South African Special Forces Against Special Operations Theory


The South African Special Forces Brigade, or Recces, refers to South Africa’s principal special operations unit, specializing in unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency, direct-action operations, long-range reconnaissance, special operations, and hostage rescue. The brigade has two active-duty units: 4 Special Forces Regiment, headquartered in Langebaan and focusing on marine operations, and 5 Special Forces Regiment, headquartered in Phalaborwa and focusing on airborne and land operations. Only approximately 8 percent of recruits who undergo special forces training in South Africa complete the course. The South African Defence Force (1972), whose headquarters are in Speskop, Pretoria, Gauteng, was created with a need for a specialist demolition and reconnaissance capability. Novel chances for the deployment of special forces are constantly presenting themselves due to the peacekeeping and other missions that the South African National Defence Force has been charged with within current history, which provides a significant expansion potential for such units. A special operations theory: Special operations are missions to achieve strategic goals where conventional troops would pose potential harm owing to Clausewitzian friction. Eliminating these dangers necessitates special operations forces that effectively address the root causes of friction through traits derived from the distribution of Special Operations Force personnel’s qualities. Therefore, this paper is based on the pre-2001 actions of the South African special forces that did not coincide with the Special Operations Theory.

Causes of the Wars

The military actions carried out by the South African special forces were linked in several ways, the most important of which was the defense of a country’s sovereignty. The South African Border War, Rhodesian Bush War, the Mozambican Civil War, and Operation Argon are just a few of these military actions. South African special forces entered the war just a few years before it ceased. Northern Namibia and Southern Angola – the so-called “Operational Area” or “Border” – were the sites of the Bush War. Anti-SADF troops were engaged in sporadic and linked clashes in countries like Botswana, Rhodesia (current Zimbabwe), Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Homelands inside contemporary South Africa, and South Africa itself.

South African also participated in the war by sending it special force; the troops were sent due to political reasons that included the South African government was fighting for the Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) liberation movement, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), and Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) in Zimbabwe, ANC and PAC in South Africa, MPLA in Angola and Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) in Mozambique. Except for the fact that the Marxist Eastern Block backed all of these revolutionary movements, the movements battled to free the subcontinent from the imperial yoke. Furthermore, South African special forces were fighting because, following World War 1, the League of Nations granted South Africa “Mandate” powers over Swaziland at the Treaty of Versailles, and the country has viewed it as a fifth province ever since.1 With the foundation of the South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) and its armed wing in 1960, the local community revolted against this and SA’s apartheid policies. Due to an increase in attacks and sabotage by PLAN members, South Africa decided to replace the police with the army in1974 to prevent the attacks at the border.

Special Operation Theory

The post-World War II criticisms of special operations forces are relevant to the current effort to develop a philosophy of special operations. Existing military theories may already show adequate for special missions; therefore, a specific approach may be extra. This notion can explain the success of special operations. Because effective special operations violate common thinking, the theory is crucial. Special operations forces are routinely outmanned by the adversary and are typically sent in to attack defended locations. According to Carl Von Clausewitz, both of these conditions should foretell failure, but these missions continue to succeed. The secret to special operations troops’ success is how they get this strong edge. Special operations troops gain an advantage when a straightforward, well-hidden strategy is adequately rehearsed and executed with purpose, surprise, and speed.

Nevertheless, this advantage is shaky and vulnerable to wartime frictions. The theory has been depicted on the 22 operations carried out by the South African special forces in both Angola and Mozambique. Surprisingly, from 1978 forward, the first seaborne operations were initiated against Mozambique targets. The SADF Special Forces relied on the SA submarines and Navy ships to transport them to and from the target region in all of these missions.2 After then, the action shifts to the “Western Front,” with operations on the “Eastern Front” (Mozambique) following. When an oil refinery in Luanda was damaged, Operation Kerslig was launched in Angola.3 Beira’s operations on targets were part of other operations along the Mozambican coast. The National Party administration in South Africa sanctioned them, and all of the other Recce activities were recounted in the book.

Operation Cabinda or Argon

Operation Cabinda is one of the unsuccessful military missions waged by the renowned South African special forces. The operation took place in May 1985 at Malongo in Angola and aimed to destroy six storage tanks full of fuel. During this same period in Angola, the conflict became more intense, and as a result, Recce operations became more common. Even though most of the seaborne operations were successful, some went awry, such as when Captain Wynand du Toit was kidnapped, and two operatives were killed during Operation Argon in May 1985 in the Angolan enclave of Cabinda. Due to limited visibility, the aircraft carrying the Recces were forced to detour Malawi and cancel the attack. Some of the actions ignored by the South African special forces led to several repercussions, most of which were seen in the border wars.

Operation Argon is one of the disappointing missions for the special force; the mission can be regarded as that which did not comply with the particular operation theory. According to the special operation theory, the mission would have been successful if the doctrines of the view were followed. According to the ideas, Special Operations Forces (SOF) should be mainly structured, small, staffed by carefully picked individuals utilizing customized equipment, and equipped with unorthodox tactics against strategic and operational goals to be effective. Furthermore, the effectiveness of special operations (SO) is dependent on individual and small unit competency in specialized skills combined with agility, creativity, and ingenuity against enemies who are frequently unprepared to react. SOF’s special skills supplement those of regular troops. The special force under captains Wynand Du Toit made several mistakes that did not conquer with the theory; they were not swift in their mission. Upon arrival at the onshore of Angola, they were already three hours behind time, and they were also risking the danger of being noticed. Leaving the shore towards the target, they were also losing more time, and soon it was about to dawn. While the theory is based on unconventional capabilities, Captain Du Toit’s manner of invasion from an open area at an inappropriate time was considered conventional and one that lacked tactics.

The scenario shows that the forces liberation of Angola FAPLA were unique in their ways of identifying their enemy, who was trying to camouflage itself a few miles away from their camp. Their Unconventional actions against their adversary vulnerabilities in a coordinated campaign, carried out by specifically equipped units, facilitate conventional operations and economically resolve politico-military challenges at the strategic and operational levels, which are impossible or difficult to achieve with traditional forces alone. However, even this precise and comprehensive presentation of special operating forces is a description by exception. When special operations are unconventional, they are only described as conventional activities. As a special force, they would have advanced in a tactical.

The unsuccessful war at Cabinda became a strengthening factor, and with time the particular unit was able to incorporate unique skills that had proved victorious before. Some of the conflicts that the South African special forces have successfully outdoor other ordinary forces include the South African Border War and the Mozambican Civil War. As the South African special forces’ capabilities expand beyond conventional doctrines, they are advancing into taking over operations that were previously the duty of other Special Operation Forces. For instance, SOF used to be known for flying and fighting at night using equipment that enabled them to see. Even special operation forces had minimal expertise with night vision at the time of Operation Eagle Claw: On the operation Cabinda, because this war was fought a few years after the onset of the special unit force, they were never equipped with equipment such as night-vision goggles, nor were there protocols for their usage. Of course, night vision is now widely used in conventional operations in the United States. As a result, the time when fighting at night was a unique capacity of SOF was brief.


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “South African War.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021.

Finland, Alastair. “A dangerous pathway? Toward a theory of special forces.” Comparative Strategy 38, no. 4 (2019): 255-275.

Momodu, S. “The Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992)”. 2018.


  1. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “South African War.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021. Web.
  2. Finland, Alastair. “A dangerous pathway? Toward a theory of special forces.” Comparative Strategy 38, no. 4 (2019): 255.
  3. Momodu, S. “The Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992)”. 2018. Web.