentless offensive action means immediately exploiting successful combat operations to keep the heat on the enemy. This strategy relies of the synchronization of every asset brought to the battlefield, and applied on multiple fronts against Boko Haram. One of those tactics includes the relentless pursuit of enemy forces.
In most recent conflicts, the enemy uses guerrilla hit-and-run techniques, striking when and where he chooses, hoping that the media will act as a force multiplier by replaying news stories about the attack over and over again. Barlow’s approach emphasizes turning the tables on the enemy by running him to ground, exhausting him, and then killing him with overwhelming firepower. Barlow’s key points to utilizing relentless pursuit include:
- Troops eating while on the move
- Combat tracking the enemy at a high rate of speed
- Having the ability to leap-frog ahead of the enemy via helicopter
- Utilizing communications
- Emphasizing aggression
- Maintaining proficiency in night operations
- Outgunning the enemy
The tactical employment of relentless pursuit involves light infantry moving at high speed with the minimum amount of equipment needed to accomplish their task. Combat trackers follow the spore left by the enemy. “Good trackers can tell the age of a track as well as indicate if the enemy is carrying heavy loads, the types of weapons he has (this is identified when locating enemy rest points), if the enemy is moving hurriedly, what he is eating, and so forth,” Barlow points out in his explanation of this lost art.
Once the enemy’s direction is determined, troops can leap-frog forward, carried by helicopters or riding in armored vehicles the way SADF Koevoet trackers did during South Africa’s border war. Once those troops become tired, they are quickly replaced with a fresh squad. The enemy is pursued relentlessly during both day and night. Once spotted, enemy forces are engaged at the soldier’s maximum effective firing range with RPGs, machine guns, sniper rifles, or 60mm mortars.
“Troops need to develop their aggression level to such a point that the enemy fears them. Aggressive pursuit is aimed at initiating contact as heavily with the enemy as possible,” Barlow wrote on his website about relentless pursuit. “We did not develop the strategy to destroy the enemy,” Barlow elaborated. “This was done by the Nigerian Army division commander in the area of operations who gave us his intent, guidelines, and restrictions.”
STTEP then developed the tactical application for the strike force in order to support that strategy. It was then the Nigerian military’s responsibility to consolidate the terrain taken by the strike force. “Holding ground was the responsibility of the division where we operated, as was the exploitation of operational and tactical gains.”
STTEP also brought an air wing to the table with its package of trainers, advisors, and mentors. The air wing is an organic asset of the strike force and takes its orders from the strike force commander. The pilots fly a variety of missions to include CASVAC, MEDVAC, resupply runs, transporting troops, and even providing air support for the strike force. For instance, the air wing was “given ‘kill blocks’ to the front and flanks of the strike force and could conduct missions in those areas,” Barlow said. This means that the air wing dropped ordnance to create blocking positions, which would prevent the enemy from escaping the operational area that the strike force was patrolling in, essentially isolating the objective area.
As would be expected, all of this is also supported by an intelligence package. “We have our own small intelligence component that liaises with the Nigerian Army, but that has also extended its tentacles to focus on target-relevant intelligence. This ‘section’ coordinates all incoming information and intelligence and gives its intelligence product to the Nigerian Army for action,” Barlow says. A small team that focusing on targeting intelligence is the sort of task that former SADF Recce soldiers would excel at.
The hard work of the strike force and their South African partners has paid off. In late March, Boko Haram had their headquarters in Gwoza recaptured by the Nigerian military.
(Featured image: strike force members conducting combat training)