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Feature Article of Monday, 8 October 2012

Columnist: Fordjour, Asante

Re: Why Ghana Needs Special Forces

...Special Forces Are Not Super-humans...they need an enabling political environment to be operationally effective, nationally accepted and maintained, a CubaGroupGhana commando had told Justiceghana.com

On 6 March 2012, yet another group of special force soldiers stormed the Independence Square in their camouflage fatigue and light armaments. The public applauded them and since then; there seems to be undying believe in our societies that the re-emergence of the unit, might be a solution to the Ghana’s present security threats and uncertainties. This reminds me of the same- a sunny day in one of the 31 December Revolution anniversaries, where a show-of-force to deter exiled dissident groups or members of the security forces with a plot to subvert the PNDC, was staged.

Our combat-level appearance on the roof-tops and on the flanks of the Independence Square; and the road-run from there; toward James Town and with a detour along Adabraka- towards Nkrumah-and-Sankara Circles and from here, to 37 Military Hospital and eventual right-turn to the assembly point- El-Wak Stadium, it seems to me, subverted the expected national acceptance and co-existence. As our hard and software fell prey to unsuspecting individuals and the said loyal groups, so did our problems mounted. It was confusing for the public to identify the true commandos as many; became one and our opponents, did all that they could to soil our honest roles. Today, I have grown to understand and capable enough to inform the young that special forces are not super-humans. They need an enabling political environment to be operationally effective, nationally accepted and maintained. Yes as a young Cuban-trained special force soldier- schooled on the mountains and in the jungles of Pinar del Rio, we were made to believe in those days that Special Forces never die, they regroup in hell which is why I am entrapped to be doubtful about the thinking of the Defence Minister Lt-General Henry Smith that the “chaps”, could be saddled with all our current challenging security dilemmas against the backdrop of political suspicions. But we have a choice- thus where the group’s name and professional roles were not to be linked to any particular politician or military top brass but rather the state and the people that it honestly represents. By every standard; Ernesto Che Guevara, was a special force soldier. He succeeded in the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista’s regime in Cuba but failed in Bolivia because of the perceptions the masses in these countries held about him. Whereas the Argentine medical doctor was seen as a revolutionary liberator and a hero in Fidel Castro-led Cuban Revolution of 31 December 1959, in Bolivia, most peasants perceived him not only as a conquering interloper but also, as a traitor. So, Che, was betrayed, captured and eventually executed on 09 October 1967.

In a press address on Tuesday, 25 September 2012, Lt. General Henry Smith said that a country like Ghana with vast natural resources needs Special Forces to protect the country. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are in the 21st century, conventional warfare has gradually given way for a special operations force, that is what is done the whole world over,” the Minister said. General Smith submitted among other things that it was neither a division, an army nor a brigade that found and killed the world’s most wanted man- Osama Bin Laden but rather it was a special force. The concept of Special Forces, the Defence Minster added, started as far back as the World War I (1919) that today every army has a special force so why not Ghana? “We need them.” The reader may be puzzling, who, then, are Special Forces and in Ghana’s context, what not the regular forces? I will elaborate by stating that it is yes, crucial for every modern state to have a special force unit to undertake challenging tasks and missions that unfortunately, conventional regular armed force- notwithstanding say, its 10- member squad or 31-meber platoon and their armaments; are professionally, constrained to handle with the exactness and swift that is required due to the nature of their training. But I am less informed of the current role(s) of our newly-formed unit. What I did know during our time was that Special Forces or troops usually operate in small groups- either in 2-3 man squads and/or as a reconnaissance or surveillance unit. With their “multi-facetted weapons”, combat skills, self-motivation and morale, special forces unit can unleash a great havoc on the “unwary enemy” force. I mention in passing that in our time, the main role was personal security duties. We did look forward to rescue missions and to dislodge dissident group(s) from sensitive installations if they were to be invaded. To have a better insight of some of the roles of Special Forces, we may consider the primary task of the Special Air Service (SAS) of Australia which in the words of defencetalk.com, were combating domestic terrorism- a role it states is now shared with the Commandos. To see some evidence of what and how SAS of Australia went about their work the United Kingdom, we might yes, look for information about the 1980 Iranian Embassy raid in London from the YouTube.

On April 30th, 1980, six armed Iranian terrorists stormed the Iranian embassy in London, capturing 26 hostages inside. Responding to an ultimatum set by the terrorists to kill a hostage every thirty minutes if their demands were not met, British authorities called on the S.A.S to intervene. In "Operation code named Nimrod", five terrorist gunmen were killed during the 17-minute raid and all the 26 hostages saved as millions watched the swift raid on television. The remaining terrorist was subdued, prosecuted and served 27 years in jail. Thus Special Forces are experts in unconventional warfare and more often than not, do not need only firearms to be able operate as key skills, such as unarmed combat and incursion, are their second nature. Special Force soldiers are trained in the way that whatever they see around them could be exploited to their advantage. In the British and Australian Armies, the Commando forces for example, tend to specialise in hard hitting strike operations. The Cuban Special Forces are known for their crucial role in the protracted civil wars in Angola and Nicaragua. But defence.com writes that whilst it is a noble aim to have all of your defence force able to operate at the same levels as the SAS, the reality is somewhat different. The amount of training, practice or live firing that goes on just for the counter terrorism squadron would burn up the ammunition and assets (air hours)probably used by an entire division. “These are expensive specialised forces that cost a massive amount to keep, trained and equipped to do their job properly...”

General Arnold Quainoo- the former forces commander and PNDC member- said this about Special Forces when he met us at Afienya: “I’m a greater admirer of Special Forces but a bitter critic. Special Forces, if not well catered for, could be a threat to themselves, the government that trained them and the society at large...The Special Forces I know, during peace time, dig boreholes, construct bridges in rural areas and help in the evacuation of victims of natural disaster. But not Special Forces who go about threatening and harassing people or their communities with guns and pistols...”

Many were those officers and men, who felt humiliated seeing us wielding Makarow pistols dangling around our waist and without hoot of acknowledgement. Combat wise, many of us felt well trained, fairly resourced, educated and erroneously, concluded that if we have been able to sit in the same classroom, crossed the same obstacles and run the same miles with officers and senior non-commission officers from Ghana Army, why not the bluff? This is said not to infuriate our gallant colleagues trained to perform infantry duties, trades and logistics or as with specialist areas as the air force or the navy. But I dare submit that being trained as a commando or a special force soldier comes with physical, mental smartness and toughness. An attitude that if one was kicking in a door, tossing a faint torchlight, and entering a broadcasting house with the intention of killing say 10 heavily armed coup plotters who have taken over the newsroom where you are one of the hostages or the Akosombo power house where you are the duty engineer- you would certainly be expected an incursion of an elite well trained soldier skilled at his craft. But not the regular tactics at a Chalie Company with right-flank move, left-flank down...fire-eer!

Yet not every soldier is able to become a super-soldier. As with Ranger pre-selection training which usually takes place at Akyease Jungle Warfare School, many wash out in the courses due to them not being fit enough or smart enough or just not having the right impulse. As we have seen from the case of Che and the cited opinion from General Arnold Quainoo, the success and the effectiveness of a special force unit hinges on the state and its peoples. The Cuban Comando Tropas Especiales’ course entails political training with emphasise on the respect for the masses and their daily preoccupations. Most Cuban civil population are farmers and factory workers. The Tropas Especiales specializes in jungle/urban warfare and covet missions for the state. I could hear some whispers from most political and military historians that historically, the temptation of the Ghanaian Government: elected or self-imposed, in having a special force unit in defence of the nation had always been in our military and political vocabularies. Some called it the Commandos as we experienced under Rawlings-led PNDC or Presidential Guard Regiment as was the case of Dr Nkrumah-led CPP. But their establishment, recruitment, training and national roles had always been shrouded in politics and public resentments and hatred. So they naturally, die on regime change. Special Forces must not to be viewed with political/ideological lens.

Although formation or creation of Special Forces unit is a political decision, in most western nations when they are established their operations are nationally-focused. But we might agree that conventional warfare is not the best suited task for Special Forces. Otherwise Mumuar Gaddafi of Libya, Mombutu of Zaire or Nkrumah’s CPP would have been alive. The show-of-force of the Special Forces on 06 March; has revisited the historical insecurity and political animosities between the main political rivals. According to the main opposition NPP, the NDC government has created the group for its own defence in the upcoming December polls. This creates hatred not only for the Special Forces but also rifts between the unit and the rest of the security forces. These were the very accusation levelled against the Force Reserve Unit (FRU), known later as the 64 Regiment. Nkrumah was overthrown partly because of alleged special treatment of his favoured PGR at the expense of the army. Kufuor-led NPP dissolved the 64 Regiment probably because journalist Kabral Blay-Amihere unqualifiedly, described its members; many of whom voluntarily joined the military just for the passion for it but not politics, as Rawlings’ lap-dogs. Yes Rawlings clamped down the Boys Company in Kumase, at the time Lt-General Smith was in the army. Yet it is perhaps, ripe for oil-rich Ghana to rethink about the dangers of its decades of ad hoc security settings. Defence Minister Smith states that the current Special Forces concept would benefit the country due to the group’s specialist acquired training.

But the case Che in Bolivia and Ghana’s own experiences show that this could hardly be achieved if by any shred of inference the people of Ghana, politically poled apart, are to be made to believe that their operations are politically or ideologically driven and entrenched. Defence history has it that while Cuba remains calm and socially progressive; even after the execution of Che, Bolivia- the historically divided Southern American country is still known for its protracted civil rifts and coup de tats.

Researched and Compiled By Asante Fordjour for CubaGroupGhana

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