Sunday, 15 April 2018

Composite Warfare: The Conduct of Successful Ground Force Operations in Africa - Eeben Barlow

This review has been submitted to the Canadian Army Journal

Title: Composite Warfare: The Conduct of Successful Ground Force Operations in Africa
Author: Eeben Barlow
ISBN: 978-1-92821-176-1
Publisher: 30 Degrees South
Year: 2016
Pages: 534
Photos: 100’s

Africa is in many respects a little understood continent; specifically with respect to armed conflict, the causes thereof and the methodology of effectively combatting them, this is even more acute. Without having experienced life in the Dark Continent and its nuances, it is difficult to appreciate its myriad of challenges relating to operations. Notwithstanding this, Barlow has produced a book that goes a long way towards providing the reader with a comprehensive analysis of not only the unique facets of operating in Africa but also the nature of political, economic and military interface that colours African engagement. Having operated as a member of the SADF (South African Defence Force) in command and special operations capacities, a founding member and commander of Executive Outcome and advisor to many African Governments on doctrine and policy, the author is uniquely qualified to discuss the African operating environment.

This is not a book to read once and put away; indeed such is the breadth of knowledge that there are lessons to be gleaned with each successive engagement. He combines a straight forward analytical style with a deep bibliography and first hand examples that round out his narrative and give credence to his hypothesis. For the Western professional operative, there will be elements of the book that are well known; but many aspects of the book will be very useful to understanding the driving motivators of African leadership and soldiery (either symmetric or asymmetric).

In order to fully appreciate the value of Barlow’s work, it must be remembered who is the intended audience for this work. Primarily this will be African Government forces and perhaps those para and non-traditional elements operating within the African continent. For this reason the book entails a broad cross section of vertical and horizontal instruction. There is information contained in the work for all; it is easy for a Western power to dismiss some of the information provided as too basic and, by extension, the entire work. It must be remembered however, that the African theatre of operations is dramatically different North to South and East to West and Barlow’s work undertakes an analysis of the unique aspects of operations reflective of the different environments.

One of the more consistent and challenging aspects of African conflicts are the prevalence of asymmetric conflicts that may run independent or concurrent to more traditional operations. The author dedicates a significant amount of the book discussing the unique nature of African asymmetric conflict; its underlying causes, the variety of environment both physical and societal and the tools and training critical to be effective. The information that he presents is insightful and very relevant; especially when discussing the nature of inter-service and international joint operations. It is worth noting however, that support elements are not discussed in any real depth in the book. This is disappointing as logistics represents a key element of success and Africa represents a particularly hostile environment for support.

This is not an easy read as it presents very much like doctrine; it does come across as dry and academic. Nevertheless, it is replete with useful information gleaned from the author’s decades of operational experience on the African continent. As a reference book it is strongly recommended for anyone undertaking operations for the first time in Africa.

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