Special Forces Operations



 

More than 95% of all Special Forces are carried out behind enemy lines. During the Angola war  – with the enemy having total air superiority – this entailed that there was no possibility of support, resupply or evacuation once in, and the Operators were totally isolated and on their own until they exfiltrated.

 

The South African Special Forces have faced the most varied enemy forces of our modern times, including, during the Cold War, regular forces of the Soviet Red Army, the Soviet Special Forces (Spetsnatz), other Soviet and Warsaw Pact regular army Special Forces Units from Ukraine, Belorussia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Bulgaria and East Germany.

 

They have also faced the regular and Special Forces from other countries that aligned themselves to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, including Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and others.

 

Special Forces operations are the most complex and detailed operations in any military environment. The reconnaissance, planning and rehearsals undertaken before initiating a complex operation can take weeks or months and the phases and actions during such operations are planned to within minutes – and sometimes seconds.

 

Other than this, Special Forces Operators are at all times ready to face random situations while undertaking an operation or reconnaissance, as one can never know when – through circumstance or other events – one may unexpectedly come up against the enemy and be compromised, or find a changed situation on target. To cater for this, all possible eventualities are taken into account in the planning prior to an operation and specific drills, routines and actions are devised to cater for any situation or emergency that may arise.

 

The command and control of Special Forces Teams is also very well structured. Such command and control would not always follow the Regular Army system of rank, as within Special Forces there is a unique command and control structure consisting of Team Leader and Team 2IC, Group Commander and Group 2IC, Commando OC and 2IC. The occupation of these leadership positions – especially on Team and Group level – are dictated by ability and experience as well as rank and this could result in persons of a senior or equal rank being placed in a Team or Group commanded by a rank junior or equal to them – but who had more command and operational experience.

 

At this time, for security reasons, no details of operations will be provided on this website. At a future date we will provide edited examples and descriptions of certain operations which will be of interest and the disclosure of which will no longer affect or compromise current operational methods, tactics or standard operating procedures.

 

In the interim, we will provide below a brief and summarised description of some types of operations and what these would entail, so as to give a basic idea of the nature of Special Forces operations.



 

 

Example 1 - A Reconnaissance

A Small Team, (2 Operators), or a Team, (12 Operators), would do carry this out. During such an operation a Reconnaissance Mission would be undertaken on an enemy strategic position – usually a military position or a military complex in a foreign territory (for example, in Angola).

 

Firstly, one would have to infiltrate. This would entail walking to the target area -

  • In enemy territory all the way.
  • In a war situation, with enemy soldiers and forces (very good and highly trained ones) all along the route - constantly searching for us (enemy presence).
  • With potentially hostile local population all over the place, who would instantly inform the enemy soldiers if we were detected.
  • With the enemy having complete air superiority and having helicopter and helicopter gunship patrols frequently.
  • With no possibility of any support, resupply or evacuation by ground or air.
  • Carrying all food, water, sleeping equipment, military equipment, and ammunition - of a quantity that could last for weeks.
  • Meaning that the weight of one's rucksack - excluding webbing and weapon/s - would be 60kg to 80kg - or in some cases 100kg. (As an educational exercise, just try to walk normally - or lift - a rucksack weighing 80 kg).
  • Walking in over 300km to 400km or more - inside enemy territory.

 

Infiltration would be long and arduous, moving mostly at night, conducting anti-tracking, lying up in hides in the day, avoiding all enemy forces and local population - all the while carrying this killing weight, navigating accurately through the bush or through mountains, crossing crocodile-infested, deep and fast-flowing rivers (not by bridge), coming across lions and other dangerous animals, eating and drinking hardly anything to conserve rations, tolerating all weather conditions from freezing to frying and from tropical rain to no water at all, never speaking, never cooking, never making noise, always doing anti-tracking, always alert - all the while aware that if you were compromised, you were on your own and however far you were in - that far you would have to get out - without any help and with the full and mighty force of the enemy hunting you.

 

At the target area, one would have to get into a hide right at the enemy position - which could be a base harbouring thousands of enemy soldier. “Right at” the enemy position meaning right in direct sight of the base with the naked eye. One may also have to move around to various hides at various points around the enemy base, all the time making maps, notes, records, assessments, etc. On various occasions, the reconnaissance would entail penetrating right inside the actual enemy base to conduct reconnaissance.

 

Once enough information had been obtained, one would have to exfiltrate - all the way back - on foot, with all the obstacles and challenges that one had faced on the infiltration. The only difference would be that one may be running low on water and food - and could not -without extreme danger of being compromised - take food from fields or go to rivers / waterholes for water, as these are they are routinely busy or watched.

 

If one was compromised on the infiltration or exfiltration, the enemy would probably deploy hundreds of men between the contact point and the border - by plane, by helicopter, by vehicle, on foot from their forward bases. They would form huge interdiction lines cutting off direct escape routes, would conduct hundreds of patrols and have standing ambushes all over the place. Their aircraft and helicopters would fly all over the area - searching. Also, they would get onto your tracks - and chase you - running you down with teams and teams of fresh men, changing when they got tired so that they were always fresh while you got tired. Trying to force you into their ambushes in front of you, with stopper groups deployed at the sides to prevent you from escaping to the side.

 

One would have to survive such a situation, applying Escape and Evasion techniques - sometimes over hundreds of kilometres - running, lying up & hiding, passing stealthily through enemy positions, or staying in cover while they walked right over you, or entering into contact (a firefight) with enemy forces - never stopping, never sleeping and never giving up.

 

If one of your colleagues was killed or wounded, you would carry him out with you. If you were all wounded, those who could still walk would carry those who could not.

 

If and when you managed to escape and get back over the border, you would rest up for a short period and start all over again with another operation, time and time again, year in and year out.

 

This is what a Special Forces Reconnaissance operation entails.  There are many and various other examples of reconnaissance tasks that are even more arduous than this example - which is a relatively standard example.

 

 

 

 

Example 2 - A Strategic Operation

For this example we will take the case of destroying a strategic bridge over a river in enemy territory. In this particular example, the bridge is located far inside enemy territory, right next to a massive enemy base containing thousands of enemy soldiers, where the enemy know that we will attempt to destroy the bridge and thus place massive forces in prepared positions - with heavy weapons  - on each side of the river along the banks and around the bridge. They could also place forces on the bridge looking into the water below it, place barbed wire and underwater booby traps and explosives all around the base of the bridge in the water. They have searchlights on the bridge to shine into the water at the base of the bridge at night, have naval patrol boats in the water all around the bridge and are all on the highest possible alert , waiting for us. We will also assume that the river over which the bridge runs is one of the most crocodile-infested in Africa - with crocodiles that are habitual man-eaters, as they have been eating the local population there (in large quantities, especially around the bridge) for generations.

 

This is the target.

 

In such a case, a team of Special Forces Operators, (say 12 men), would:-

  • Infiltrate on land to the river behind the enemy lines, (with all the challenges and obstacles mentioned in the previous example).
  • Enter into the river at night (crocodile feeding time) 20 or so kilometres upriver from the bridge.
  • Utilise re-breathing aqualung systems - which do not produce bubbles, but prohibit one from going deep underwater or staying under for too long due to nitrogen build-up, (so one can't go deep to escape bullets - or stay under indefinitely).
  • Carry their personal weapons and webbing - as well as many explosive charges and detonators - in visibility of less than 1 foot, (thus unable to see crocodiles approaching), swim the 20 kilometres downriver to the bridge.
  • Reach the bridge and be injured by underwater booby traps, barbed wire, etc - while forcing an underwater path through to the bridge supports.
  • Come under heavy, direct and effective enemy weapons fire, (as they can see you and you can't dive), at short range from the bridge - as well as hand grenades being dropped into the water - and subsequently be wounded.
  • Despite all these challenges, to carefully place the explosive charges and set the timers while under effective enemy fire.
  • Swim away so as not to be too close to the bridge in the water when the charges detonate.
  • Successfully complete the mission and destroy the bridge.
  • Be attacked by very large crocodiles and successfully kill them or drive them off with divers knives - after being fairly seriously bitten and pulled down deep under water.
  • Swim 20 or so kilometres downstream and exit the river
  • Carry out a hot exfiltration on foot, wounded, with the enemy dropping stopper groups in front of you by helicopter and all the other exfiltration challenges as listed in the previous paragraph.

Once safely out, to rest for a short while and then go on another challenging operation, time and time again, year in and year out.

 

The above is an example of a Special Forces Strategic operation.

 

It is solely due to the extremely careful and meticulous Pre-selection interviews, the arduous Pre-selection Phase, the extreme Selection and the thorough, detailed and professional training presented to South African Special Forces Operators, that Special Forces Operators who are able to carry out such tasks routinely, repeatedly and for long and continuous periods, are produced.



 Home