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The Covert War is compelling reading. In 1978 the counter-insurgency war on the Angolan/SWA Namibian border was going badly for the South Africans. Externally the SADF was in control, but internally SWAPO was gaining the upper hand. The SAP Commissioner and SADF Chief met to find a solution. They decided to form a joint 5-Recce Commando/Security Branch organisation on the lines of the Rhodesian Selous Scouts. A highly experienced Security Branch officer, Col ‘Sterk’ [strong] Hans’ Dreyer, was despatched to Owamboland with five police officers. They were tasked under ‘Top Secret’ Project Koevoet (crowbar) to find and provide operational intelligence for the Recces. But they needed the Recces to provide captures for interrogation, but they were heavily engaged in operations in Angola.

Col Dreyer came to realise that the situation in SWA/Namibia was completely different to the Rhodesian scene. What worked in Rhodesia wouldn’t necessarily work there. So his team reverted to basic police work, building informer networks and so on. A single arrest led to the smashing of SWAPO’s sabotage networks throughout the country. During one investigation three policemen, armed only with pistols, almost blundered into a large PLAN group which would have spelt their certain death. This narrow escape resulted in the recruitment of black special constables into units to protect the investigators. This led to a realisation of the astonishing tracking abilities of the Owambos. While tracking has been a tactic used by the military since time eternal, it had never become a strategy where it was always used — which is what happened with Koevoet. It led to the unit’s major expansion.

As with other insurgencies in southern Africa, the Security Forces were faced with a serious landmine threat. This problem for Koevoet was overcome when it was equipped with the remarkable mine-protected Casspirs. Combining their police investigational abilities and skills at getting information, the tracking abilities of their special constables, the landmine protection provided by their Casspirs — with the support of SAAF helicopter gunships — Koevoet emerged as the premier counter-insurgency unit in SWA/Namibia. It cut bloody swathes through PLAN’s internal organisation and tellingly acted in support of the army in southern Angola.

In its ten year existence it fought in 1 615 contacts and killed or captured 3 225 PLAN soldiers — the equivalent of almost six battalions of troops. But it paid a high price in blood and lost almost 160 policemen killed in action with another 949 wounded — more grievous casualties than any other South African fighting unit since World War II.

After heroically repelling SWAPO’s invasion of Namibia in April 1989 — while fighting under the direct authority of the Secretary-General of the United Nations — the unit was ignominiously disbanded and its black members disgracefully abandoned to take their chances at the unforgiving hands of their former SWAPO foes.

While this book is expressly focused on Koevoet, it is also the first full story of the internal border war in Namibia.

Softcover, 512 pages. This 2014 version is the first reissue of the original published in 2004.

 

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