Improvised organisation


The case of the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi offers opportunities for most interesting historical vignettes.
Its remoteness, rapidity of events and decentralised violence posed huge problems.

Eventually, a rapid offensive of Tutsi forces ended the Hutu-driven genocide, while late-arriving French and Belgian intervention forces did much less. They did provide reliable security for Western reporters, though - and thus got the majority of Western news reports. They were eventually able to pretend that Western intervention alone ended the massacres.

One of the interesting questions from Rwanda is about how intervention forces could and should have been organised.
Mercenaries or typical expeditions with a logistics/liaison advance party would have become effective too slowly. Anything but deployment by air would have been too slow. Support forces were largely unnecessary.

My (old) idea on this is that hundreds of autonomous, cooperating platoons may have been quick enough. They could have arrived with light armament and bicycles at airports (after an airborne company would have overrun that airport). Then they would have followed orders to disarm people (including machetes and clubs)*, arrest leaders and occupy radio stations (and turn pro-violence propaganda around). They would have relied on support by nearby other platoons if in trouble or otherwise too weak for their mission).
This would have been an extreme form of Auftragstaktik with a very flat hierarchy and it would have been akin to warband tactics. It would be beyond our capability for political, cultural and doctrinal (indoctrination) reasons, of course.

I suppose every more thorough and more conventional approach would have taken effect slower.

Germany's Bundeswehr displayed a certain degree of willingness to improvise when during the 1997 "Operation Libelle" German Panzergrenadiere (mechanised infantry) were employed as heliborne force during an evacuation action in Albania. The Bundeswehr appears to have recoiled at the thought of future improvisations and for the last about ten years it appears to have adopted a rather American-style thoroughness and clumsiness. I cannot recount how often I saw info on procurement and training being tailored for (specialised on) the ISAF mission with marginal if any usefulness in other missions. It's been very, very often.

It's very fortunate that the Rwandan genocide was extremely unusual. Maybe we are lucky and don't need the capability to master such a challenge at all.


*: A most troublesome aspect is that they couldn't have told the dfifference between the "good" guys with weapons and the "bad guys" with weapons, and enforcing a general disarmament would have provoked desperate resistance by "good guy" RPF forces. A possible solution would have been a cooperation witht he RPF, including a division of the country in a (Northern) part to be saved by RPF and a (Southern) part to be saved by foreign intervention.


  1. IMO you underestimate the enemies here "a little". The Inerahamwe for example had around 100 000 fighters in 1994, the Impuzamugambi another 20 000. Not all of them had only machetes, firearms of all kinds were common. They have the advantage of the knowledge of the place, to be a militia, to fight in civilian clothes, hidden among the population and to fight for a strong cause.

    Hundreds of autonomous light infantry platoons (for example 300 a 30 Soldiers, which mean only 9000 Soldiers) could not handle such an affair against around 120 000 enemies (from which in reality around 70 000 fought against the rpf).

    The RPF needed around 30 000 well armed and experienced soldiers with outstanding motivation (rescue their people from genocide) to defeat the Hutus.

    Some thousand western light infantry dispersed around a country with difficult terrain neither have such motivation or skills, of fighting power.

    They would only fail.

    1. The RPF had less than 30k troops. The exact figures are unknown, but they delivered a decisive victory with a force that should be clearly inferior to for example 9,000 European infantry with light arms only - even in daylight.
      Furthermore, fighting Europeans is quite pointless once they arrive in (such) strength. afghanistan is actually a confirmation for this; the taleban would have had a good shot at retaking Kabul by about 2006-2010 already if they had kept quiet till a Western withdrawal instead of resisting the occupation.

      The arrival of hostile reinforcements is generally very demoralising and very much able to cause panic storms. There's very good reason to believe that European military prowess was very much respected in all of Africa even in 1994.

      The risks of such military actions are of course severe, but small or high risk - a government would need to make a decision to spill its nationals' blood to save more foreign blood.

      What's the appropriate ratio?
      Accept the death of one national to save 1,000 foreigners? 100? 10? 2?
      At 100 almost any risks would be acceptable. At 2 almost none.

      Such a quick conflict leaves no time to assemble a national public opinion on this. That's another huge problem of such sudden conflict flare-ups.

  2. Quote: "It would be beyond our capability for political, cultural and doctrinal (indoctrination) reasons, of course."

    Could you please explain further, what you mean by that?

    1. One example:
      I once talked to an officer who had served much longer about a military topic, and his memorable answer was "We'll keep doing it as taught at the Führungsakademie (officer school)". I didn't even propose anything radical, or an idea of mine. We were talking about the mid-90's fashion of "Freie Operationen".
      He was utterly incapable of even only imagining that things could be done well in another way. He was a 2-star general.

      This isn't uncommon. The Heer still thinks highly of its theory (not so much about its implementation), and doing things radically differently on the quick is simply past its cultural ability. The leadership personnel is too deeply indoctrinated in the old ways.

  3. Rwandan genocide (1993): humanity’s worst modern failure
    It is very commendable to read westerners propose ‘out of the box’ interventions to prevent genocide in Africa.
    I find the idea ‘exotic’ and practical if bicycles are used as parasitic vehicles.
    But, I would feel the same anxities as in the 1st comment.
    Motorbikes, quads, 4x4, tankettes, humvees, air-mobile Wiesel-type of vehicles or even soviet type wheeled/tracked airborne armoured vehicles would seem less risky options.
    Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phy used bicycles and the Swiss Army used to have them too. It is still a better option than giving one’s fate to the totally paralysed UN resolutions and their ‘Smurfs’ (UN blue helmets) on peacekeeping missions in war-torn countries. I let you find the paradox in the above sentence.

    ‘There's very good reason to believe that European military prowess was very much respected in all of Africa even in 1994.’ I hope we are not talking about the myth of the French Foreign Legion. The only time it was called to defend France, it was a disaster, the regular WWII Wehrmacht flushed it in the Sarthe region. ‘9,000 European infantry with light arms only’ is optimistic in front of better physically prepared Africans against epidemic diarrhea , malaria, tse tse flies, mosquitoes (vaccination, chloroquine and other medical treatment before, during and after visiting the region). Personnel Armament should include also a lot of Milkor-like grenade launchers, disposable M72 LAW, RPG type of launchers with thermobaric and anti-personnel ammunitions serving as lightweight short range artillery.
    A few Drones, helicopters and aircrafts would be handy in distracting the attention.
    The best option would remain to surprise and shock the OPFOR by night assaults on their camps, seizing or destroying their C2s and weapons and ammunition depots.
    The risk of using the civilian population as human shield complicates even more the situation.

    I remember attending a conference by retired Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, on the Rwandan Genocide, it looked more as a narrative emotional, traumatic and exculpatory presentation of his experience and the book he wrote than anything else. Anyways it seems that there is always a French connection (Role of France in the Rwandan genocide, White Legion in first Congo war, General Morillon, General Janvier and their role in Srebrenica) in abandoning persecuted people and observing genocide unfold?
    It also seems that there is also a Canadian-English connection (the traumatized General Dallaire, war criminal Ratko Mladic’s friend General Lewis MacKenzie, and General Michael Rose) with Canadian peacekeepers raping patients in a mental hospital in Bosnia and killing in Somalia.
    And if someone has a nice walk behind the US embassy in Ottawa, one can read ‘In the Service of Peace’ on the magnificent and glorious Peacekeeping Monument (of failure).
    There are no legal proceedings that allow the victims and their families to sue the UN.

    War criminals enjoy a better and more comfortable life in the 5 star Scheveningen Palace (a.k.a a Prison) than the wealthiest victims in Rwanda. Double standard treatment, those in
    Nuremberg could not pretend to have such favours.

    1. *outside

      Frankly, I don't even care about interventions becuase I propose none.
      The Rwanda case merely offers interesting material for thought experiments since it was so extreme.

      We saw 70 years of mostly peace in Europe, similar to the 74 years of mostly peace in Europe before the First World War. A future conflict between great powers or alliances is going to hold many surprises, and the ability to adapt quickly is crucial for overcoming the disadvantageous surprises.
      I saw a lot of "adaptability" buzzwordery since about 2004, but very little convincting promotion of quick adaptions beyond the horizon of doctrine.

  4. The 'very little convincting promotion of quick adaptions beyond the horizon of doctrine, is due to what you already described in the above comment:
    "We'll keep doing it as taught at the Führungsakademie (officer school)". It works for other officers schools around the world (Westpoint, Sandhurst, Saint-Cyr...)

    1. None of those officer schools has been linked to any impressive army record of excellence in more than a hundred years.

    2. The advantage and disadvantage of having officers acting by the textbooks, is that their thinking and moves (tactics and strategies) are predictable. After acquiring the doctrine and the necessary fundamental knowledge, only a postgraduate program or ‘private schools’ with ‘special cognitive curricula’ (cognitive science) would be able to stimulate in officers the development of special unpredictable mental abilities and methods of thinking able to adapt quickly to rapidly evolving situations, and create surprise.

      Cognitive science is also related to magic (staging tricks, effects and illusions). Camouflage, smoke screens, stun grenade, appearing weak when you are in fact strong and vice versa… are obvious examples.

      Such programs existed in the Soviet Union military. They tried to explore and use the unused part of the human brain. Chess and poker are games among others known to stimulate such behaviors. But the results for Soviet Union were obviously not conclusive (Afghanistan and collapse of Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact); unless that was part of the deception (USSR was unable to pay back its international debts and decided to go bankrupt, after oil price dramatically dropped in 1985-86). Then would it be a kind of success?

      Cognitive theories are commonly used in business to develop strategies to conquer new markets. It is also used in the ‘dark magic of banking’ to create money out of thin air (debt).
      But it is like in arts; someone usually must be born with such a talent or must have some natural predispositions.

      Each armed force have a very limited numbers of Sun Tzu, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Rommel, Manstein… throughout history, being at the right place, at the right time.

      Traditional military schools select their candidates from the hermetically closed ruling elite/ ‘bourgeoisie’. It is a ‘business transmitted from father to son’. And, like in a bakery, one end up with the same recipe transmitted from one generation to the next, always producing the same traditional bread and breed.
      For a ‘beyond the horizon of doctrine’; schools must start to think ‘beyond the horizon of castes’. Good luck on that one!

    3. "Traditional military schools select their candidates from the hermetically closed ruling elite/ ‘bourgeoisie’."

      Which of the two - the hermetically closed ruling elite, or the bourgeoisie? As you know, those are two completely different social and cultural strata. Old, aristocratic elites vs. the noveaux riches and new middle classes.

      "It is a ‘business transmitted from father to son’."

      I don't agree - at least in Europe this artesanal way of warfighting died out in Europe during the 19th century.

      I agree, cautiously, with the rest, though. Especially the part on "cognitive expansion" and special mental training.