Tuesday 5 March 2013

Employing Pseudo Operations Against Boko Haram Insurgency

Pseudo operations are international recognized strategy for confronting insurgence. Pseudo operations are actions, in which specially trained and equipped counterinsurgency forces disguise themselves as insurgent bands in order to acquire intelligence, carry out targeting and attacks against insurgent forces or facilities, capture or kill insurgent leaders, conduct psychological operations against the insurgents, and persuade insurgents to turn against themselves and their course. 


A pseudo operation is a universally acclaimed ruse war – a tactics that has been used throughout military history and has been accepted as legitimate as long as certain restraints are maintained. These restraints, which centered on international armed conflicts and the use of enemy flag, military symbols, uniforms etc., are beyond the scope of this essay.  


Pseudo operations are recognized security strategy sanctioned by the Geneva Convention of 1949. According to the Protocol Addition to the Geneva Convention of 12 August, 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Additional Protocol I) art 37 (2), ruses are “acts which are intended to mislead an adversary or to induce him to act recklessly but which infringe no rule of international law applicable in armed combat and which are not perfidious because they do not invite the confidence of an adversary with respect to protection under that law”    


A properly planned and carefully executed pseudo operation by counterinsurgency forces has always defeated insurgents. A good example is the use of pseudo operation by the Philippine Government against the Huk insurrection from the initial encounter between the Huks and Philippine Military in May 1946 to the surrender of the Huk leader, Luis Taruc in May 1954, which ended the insurrection.


Between 1948 and 1954, the Philippine Government was confronted with the problem of the Hukbo ng Baayan Laban sa Hapon, or “Anti-Japanese Army” insurgency that was formed in 1942 by the merger of the Communist Party of the Philippines and various socialist organizations in the country.


Exploiting the dissatisfaction of many Filipinos with the policies of the central Government they opted for war and therefore changed their name to Hukbong Magapalaya ng Bayan, that is, “People’s Libration Army”, with the aim of overthrowing the central Government.


All through the subsequent conflict, the group was generally referred to by the abridged form of its original name, Hukbalahap, and its members were simply called “Huks”, disclosed Lawrence M. Greenberg.


The Hukbalahap insurgency centered on a region in central Luzon near Mount Arayat that later turned out to be called, “Huklandia”. There were other smaller independent groups that operated in southern Luzon. After the death of the leader of one of these groups, they joined forces with Huks in central Luzon.


However, in April, 1948 to be précised, a skirmish between the southern Huk group and a company of the Philippine Constabulary that had caused casualties on both sides was reported. The central Government cashed into the situation to execute its counterinsurgency operations using pseudo forces.


Few days later, the remnants of the southern Huk force arrived in Huklandia carrying with them two members with gunshot wounds. Because there was no way of verifying the authenticity of the southern group, the northern group subjected these new insurgents to a detailed interrogation. Certified that they were what they claimed to be, the two groups fraternized and exchanged details and other information. The northern group fed and cared for their new reinforcements especially the injured.


On the fourth day of their arrival, members of the southern group noticed a change in the attitude among their northern comrades. Realizing that they are outnumbered three to one and afraid of what the bigger group might be planning, the southern group swiftly opened fire on the northern Huks, killing 84 of them, including three commanders.


The fact of the matter is that what seemed to be an unfortunate friendly-fire incident was nothing of the sort. The southern Huk group was a specially trained counter-guerrilla platoon from the Philippine Constabulary known as Force X.


It was Colonel Napoleon Valeriano, Commander of a special Philippine Constabulary Unit at the time that initiated the use of the Force X. After its initial successful use, the pseudo operations gradually gave way to more conventional counterinsurgency tactics.


In 1951, the Philippine Secretary of National Defence, Ramon Magsaysay, a veteran of guerilla operations against the Japanese in World War II, revitalized pseudo operations. During this period, the Philippine Army employed companies pretending to be Huks Squadrons in operations that were known as “Large Unit Infiltrations” (LUIs) but as those operations recorded success, the Huks became increasingly suspicious of Large Units. Then, the army started to use smaller teams in their pseudo operations.

The use of smaller group was not without its own troubles. The need for better training emerged. In addition to providing the required skills and competence to the smaller team, the Philippine Constabulary increased its reliance on captured Huks to supply the information needed to keep the pseudo units current concerning Huks operating procedures. As the insurrection began to wind down in 1954, pseudo operation was employed only routinely by a specially trained unit known as A-H for à la Huk.



Employing Pseudo Operations in Nigeria    

In considering whether to employ pseudo operations in Nigeria, certain basic issues need clarifications. These are: the organization to carry out the pseudo operations, training of the personnel, command and control of the forces to be used for the pseudo operations, the types of missions to be assigned, types of incentives and motivations to capture and sustain loyalty and, legal implication of conducting pseudo operations and criteria for overall evaluation of the effectiveness of pseudo operations.




Every pseudo operation forces employed a mix of individuals loyal to the Government and former insurgents who agreed to change sides after being captured. Given the nature of the Boko Haram, and the various smaller insurgent groups in Nigeria, the probability of significant numbers of captured personnel agreeing to fight against their former comrades would appear unlikely. The Boko Haram sect is believed to comprise mostly of disgruntled elements of Nigeria, Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, and Mali origin, tied together by common enemy, religion, culture and principally ideology. To win their loyalty and sustain it is a Herculean task. Individuals responsible for creating pseudo forces are usually faced with concerns about the eventual loyalty of turned insurgents. These concerns have been proved to be largely unwarranted. Majority of former insurgents have demonstrated their loyalties in combat and many have also given their lives in the service of their newly adopted causes as in the case cited above.


The universal formula for converting captured insurgent was put forward by Frank Kitson, a British Officer who served as Field Intelligence Assistant during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya from the declaration of a state of emergency in October 1952 to Kenya’s independence in December 1963 (now a retired British General). The factors he advanced that must be brought to play in order to make a man change his allegiance includes:


1.      Incentives: He must be given an incentive that is strong enough to make him want to do so. This is what former President Olusegun Obasanjo called “carrot”.

2.      Punishment: He must be made to realize that failure will result in something unpleasant happening to him. This, former President Obasanjo referred to as “stick”.

3.      Opportunity: He must be given reasonable opportunity of proving to himself and to his friends that there is nothing fundamentally dishonorable about his actions.

The process of creating and sustain this trusting relationship depends on how the captured insurgent in treated. According to Kitson, in Kenya, the British used a three-stage approach of initially treating a captured insurgent harshly and then gradually relaxing the pressure. In this aspect, Kitson said, “From the stage three it was essential that the man should feel that he was trusted. Once he had joined us there were no reservations. He could sleep with the others, carry arms, do sentry duty or go out by himself. Frequently on one of his first patrols Eric or I would give him our pistol and carry only a simi (a Kenya knife) to make him realize that he was absolutely one of the team”.


The dazzling of the carrot in the form of attractive incentives and the raising of the stick in the form of emergency laws that imposed severe penalties for such violations as possessing firearms and belonging to subversive organizations are two side of the same coin that if well managed can make the difference in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria. Captured insurgents who refused to cooperate should be turned over to the Police, where they are to face the possibility of long prison sentences or even hanging. By opening an escape window and managing it wisely and advantageously many captured insurgents will seize the opportunity and choose to support the Federal Government.


The Federal Government have taken a bold step towards putting in place an organizational structure by the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2011 and the establishment of the Office of National Security Adviser (NSA) as the Coordinating body for counterterrorism activities in the country. Apart from overhauling the system of confusions that hitherto bedeviled law enforcement and security agencies’ response to terrorism and other violent crimes in the country, it provides the platform for the organization of pseudo forces and effective use of conventional counterinsurgency tactics. These arrangements, if wisely and effectively exploited, will reduce propaganda attacks and guide against unnecessary accusations.




Apart from working with other members of the counterinsurgency forces in pseudo platoons, former insurgents play vital roles in training. Success of any pseudo operation and safety of the individuals executing it depend on their ability to sale themselves as genuine insurgents. In our case study, we discovered that the Huks insurgents became extremely suspicious of alleged insurgent units and therefore subjected the Philippines Force X to intensive interrogation before accepting them. A wrong phrase or lack o knowledge about the camp where they had received training or even the latest insurgent songs and slogans could lead to sudden death.  Napoleon D. Valeriano revealed that the members of the Philippines Force X learned after their first operation that the Huks had became suspicious of them because they had too much bright new ammunition for a genuine insurgent unit and they acted fast. It is only a former insurgent that could provide the required information to check such mistakes. Newly captured insurgents are indispensable to keep the necessary information for pseudo operations up to date.

Since pseudo forces tend to develop in an ad hoc manner, their training follows likewise. Some of the outstanding examples of formal pseudo forces training include that of the Philippines 7th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) under the command of Colonel Valeriano. He created a secret training base in Sierra Madre and instituted a rigorous eight-week course to prepare his men to operate as Huks. In Kenya, Kitson was said to have build a training center where his counter-gangs were trained in secrecy, infiltration and blending tactics.



Command and Control

When we examine command and control of pseudo operations the first thing that comes to focus is determining what part of a nation’s security apparatus will control both the force and operations. In the Philippines, pseudo operations were originally considered a law enforcement issue and placed under the Philippines Constabulary, which was in charge of counterinsurgency. However, when Ramon Magsaysay assumed as Secretary of National Defence in 1950, he, as part of reorganization, placed the Philippines Constabulary under military control all through the campaign against the Huks. This development boosts pseudo operations and triggers the collapse of the Huks insurgence. 


In the same vein, in Kenya, General Sir George Erskine adopted a joint task force made up of army and police representatives under the leadership of Provincial and District Commissioners that executed pseudo operations against the Mau Mau. These committees controlled the activities of security forces, including pseudo units, in their areas. Kitson observed that this arrangement was sustained until 1955 when the responsibility for pseudo operations was centralized in a “Special Force” command.


Complications are inevitable, especially where pseudo forces are given the extra responsibility to cover both internal and external operations as was the case with Selous Scouts of Rhodesia. Major Ron Reid Daly pointed out that initially the Selous Scout received instructions from a variety of military, police and intelligence organizations. To lessen the inevitable problems caused by a split command system, a Combined Operations Headquarters was established in 1977 to direct the war, including control of the Selous Scouts.


Fratricide incident is another command and control issue requiring due consideration as far as pseudo operation is concern. The possibility of killing people of your group or country is very high in pseudo operations and in most cases such incidents are never reported due to the secret nature of the operation. The method used to reduce the possibility of fratricide incident was to designate an area in which one unit is operating as “frozen”. But, it has been proved that mistakes are inevitable. Major Daly revealed that in June 1978, a Selous Scout operating officer failed to correctly designate a frozen area, which resulted in a police antiterrorist unit engaging and killing four Selous Scouts acting as insurgents. Due to the secrecy of their operations the Selous Scouts could not report the misstep to the police.



A proper delineation of missions for the pseudo officers is as important as the operation itself. In most cases, the top three missions in order of significance are to:

1.                  Kill leaders of insurgents or outstanding extremist.

2.                  Destroy their elite units.

3.                  Penetrate and destroy their effective support units.


Most recorded success in pseudo operations derived from the realization that a counterinsurgent team operating in very small group makes it possible for contacts with real insurgents to occur.    Once such contacts occur, the reaction depends largely on the situation. In most cases, the counterinsurgent unit withdraws to notify the police or military units stationed nearby which moves in to kill or capture the insurgents. In counterinsurgency operation high premium is placed on capturing insurgents instead of eliminating them. Establishing the trade-off between using pseudo forces for offensive and for intelligence gathering is essential to avoid the temptation of rashly using the information for offensive purposes instead of acting rationally in the circumstance.


The pseudo force’s roles in our situation would be to tactically infiltrate not only the Boko Haram terrorist network but also the population, pin point the terrorist camps and bases and then direct conventional forces in to carry out the real attacks.  In the case of Rhodesia Major Daly reported that 68 percent of the insurgents killed died as a result of direct or indirect action by the Selous Scouts.


The psychological impact of pseudo operations on insurgents has been known to far outweigh the physical damage. One of the natures of insurgency is to cause its practitioners to become extremely security conscious and feeling of fear. The very knowledge of the existence of pseudo forces in an area reinforces a feeling of paranoia. The consequential suspicion of any armed group increases the chances of insurgents accidentally engaging other insurgents and to starve themselves of recruits and supplies from new sources.




The legal aspects of pseudo operations are beyond the scope of this essay. However, let it be pointed out here that any consideration for pseudo operations must take into account the applicable laws of armed conflict, especially where it involves international armed conflict.

If the action is a police action, then these tactics would fall within the laws of the state initiating the pseudo, but if such actions are taken in a civil war or during a belligerent military occupation then those who participate in such actions would not be privileged belligerents. The principle of plausible deniability is usually applied for pseudo-teams in accordance with laws of war.




Pseudo operations have been described by Lawrence E. Cline, a retired US Army intelligence officer, as “the use of organized teams which are disguised as guerrilla groups for long- or short-term penetration of insurgent-controlled areas."



Pseudo Operations should be distinguished, notes Cline, from the more common police or intelligence infiltration of guerrilla or criminal organizations. In the latter case, infiltration is normally done by individuals. Pseudo units, on the other hand, are formed as needed from organized units, usually military or paramilitary.


Pseudo operation is a valuable tool that if used wisely and selectively by our police and military forces can defeat Boko Haram and other insurgent groups now and in future. Though it is not a standalone technique, its effectiveness is derivable only when applied in coordination with other conventional techniques.  Again, based on the peculiar nature of Nigeria, our ethnic and linguistic diversity and socio-cultural divides, no police or military techniques will be successful if not used in support of a larger political strategy designed to deal with the causes of the insurgency in the country.


Despite the inherent liabilities associated with pseudo operations, they have proved to be the hallmark of a number of successful counterinsurgency campaigns and deserved to be made an integral part of Nigeria’s counterinsurgency force’s repertoire. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2011 which was recently passed into law and the legalization of the Office of National Security Adviser (NSA) as the Coordinating body for counterterrorism activities in the country are added advantages in an effort to create a special pseudo force and use it to check terrorists and perpetrators of insecurity in Nigeria.      

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