Special thanks to Patrick Collins for writing this guest post. -Jack

In the mid 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) faced a boiling communist inspired insurgency that sought to overthrow the existing government that was led by the descendants of European settlers. The Rhodesian Bushwar would last over fifteen years, coming on the heels of the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam Conflict. Faced with bureaucratic constraints and operational shortcomings, the Rhodesians were forced to maximize the potential of their meager resources by creating highly reliable small unit forces that could conduct raids and “pseudo-operations” against rebel forces. Among these units were the Rhodesian Light Infantry Commandos (RLI), the Rhodesian SAS and the Selous Scouts. Though modern circumstances have changed, the tactics of the Selous Scouts continue to be relevant and apply to the ongoing fight against ISIS and the Global War on Terror.

This is not a comprehensive study of counterinsurgency doctrine, rather it focuses on the kinetic tactics that could be employed to eliminate enemy forces (a minor element in broader COIN strategy). The list of differences between the Rhodesian Bushwar and the Global War on Terror is extensive (see below) but the most critical similarity remains: the enemy has/had the power to reach across national borders and the “deep pockets” to procure weaponry, support and provide governance. The strategy of the Selous Scouts was to conduct “pseudo-operations” (false flag) by pretending to be guerillas themselves and luring the true guerillas into ambushes or to gather intelligence about guerilla operations/tradecraft. The Selous Scouts would also attempt to turn captured guerillas making them “tamed terrs” and incorporating them into the unit.



Global War on Terror (ISIS Specific)

Terrain Fought on Rhodesian land where soldiers had “grown up” Both conflicts span across multiple borders in inhospitable terrain. Not fought primarily on American/Western soil
Ideology Communist inspired insurgency In both instances the less ideological could be “turned” Ideological (religious) insurgency
Culture Rhodesian vs. African In pseudo-operations tactical landscape, “culture” becomes less relevant Western vs. Radical Islamism (specifically takfirist jihad)

Purpose: ISIS’ “Two Front War”

The most daunting task in the past half-century of counterinsurgency warfare has been determining friends and foe. Whether Viet Cong or al-Qaeda inspired militants, counterinsurgents have faced the insurmountable task of discerning civilian from combatant. The resulting psychological pressure of “not knowing” has caused even the most disciplined units to become worn out. While most small unit SOF forces employed guerilla tactics to “terrorize” insurgents, very few have gone to the lengths that the Selous Scouts took to deceive and surprise the enemy. This paradigm shift exposed bushwar insurgents to the psychological pressures normally experienced by counterinsurgents: the constant fear of deception, betrayal and surprise attacks. Scouts would often stage elaborate scenarios where black members of the unit would pretend to be guerillas leading captured white soldiers into a guerilla camp. At the last moment all weaponry would be returned to the pseudo-captives, allowing the Scouts to catch the entire camp by surprise. Even though the sides of the conflict seemed as stark as “black and white”, the Scouts knew how to use their craft to show guerillas that they were not safe.

In examining the current struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the model of pseudo-operations could readily be applied to wield a kinetic as well as psychological blow to ISIS and to fill gaps in intelligence collection. ISIS’ ability to function as a pseudo-government that controls territory and as a pseudo-military that blends both conventional and asymmetric tactics makes it the ideal target for exploitation by a pseudo-operations group. To many, the ability of ISIS to straddle the world of conventional and non-conventional the group’s greatest strength since it can provide “legitimate” governance as well as armored military might augmented by guerilla/terrorist tactics. This “strength” is in fact their greatest vulnerability since they are susceptible to the same weaknesses that plague governments and militants alike. Psuedo-operators would force ISIS into a two-front war, much like the Selous Scouts threatened both insurgent governments and guerillas alike.