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Irregular Warfare: Politics (1)

During the Rhodesian Civil War, whilst engaged in irregular warfare operations in the Hurungwe Tribal Trust Land (TTL) which was occupied by insurgent’s from the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), we achieved the following:

  • In 7 months, we recruited trained, armed and permanently deployed 500 local men - called Security Force Auxiliaries (SFAs), in order to defend their own people against ZIPRA insurgents.

  • B Company 1 RAR (Rhodesian African Rifles), under the command of Major Gavin Rawstron, recruited trained, armed and permanently deployed 262 SFAs in their approximately 7 month stay.

  • A total irregular force of 762 SFAs were permanently deployed in the Hurungwe over an 11 month period.

  • We lifted or detonated 56 landmines and reopened the roads previously subjected to ZIPRA’s extensive landmine campaign which prevented civilian and commercial vehicle travel.

  • 24 schools previously closed by ZIPRA were permanently reopened.

  • Clinics previously closed by ZIPRA were reopened.

  • Reinforced and permitted the functioning of local traditions and culture.

  • ZIPRA insurgents were forced to withdraw to the Northwest extremities of the TTL.

How was this achieved in a country ravaged by protracted guerrilla warfare and facing political, military and economic collapse? Our team discovered three key themes that wove their way throughout the conflict and defined our successes; the political, the military and the people. In my forthcoming blogs I will discuss these intertwined themes and the process of uniting them in order to become one strategic aim.


Politics is war without bloodshed and war is politics with bloodshed (Mao Zedung). Politicians initiate wars and politicians end wars. Logically, politics precedes the military intervention and endures throughout the conflict. War is political by nature. The world is at war, politically. Perhaps mistakenly we believe that politics is restricted to government politicians. However, every aspect of life is governed by some form of politics whether that be the government, political parties, local councils, business, corporations, sport and social clubs, churches, the fabric of society - the family, social media, and so on. There are constant political manoeuvrings that flow from peace to discontent, disunity, disorder and uprisings when human aspirations (obstacles) are not resolved. In other words, when the grievances, needs and aspirations (GNA) of the participants are not addressed. With government political issues, this discontent potentially leads to revolutionary uprisings and war.


Asymmetric warfare is another type of war; war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, and assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration instead of aggression seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. This warfare preys on economic unrest and ethnic and religious conflict. It is population-centric – the population being the ultimate key to victory for both sides of the conflict. It requires new and different strategies, different sorts of forces and different types of military and intelligence training.


No matter how committed, equipped and professional the government military forces are, and how many enemy are killed, it is the people who win revolutionary wars. Success is not determined by the number of enemy killed. It seems to me that the military are trained to believe that they can ‘close with and kill the enemy’ and win revolutionary warfare without establishing the will of the people and winning the battle for their hearts and minds. This enemy-centric approach is not true as proved in many revolutionary war theatres including Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and the colonial civil wars, including Mozambique, Algeria, the Congo and Rhodesia, among others.


Therefore, with regards to Irregular Warfare, it is imperative that the Political Strategic Aim (PSA) is clearly defined well before military action is contemplated. This requires unity between and within the political bodies involved; essentially the host/partner nation and the contributing nation(s). The political focus should be centred on the will and consent of the people. The political is the link to the people and is required to be proactive ‘on the ground’, building relationships with them and progressively learning about, establishing and attending to, their GNA. This ought to ensure that the people’s voice is heard. One of the benefits of establishing the PSA is that it should identify and address the causes of the revolution thereby gnawing away at the insurgent’s PSA, provided the partner government is prepared to actively address the people’s legitimate GNA. A government’s failure to address the people’s GNA is, in my opinion, a sure indication that the military are being utilised to support a failed or failing government. My experience and research assures me that the revolutionaries will place much emphasis on propagating their PSA to their military forces, the people, and the world at large.


Identifying the people’s GNA is essentially a political responsibility. Working in agreement with the tribal leadership and from the grassroots, the political should initially identify and prioritise significant issues and move to address and resolve them. In most revolutionary conflicts, first and foremost will be the defence of the people, a major undertaking and generally much ignored by government forces. Once the safety of the people is assured, they will identify other significant matters and cooperate in resolving them. In the Hurungwe for example, once our first areas (cells) had been secured, the next priority was the security of roads which were subject to an intensive ZIPRA landmine campaign. The people identified the problem and helped with its resolution.


It is unlikely that the political will seek to understand the process of establishing the PSA prior to military decisions and deployments. Therefore, in my opinion, it is the duty of the military commanders to demand that this process is in place prior to deployments. At this pre-deployment stage, the military has the power to insist on this line of thought. Military commanders are deploying men into war theatres where they can potentially die. From a military perspective, the Strategic Aim is most critical. This goes beyond a simplistic statement, as every aspect and facet of the military effort must be focused on achieving the Strategic Aim. It goes even further; every aspect and facet of Government must have a Strategic Aim and pursue it. Without it the country, and the security forces, have no direction, becoming reactive as opposed to being proactive, and ending in defeat. The Strategic Aim dictates the way the war is fought, the desired Strategic Outcomes, the tactics employed to achieve it, and the allocation of resources to support it. The Military Strategic Aim (MSA) comes from the Political Strategic Aim and supports the Government in achieving it. It defines, in the mind of the soldier, his aims and objectives. In my view, it is time to stop using soldier’s lives as political tools for the accomplishment of devious, wavering and often corrupt, unachievable political agendas.


In the Rhodesian Civil War, as late as February 1979 (the war ended in 1980), there was still no PSA (other than the failing ‘kills win wars’ policy), consequently no Military Strategic Aim! Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Algeria are other good examples of similar failures. Therefore, these governments were isolated from the people and unable or unwilling to protect them from the insurgent’s violent campaign.


In essence, by establishing the PSA what is being pursued and enforced is good governance. And when should this process begin? In the case of a nation already under threat, immediately. In the case of friendly governments where there is currently no apparent threat but poor or collapsing governance, I believe the process should also commence immediately. This is a political and military decision but, I propose that suitably qualified military personnel should be attached to the ambassador’s offices in order to familiarise themselves with the history, traditions, culture, language and GNA of the people. This should encourage the government to pursue good governance and attend to the people’s GNA. With the correct PSA in place, at the least the military would have a clear indication of their achievable aims and objectives when deployed.


The political strategic aim will vary from country to country, region to region and tribe to tribe. In order to gain the trust of, and between, the political, the people and the military, there are some fundamental principals that should, in my view, be in place (not necessarily in chronological order):

  • Defence of the people as a priority.

  • Based on the people’s GNA (the will of the people), not an imposed foreign or national governmental agenda. This creates the environment for military intervention by the consensus of the people.

  • Achievable and progressively implemented at the pace of change the people desire in order to gain their trust. Once a legitimate issue (obstacle) has been identified, it must be addressed and resolved. This approach helps build trust and commitment between the political, the military and the people.

  • Financial budgets for political, social and economic reform and ordnance.

  • Political liaison and initiatives with regional and international governments in order to gain and maintain their support.

  • Abandonment of the political and military approach that ‘kills win wars’.

  • Open-ended commitment to political, military and economic support from the foreign assisting government. It is my contention that the people should be equipped, enabled and resourced to defend themselves with guaranteed ongoing ordnance supplies. This will allow them to independently operate and defend themselves when the partner nation(s) withdraws. This is a critical success factor and an outcome seldom achieved in Irregular or Asymmetrical Warfare. The practice of abandoning the people in the face of imminent defeat (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Rhodesia and so on), is hopefully addressed.

It is during this pre-deployment stage that the success of the operation is determined. With the desired outcome in mind, the military deploys with a specific political objective, remembering that the military is in place to support the political. The emphasis shifts from killing the enemy to achieving the political strategic aim that supports the will and lives of the people.


Therefore, as I see matters, one can see the significant role the political has to play. The military is not deployed to support a failing, inept, corrupt or collapsing government where the people are isolated and disenfranchised. Furthermore, the military should not be deployed to impose an agenda (foreign, regional or international), that is contrary to the will of the people. Invariably, the revolutionaries are busy implementing their PSA (violently where necessary), on portions of the population, in which not all of whom believe in their cause but will submit through fear. It is not wise to emulate the violence (atrocities) perpetrated by revolutionaries and their supporters.


Next Article: Next Article: The making of a Political Strategic Aim.

(Considering global, regional, national and local matters.)

Website: https://www.battleforhurungwe.com/


Images: (L-R) Major David Padbury during operations in Mozambique guerrillas from Resistencia Nacional Mocambique (RENAMO) guerrillas; RENAMO guerrillas in a village; Rhodesian Alouette 111 helicopter on operations.


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