|Prominent Commanders||     ||Ron Reid-Daly|
Rhodesia's crack Selous Scouts, a tough and highly selected band of men, White and Black, who are said to be possibly the best and toughest bush fighters in the world, have been branded as a bunch of demented killers by terrorists and their Marxist henchmen who have never hesitated to twist the truth to suit their own sinister ends.
In any case of atrocity, there are those whose interest is served by publishing the facts, those who seek to prevent publicity being attracted to those facts, and those who seek to manipulate selected facts to shift the blame away from the guilty parties. Thus we find that a number of recent acts of ruthless violence in Rhodesia which were indeed committed by terrorists belonging either to the Nkomo or Mugabe wing of the so-called Patriotic Front have been consistently attributed to the Selous Scouts. The lie has been spread abroad by both Nkomo and Mugabe, perpetuated by a number of misguided and gullible journalists guided only by financial preferences and foreign deserters from the Rhodesian forces who should never have been allowed into the country in the first place.
Understandably bitter about the terror accusation against its crack unit and lest it should be accused of attempting to conceal the ''awful truth", the then Rhodesian Government reacted by lifting, for the first time, the cloak of secrecy which has surrounded the Scouts since its inception as a tracking combat unit in October 1974. A small group of international newsmen were allowed access to their training base where, for the Scouts, it all begins. Here journalists understood the terrorists' dilemma when they were told that by March 1977 conservative estimates were that the Selous Scouts had accounted for 1,205 terrorist kills, losing a mere ten of their own men. By any means a remarkable record.
The advanced training base is about an hour's drive from Kariba, or a 30-minute boat trip on the edge of the famous man-made lake. It consists of a collection of grass roofed huts which, at first glance resemble a prisoner-of war camp like those used by the Japanese in World War 11. The camp, known as the Wafa Wafa, takes its name from the Shona words Wafa Wasara which loosely translated means Those who die, die - those who stay behind, stay behind.
It is an approptirate motto - because the gruelling selection course here "kills off" more recruits than those who survive to finish successfully. That any of the recruits survive the training period at all seems a minor miracle, but they do and subsequently become the Rhodesian answer to terrorist infiltration. Principally they are taught to kill and survive and, in training, are pushed to their physical limits. Rations are cut to one sixth of that given to a man on normal active service.
It is therefore appropriate to describe the grassy encampment as the selection and tracker-training headquarters of one of the most specialised and toughest fighting forces ever seen.
Among the many tests they undergo is one where they are dropped in the bush with a gun, 20 rounds of ammunition, a match and material to strike it, and an egg. Lions, buffalo and elephant abound and the object is to have the egg hard-boiled and ready for inspection the following morning.
The Scouts' operational record was sketched briefly by a Rhodesian Journalist:
Shrouded in secrecy with a mystique that spawns a thousand stories, many true and most mere rumour, the Scouts have in only two years become the most-decorated outfit in the Rhodesian security forces collecting along the way amongst many other awards - six Silver Crosses (the highest award for gallantry yet presented); 11 Bronze Crosses; six orders for Members of the Legion of Merit for acts of bravery, sel- dom reported, but which have all played a major part in fighting the country's terror war.
The Selous Scouts is fully-integrated, with an undisclosed number of soldiers - but the ratio is eight Blacks to two White troops.
The initial selection procedures last for about 18 days and are probably the most rigorous in the world. Every man who goes to the camp is a volunteer - and many are highly experienced, battle-hardened soldiers who find that after a few days they simply cannot stand the strain. Small wonder that following the most recent selection course, only 14 out of 126 volunteers made the grade.
The officer commanding the Selous Scouts, and the driving force behind it, is Major Ron Reid-Daly, a 47 year old regular soldier who was once regimental sergent- major of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, known as "The Incredibles." He learned his job with the British Special Air Service in Malaya after leaving his native Salisbury in 1950 to go to England, and he served with the SAS during the Communist terror war there in the early 1950's.
The prison camp analogy does not elude Reid-Daly.
I reckon in most armies today I simply wouldn't be allowed to put these poor chaps through the kind of selection course we give them. They'd think I was trying to kill the men who volunteer to join us. I agree, there is something of the prison camp attitude towards our men under selection and training. We take them to the very threshold of tolerance mentally - and it's here that most of them crack. You can take almost any fit man and train him to a high standard of physical ability. But you can't give a man what he hasn't already got inside him.
Under selection each man is reduced to below a threshold which the average human being could not endure. He is virtually "dehumanised", forced to live off rats, snakes, baboon meat and eyes, to survive in hostile surroundings which prove that nature, too, can be as deadly as any human enemy. And they are taught to live off nature, to drink from the water in the carcass of a dead animal - a yellowish liquid - and to eat maggot-ridden green meat which can be cooked only once before becoming deadly poisonous.
Students are not given rations except for water. They are expected to survive off the land, making their own fires without matches, and making and using bark string - "gusi tambo" - to help catch food for themselves. They are soon hungry enough to capture any small creatures they can find - grasshoppers, lizards and squirrels - to stave off the hunger. "And you do get hungry." said one student who had recently been on the survival course. "We caught and killed a small leguaan, and before we even had time to skin it, one of the men was ready to take a bite out of it".
The Selous Scouts have for the first time admitted that thev have been used on hot pursuit raids into Mozambique including the highly spectacular and tactically successful raid on the Nyadzonya terrorist training camp last August in which over 300, and possibly more than 500, terrorists were killed.
For those who come through the selection course there follows a posting to one of the small sections on operations, after a short tracking course, initially as a flank tracker. They work in remote parts of Rhodesia hunting down terrorist spoor and leading the infantry in for the kill if the invading group is too big for the small two or three man teams to handle on their own. Each member of the Selous Scouts, down to the lowest ranking White soldier, speaks at least one African language - necessary for communication with their Black comrades-in-arms with whom they work in the closest possible context as equals.
Tracking survival and close-combat tactics are high on the list of the Scouts' training priorities. From what newsmen saw at Wafa Wafa camp it takes a very special kind of man to qualify for service in what has become Rhodesia's elite and much-envied military unit. Yet Major Reid-Daly detests the word elite:
We do not consider ourselves an elite group of men, nor do we think we are of the highest calibre. It could cause the men to imagine themselves better than they really are and this could in turn lead to recklessness. We are simply just trackers out to do a job.
About training procedures, Major Reid-Daly, as tough as they come, explained:
We take a chap right down when he first comes here, right to the bottom. And then we build him up again into what we need in the Selous Scouts. Some people might say it's a dehumanising process, and maybe it is. But as far as I'm concerned, that's the way it has to be if we have to keep this unit up to standard. I have heard of all sorts of so-called crack outfits becoming nothing more than shadows of what they were because of a lowering of standards to increase the numbers of men going through into combat. And I'm determined not to let that happen here.
You see these men sometimes in town, with their chocolate-brown berets and green belts with an osprey badge. The osprey is a bird of prey, a fish eater, not common, but found in small numbers in many parts of the world where there are large stretches of water. The badge - previously the unofficial badge of Rhodesia's tracking men - was drawn up in commemoration of Andre Rabie, the first regular instructor of tracking. He was killed on active service in 1973.
Most of the men who are involved in this anti-terror outfit regard Andre Rabie as having being the inspiration behind the Selous Scouts.
The Selous Scouts have one of the best stocked aviaries in Rhodesia. They have also added a snake park. Not as frivolous as it sounds. The emphasis is on bush survival and in order to survive for many days at a time if necessary, the men must be able to recognise and make use of whatever vegatation, birds, animals and insects the bush has to offer. They must also learn to understand and turn to advantage what they see. An instructor said:
Everything is of some use to you in the veld. The more you get familiar with it, the better your chance of survival. The ignorant person bumbles into trouble wherever he goes. Certain birds give your presence away. Butterflies, which some people see as nothing but pretty little insects, are a potent indication of water in the winter months. We aim to make our students at home in the environment in which they work. Vegetation not only provides them with food in times of need. It plays one of the basic roles in tracking. And certain trees are used medically. The marula gives the best anti-histamine you can find.
Many of the men are trained parachutists to enable them to reach an area quickly when their tracking skills are required.
Their stories of survival in the bush are manifold - like the youngster from Salisbury who spent 18 days in the bush trying to evade a terrorist gang who were hot after his trail. As the Scout put it, "a spot of bother when something didn't work out quite right".
He had no rations, no water and a limited supply of ammunition. But his fieldcraft and survival training at Wafa Wafa helped him win through.
These are the men the terrorists want out of the way, men who are justifiably proud of their official motto - Pamwe Chete, Together Only.
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