Koevoet was a police paramilitary unit based in South West Africa (now Namibia) during the South African border war in the 1980’s. Its official name was SWAPOL-COIN (South West African Police counterinsurgency), but Koevoet (translated as Crowbar) was just easier for everyone concerned. The Crowbar referenced a nail (the insurgent) being pulled out of the wood by Koevoet.
Soviet and Cuban trained insurgent troops were crossing the Angolan border on foot and then heading south into the interior of the country to wage asymmetric warfare against soft targets. It was very difficult to track and kill these insurgents with conventional military forces. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, insurgents look exactly like the local population, speak the same language and are very difficult to tell apart by foreign troops.
Koevoet was a joint unit comprising of South African police officers and local Ovambos who acted as trackers and light infantry. The Ovambos were peerless trackers and could immediately tell the difference between a local and insurgent. They were also familar with the terrain and well adapted to the harsh bush climate.
Koevoet developed very unique tactics to fight the insurgents effectively and had the highest kill ratio for any unit in the conflict.
Koevoet would usually deploy in four or five mine protected armored personnel carriers. known as Casspirs.
Casspirs were all terrain vehicles with a V-shaped hull. The design of the hull deflected the blast of a mine to either side of the vehicle. Casspirs could protect their occupants from three Russian TM-57 anti-tank mines detonating underneath one of the vehicles tires.
The battle group was usually also supported by an armored tanker and a recovery vehicle. They would drive to an area that they suspected insurgents were moving through. The trackers would then dismount and look for tracks left by insurgents. They could cover a lot of ground quickly. Trackers would alternate, mounting the vehicle, taking on water and resting while another tracker dismounted to take his place.
Having found tracks one of the Casspirs would then leap frog the column and drive a distance in advance of the others, although not so far that he couldn’t quickly be reinforced. The trackers would then dismount and look for tracks. If tracks were found the lead Casspir would radio the others and the column would quickly catch up. The exercise would then be repeated.
This allowed the Koevoet unit to very quickly gain on the insurgents. Interestingly the insurgents knowing they were being hunted would begin to move faster, tiring themselves out and being easier to track and subsequently kill. Its only later in the conflict that they developed their own counter tactic called ‘bomb shelling’ where they would scatter in different directions all at once, making them much harder to hunt down and kill.
Once the trackers sensed that the insurgent group was near they would quickly mount their vehicles again to engage the enemy. The Casspirs changed formation from a column to a line and engaged the insurgents, often at very close range.
Insurgents were almost always engaged from the Casspirs using the ‘high-ground’ advantage from the turret mounted weapons and the gun ports in the crew compartment. The Casspir itself was also often used as a weapon driving over insurgents who were firing from prone or ramming trees that were being used as cover. Fleeing insurgents were often run down and crushed.
If the insurgent group was too large or deemed to have too many anti-tank weapons the Casspirs would engage with mortars from a distance and call in air support.
- The Casspirs, while mine protected, were vulnerable to Russian made RPG7’s. A frontal hit from an RPG7 could slice right through a Casspir and kill everyone inside, especially engaging the enemy at close range where the operator was less likely to miss.
- Because Casspirs often travelled ‘open top’, because of the oppressive heat, they were vulnerable to fragmentation and phosphorus grenades being thrown in. Also if the crew were sitting on top of the vehicle when it hit a mine they could be seriously injured or killed.