Ospery, the bird of the Selous Scouts.Selous Scouts "Pamwe Chete" title block.Ospery, the bird of the Selous Scouts.
































By Leroy Thompson

    To understand the Selous Scouts’ methods, one must first understand the Selous Scouts’ mission. The Scouts evolved to varying extents from the Tracker Combat Unit of the Rhodesian Army, the CIO (Central Intelligence Organization), and the Special Branch of the BSAP (British South Africa Police). When Major Ron Reid Daly was given the mission of forming the Scouts, Rhodesia’s borders were becoming less and less secure, as ZANLA and ZIPRA terrorists infiltrated in greater and greater numbers. Though the cover mission for the Selous Scouts remained the tracking of terrorists, in reality the unit was a pseudo-terrorist unit, using turned terrorists and Black soldiers from the Rhodesian African Rifles, as well as White soldiers in black face make-up from the Rhodesian SAS, Rhodesian Light Infantry and other units. These pseudo groups would infiltrate terrorist areas of operation, passing themselves off as terrorists and attempting to subvert the terrorist infrastructure.

Selous Scout armed with a soviet PK MG.

    In many ways, the Selous Scouts learned from US counter- insurgency successes in Vietnam, drawing on the examples of the Phoenix Program, the Kit Carson Scouts and the Road Runner Teams. Even more did they resemble the successful pseudo teams which had been active earlier in Kenya. Constantly adding turned terrorists, the Scouts kept abreast of current terrorist terminology, identification procedures, and operations; often they were better informed about terrorist procedures than the terrorists themselves.

    As the Selous Scouts evolved, they undertook other missions such as cross-border raids, assassinations, snatches, raids on terrorist HQs in Botswana or elsewhere, long-range reconnaissance, and various other types of special operations. One early raid typical of this kind of Scouts’ mission was the snatch of a key ZIPRA official from Francistown, Botswana, in March 1974. These direct action operations resembled in many ways the MAC V/SOG operations in Vietnam. The number of Vietnam veterans in the Rhodesian security forces, in fact, had a substantial influence on the conduct of the war and on slang that was used. Terrorists, for example, were often called ‘gooks’.

    The Scouts lured terrorists into ambushes, from which few terrorists normally walked away; captured terrorists and then turned them to serve in one of the Scout pseudo groups; or turned them over to the BSAP for interrogation. The Scouts were very successful in gathering intelligence, at least in part from captured diaries and letters. This is an important element of counter­insurgency operations. Due to the fragmented nature of their operations, guerrillas rarely have ready access to communications equipment. As a result, they may rely on written communication, leaving much open to capture. Few guerrillas are sophisticated enough to use ciphers, either, so often captured communications are ‘in the clear’. Many politically inspired guerrillas are actually encouraged to keep diaries documenting their political development, and these also frequently include valuable intelligence information. Third World insurgents are generally much less security conscious than organized military forces about documents; hence, captured written material can be an excellent intelligence source, especially for order of battle data.

The Selous Scouts’ training and operational doctrine inculcated audacity. At various times, for example, White Selous Scouts posed as the ‘prisoners’ of Black Selous Scout ‘terrorists’, and were escorted into terrorist strongholds, where White prisoners were highly prized. At the appropriate moment, the Selous Scouts turned their weapons on the terrorists, wreaking havoc from within. The classic example of audacity was the Selous Scouts raid on the large ZANLA terrorist camp at Nyadzonya Pungwe in August 1976. Using Unimogs and Ferrets painted in FRELIMO camouflage, eighty-four Selous Scouts penetrated Mozambique and drove directly into a large terrorist camp. Thousands of terrorists were in camp preparing for morning formations, when the Scouts opened up with 20mm cannons, .50 MGs, 12.7mm MGs, 7.62mm MGs and rifles. Estimates of the number of terrorists killed run as high as 1,000, all for five slightly wounded Selous Scouts. As the Scouts retreated to Rhodesia they blew up the Pungwe Bridge behind them, frustrating pursuit.

Audacity does not, of course, mean foolhardiness, but the importance of audacious small unit offensives has been proved again and again in counter­insurgency operations  by the SAS in Malaya, Borneo and Oman; by Special Forces in Vietnam; and by Selous Scouts in Rhodesia. Reportedly, some of the Soviets’ best successes against Afghan guerrillas were achieved by small Spetsnaz units carrying out similar operations. Because guerrillas tend to think of themselves as the aggressors who take the war to the capitalist fat cats, they are often themselves extremely complacent in their ‘safe’ areas. By showing the terrorists that they were never safe from the ‘Skuz’apo’ (as the terrorists called the Selous Scouts) the Scouts had a psychologically debilitating effect quite out of proportion to their numbers. It was not uncommon, for example, for two groups of terrorists to begin shooting at each other out of fear that the other group was the Selous Scouts.

    Various lessons can be learned from this aspect of Selous Scouts operations. First, calculated audacity will often allow a small counter-insurgency force to inflict casualties quite out of proportion to the numbers of men involved. Secondly, terrorists, who rely heavily on fear as a weapon, can themselves be rendered psychologically impotent through fear when they become the prey of an enemy who appears, hits hard, and then vanishes; who, in effect, turns their own weapons against them.Scouts learn to skin monkeys and eat taint meat in survival conditions.

    Selous Scouts relied heavily on unconventional selection and training procedures. Unconventional, but they worked and turned out some of the finest counter-insurgency warriors of all time. Selous Scouts couldn’t count on ready resupply, for example, so early on the fledgling Selous Scout had to learn to take his food how and when it came. During initial selection the Selous Scout was given one ration pack, but not told what to do with it. As the next days passed, that transpired to be the only food that would be provided. Some Scouts foraged around the training area to supplement that initial ration. Before long, an instructor shot a monkey and hung it in the middle of camp, where during the next few days of training it became riper and riper, its smell soon pervading the camp. Finally, after days of rigorous training the now ravenous trainee Selous Scouts were treated to the sight of the maggot-infested carcass being cooked to provide their first meal in days. Most managed to get it down, in the process learning that if one is hungry enough, protein can be provided from tainted meat, or even maggots. They also learned that even tainted meat is edible if thoroughly boiled, though it should not be reheated a second time. The obvious lesson here is that those being trained to survive under harsh conditions must be trained harshly.

Selous Scouts rehearsing immediate action drills.

Selous Scouts weapons training was intense and practical. Because they operated as terrorists, the Scouts were normally armed with Eastern Bloc weapons. The AK-47, RPD light machine gun and SVD sniper’s rifle were all widely used. Since the Scouts often concealed pistols about their persons, a substantial amount of handgun training was included. CZ75s and Beretta 951s were popular, as were Makarovs due to their Warsaw Pact origins.

Among the very practical training techniques used to make the Scouts proficient with their weapons was an extremely effective counter-ambush drill. Scouts were trained, when under fire from ambush, immediately to direct short bursts of fire at all likely places of concealment for ambushers within their arc of fire. The effectiveness of this maneuver could only be appreciated after seeing a well-drilled stick of Selous Scouts quickly sterilize 360 degrees of an ambush site. Fire discipline was important in this drill, but the Scouts had it. One Selous Scouts training officer also developed the technique of using mannequin targets dressed in terrorist attire and for ‘no shoots’- security forces uniforms. These mannequins incorporated a system of balloons (for head and torso), arranged so that a critical hit would cause the target to fall, while a non-critical hit had to be followed up to drop the target. The lesson to be remembered here is that military personnel likely to use their weapons in quick reaction ambush/anti-ambush situations must be trained to shoot in such circumstances. Obvious? Not to high-ranking officers in a lot of armies.

Many Selous Scouts operations were actually what might be called ‘sting’ operations. The use of European Selous Scouts ‘kidnapped’ by Black Selous Scouts ‘terrorists’ to infiltrate terrorist camps has already been mentioned. The Scouts carried out other classic stings, such as snatching high-ranking ZIPRA officers in Botswana by posing as Botswana Defense Force soldiers there to arrest them. To be accepted by terrorist groups the Scouts often staged fake attacks on farms, or fake hits on Special Branch informers to establish their credentials. So convincing were they that some Selous Scouts pseudo groups became legendary among the terrorists for their ferocity against Rhodesia. On the individual level, Selous Scouts were not above running cons such as convincing a terrorist that a command-detonated claymore mine was a radio, and sending him into a nest of terrorists to radio a message. Only pieces got through! Some of the really classic Selous Scouts’ cons must remain shrouded in secrecy, but even after Robert Mugabe assumed power and after the Selous Scouts were supposedly disbanded, a secret Scouts base continued to operate, from which much equipment and many weapons were evacuated to South Africa. Once again, the lesson to be learned from the Selous Scouts’ sting operations is that sometimes audacity is both more deadly to the enemy, and safer for the operators, than caution in unconventional warfare.

Under Chris Shollenberg, a former Rhodesian SAS officer, a reconnaissance troop was formed as part of the Selous Scouts. This recon unit proved what has been the case in virtually every war in history: small, highly-skilled recon units are among the most efficient and cost-effective intelligence tools in existence. After lying hidden near large terrorist camps for days, the Selous Scouts recon troops operated ahead of Selous Scouts raiding columns, or called in air strikes. The lesson here is simple: no matter how effective electronic intelligence devices become, LRRPs remain an extremely important element in modern warfare, especially counter-insurgency warfare.

Another important element of the Selous Scouts experience which is less obvious is the necessity for a degree of egalitarianism in small elite units. Despite the underlying racism of Rhodesia at that time, the Scouts were a racially mixed unit, each member of which had to rely on the others, and were aggressively non-racist. Black Scouts were naturally aware of their differences in color and culture, as were White Scouts, but neither was treated as superior or inferior. Because of the nature of Scouts operations, all members of the units had to trust each other implicitly, especially when the added element of turned terrorists amongst the Scouts was added. Therefore there could be no hints of racism within the Scouts. Anyone displaying such an attitude did not become or did not stay a Selous Scout.

One method of achieving the closeness and egalitarianism necessary for the Selous Scouts to function was requiring every aspirant Scout to learn the regimental songs during the final portion of the selection course. Sung a cappella, these functioned in lieu of a Selous Scouts band, but also, since the songs were traditional African songs often terrorist songs at that, the words altered to fit the Selous Scouts - they formed a bond between Black and White.

The Selous Scouts system worked. The closeness of the members of the unit -even the tamed terrorists was tested many times but rarely found wanting. In April 1975 a turned terrorist betrayed a pseudo group, resulting in the deaths of seven of them. This event is most noteworthy because it was so unusual. The closeness of the Selous Scouts continued even after the end of the war, when the White Scouts realized the danger their Black comrades in arms would face in Zimbabwe. When the White Selous Scouts went to South Africa they took many of the Black Scouts and their families along with them, and fought to have them incorporated into No. 5 Recce Commando by their sides.

The lesson to be learned here is one that successful special operations units find obvious, but conventional military commanders can never grasp. Small, close-knit elite units function best when run in an egalitarian manner. David Stirling made this a precept of the SAS when he formed it, and it remains a key element in SAS successes today. There is a chain of command in good special operations units, but no one works hard at wielding power. Nevertheless, things get done and done right. That’s why the selection course is so important.

Another important lesson to be learned from the Selous Scouts experience can be applied to police or military covert operations. So successfully did the Selous Scouts pass themselves off as terrorists that they were frequently in more danger from Rhodesian security forces than from real terrorists. As a result, when a Selous Scouts pseudo team was working an area it was ‘frozen’ and declared off limits to any other security forces operations. This same lesson can be applied to police undercover operations or military covert, false flag, ‘sheep dip’ or deception missions.

    Unfortunately, the greatest lesson to be learned from the Selous Scouts is that no matter how competent and effective a military unit is, political considerations can render it impotent. As Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, the Selous Scouts, though never defeated on the battlefield, were defeated at the bargaining table. The con men of the Selous Scouts were, in fact, conned out of existence by the British, the Americans, the UN and Robert Mugabe. Of course, throughout the history of counter-insurgency warfare, the failure to establish political goals has rendered military operations ineffective.


***Source*** This article was obtained from the book: DIRTY WARS- elite forces vs. the guerrillas. By Leroy Thompson. Printed 1988.

7.62 FN FAL rifle.




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