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Selous Scouts vs. Kaibiles.jpg

This is a battle between two special forces groups who crossed the threshold into human rights abuses: the Selous Scouts of Rhodesia, covert antiguerrilla operators who employed terrorist tactics to devastating effect in the Rhodesian Bush War, and the Kaibiles of Guatemala, counterinsurgency experts trained in jungle combat who carried out massacres and facilitated a genocide in the Guatemalan Civil War. This battle casts a sobering glance into two dark episodes of modern military history. The two forces received similarly desensitizing training and unleashed similarly brutal violence on their targets. This is not a celebration of either group—far from it—but a quiet call to analyze and contextualize the barbarity they wrought upon their victims. And, hopefully, in learning about these agents of cruelty, we can recognize and challenge those who misrepresent their legacies today, through dogwhistles and outright lies.

Selous Scouts

Selous Scouts.jpg

It had all the feeling of an eventual massacre. I was afraid that I might see entire villages murdered.
— J. Ross Baughman, photojournalist who took pictures of the Scouts in action

Rhodesia’s Selous Scouts were a special forces group that operated from 1973 to 1980 in the Rhodesian Bush War, on behalf of the white nationalist government of Ian Smith. Named after British explorer Frederick Selous, the Selous Scouts were designed to combat terrorism, ostensibly as a mixed-race unit (some sources claim that black Rhodesians comprised anywhere from 50% to 80% of the Scouts, but I kind of doubt this) designed to conduct reconnaissance and irregular operations behind hostile lines. Consequently, much of the Selous Scouts’ wartime activities closely resembled the terroristic operations against which they themselves were purported to be fighting.

The Scouts were trained at Wafa Wafa, in Lake Kariba, where they were subjected to food deprivation, exhaustion, and constant harassment in an attempt to wear down potential recruits. After enduring this 17-day program, the Scouts received basic combat training, which included a “dark phase” where they imitated the guerrilla lifestyle in preparation for infiltration and similar covert operations. This included such tactics as wearing blackface so as not to be recognized at a distance.

During the Rhodesian Bush War, the Scouts fought various groups of black nationalist guerrillas in a conflict that was increasingly defined by bitter racial violence. They conducted terrorist attacks like the bombings of private houses, kidnappings, car bombings, assassinations, and similar such activities meant to intimidate and extort. Sometimes these attacks were conducted openly while disguised as guerrillas, in efforts to undermine their popular support. These attacks were possible thanks to the sophisticated intelligence operations (often code-based) the Scouts conducted as they sought to uncover the identity of insurgents—as well as insurgent sympathizers—and discern supply routes and lines of communication. These tactics received international attention thanks to the photography of J. Ross Baughman, which captured the Scouts’ shocking brutality. However, the Scouts also attempted to integrate captured guerrillas into the Scouts (a process called “turning”), often by contrasting their fearsome reputation with the benign treatment offered to captured guerrillas, in an attempt to lower their captives’ guard and elicit feelings of gratitude. Guerrillas who were successfully “turned” were nicknamed “tame terrs.”

Many of the actual combat operations carried out by the Selous Scouts were mostly successful. These include Operation Long John, in which the Scouts infiltrated neighboring Mozambique and misdirected FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) forces away from a railway that the Scouts subsequently sabotaged. Their most famous operation was Operation Eland, in which the Scouts crossed into Mozambique and killed between 1,000 and 2,000 guerrillas without suffering a single battle death.

The Selous Scouts were dissolved in 1980, but they continue to be an inspiration for contemporary white nationalists. Like Rhodesia itself, the Scouts are still used as a racist dog-whistle, to refer to armed white nationalists. (So seriously, if you are interested in the Scouts and want to do more research, be very careful with what websites you visit. There is a lot of ahistorical, revisionist, white nationalist trash out there on the topic.)

Weapons

FN MAG 58 GPMG

FN MAG.jpg

  • Cartridge: 7.62x51mm NATO
  • Action: Gas-operated long-stroke piston, open bolt
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,756 feet per second (840 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 800 m bipod, 1,800 m tripod
  • Rate of Fire: 650-1,000 rounds per minute
  • Feed System: 200-round disintegrating M13 linked belt
  • Weight: 26.01 lbs (11.8 kg)
  • Barrel Length: 24.8 in. (630 mm)

Vektor R1 Battle Rifle

FN Fal.jpg

  • Basically a South African variant of the FN FAL
  • Cartridge: 7.62x51mm NATO
  • Action: Short-stroke gas piston, tilting breechblock
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,700 feet per second (823 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 600 m
  • Rate of Fire: 650-700 rounds per minute (Selous Scouts used semi-automatic fire in combat)
  • Feed System: 20-round detachable box magazine
  • Weight: 9.4 lbs (4.25 kg)
  • Barrel Length: 21 in. (533 mm)

Sten

Sten.jpg

  • Cartridge: 9x19mm Parabellum
  • Action: Blowback-operated, open bolt
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,198 feet per second (365 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 100 m
  • Feed System: 32-round detachable box m agazine
  • Rate of Fire: 500-600 rounds per minute
  • Weight: 7.1 lbs. (3.2 kg)
  • Barrel Length: 7.7 in. (196 mm)

Browning Hi-Power

Browning Hi Power.jpg

  • Cartridge: 9x19mm Parabellum
  • Action: Short recoil operated tilting barrel
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,100 feet per second (335 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 50 m
  • Feed System: 30-round detachable box magazine (yes, 30 rounds, in a variant specific to Rhodesia, according to Wikipedia anyway)
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs. (~1 kg)
  • Barrel Length: 4.7 in. (119 mm)

M18 Claymore Mine

Claymore.jpg

  • Filling: 24 oz (680 g) C4
  • Caliber: 1/8-inch (3.2 mm) diameter steel balls, ~700 per mine
  • Muzzle Velocity: 3,995 feet per second (1,128 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 50 m (maximum range 250 m)
  • Weight: 3.5 lbs. (1.6 kg)
  • Detonation Mechanism: Blasting Cap Assembly M4

L16 81mm mortar

L16 81mm mortar.jpg

  • Rate of Fire: 1-12 rpm sustained, 20 rpm for short periods
  • Caliber: 81 mm (3.2 inches)
  • Muzzle Velocity: 740 feet per second (225 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 100-5,675 m
  • Weight: 78 lbs. (35.3 kg)
  • Crew of 3

Kaibiles

Kaibiles.jpg

If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me.
— Motto of the Kaibiles

Guatemala’s Kaibiles (kye-BEE-les) are a special forces group that specializes in counterinsurgency and jungle fighting. Named after a Mam indigenous leader, Kayb’il B’alam, the Kaibiles were founded at the end of 1974, emerging in the midst of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war (1960 to 1996). In theory, the Kaibiles were intended to fulfill the role of highly-trained anti-guerrilla special forces operators, especially proficient in jungle warfare. In practice, a Kaibil was someone to fear: they were responsible for a wide range of atrocities—including acts of genocide—during the war, and many ex-Kaibiles continued to operate as hired guns for drug traffickers in the war’s aftermath.

Their intense training at El Infierno and La Pólvora, two training camp sites, desensitized them physically and emotionally. While they learn foundational skills like map reading, weapons training, training for emergency field surgeries, and a martial art called Temv-K’a, the Kaibiles are also sleep deprived during training and are forced to bond with animals like puppies and chickens before killing them and sometimes eating them. This program takes place over the course of 60 days. Kaibiles also benefited from cross-training with U.S. special forces and were funded by the U.S. government, to a sum of some $20 million despite American awareness of the human rights violations taking place in Guatemala.

During the Guatemalan Civil War, the Kaibiles carried out such notorious acts as the December 6, 1982 Dos Erres Massacre. In retaliation for an attack carried out by guerrilla forces that left Guatemalan soldiers dead, the Kaibiles dressed up as the guerrillas and entered the village of Dos Erres, where they proceeded to search the area for evidence of guerrilla activity. Although it became clear that the locals were not guerrilla sympathizers, the Kaibiles commenced an appalling massacre that left more than 200 civilians dead—including women, children, and babies. The violence included sexual assault and other forms of torture and carried over two days until December 8. As of 2012, only five Kaibiles have been brought to justice for the Dos Erres Massacre.

Since the end of the Guatemalan Civil War, the Kaibiles continue to exist as a special forces unit that trains with other special forces units around the world. Kaibiles have been trained at the former School of the Americas and other U.S.-funded defense institutions. Internationally, the Kaibiles participated in UN peacekeeping efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and they fought in a 2006 failed effort to capture a commander of the Ugandan LRA.

They continue to be used to evict Indigenous and peasant communities from their land, and are in theory employed by the Guatemalan government to combat organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism. However, many former Kaibiles have lent their services to the Los Zetas cartel in Mexico, and those ex-Kaibiles apprehended have been charged for drug trafficking-related massacres in northern Guatemala.

Weapons

FN MAG 58 GPMG (no this isn't an accidental duplication, the Kaibiles use it too)

FN MAG.jpg

  • Cartridge: 7.62x51mm NATO
  • Action: Gas-operated long-stroke piston, open bolt
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,756 feet per second (840 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 800 m bipod, 1,800 m tripod
  • Rate of Fire: 650-1,000 rounds per minute
  • Feed System: 200-round disintegrating M13 linked belt
  • Weight: 26.01 lbs (11.8 kg)
  • Barrel Length: 24.8 in. (630 mm)

Galil

Galil.jpg

  • Cartridge: 5.56x45mm NATO
  • Action: Gas-operated, rotating bolt
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,953 feet per second (900 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 300-500 m
  • Rate of Fire: 650 rounds per minute
  • Feed System: 30-round detachable STANAG magazine
  • Weight: 8.27 lbs (3.75 kg)
  • Barrel Length: 13.1 in. (332 mm)

Uzi

Uzi.jpg

  • Cartridge: 9x19mm Parabellum
  • Action: Blowback-operated, open bolt
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,300 feet per second (400 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 200 m
  • Feed System: 32-round detachable box m agazine
  • Rate of Fire: 600 rounds per minute
  • Weight: 7.72 lbs. (3.5 kg)
  • Barrel Length: 10.2 in. (260 mm)

Beretta M9

Beretta M9.jpg

  • Cartridge: 9x19mm Parabellum
  • Action: Short recoil
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,250 feet per second (381 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 50 m, maximum range 100 m
  • Feed System: 15-round detachable box magazine
  • Weight: 2.1 lbs. (0.95 kg) unloaded
  • Barrel Length: 4.9 in. (125 mm)

M79 Grenade Launcher

M79.jpg

  • Cartridge: 40x46 mm grenade
  • Action: Break-action
  • Rate of Fire: 6 rounds/minute
  • Muzzle Velocity: 247 feet per second (76 meters per second)
  • Effective Range: 350 m (maximum range 400 m)
  • Weight: 6.45 lbs. (2.93 kg)
  • Feed System: Breech-loaded

X-Factors

Both groups underwent training that brutalized recruits in an attempt to harden them and prepare them for the rigors of special forces operations. The Selous Scouts seem to have had a slightly shorter program, but their experience seems to have prepared them more for covert operations behind enemy lines, as evidenced by their successes in operations like Long John and Eland. The Kaibiles' training certainly seems to have focused a lot more on hardening the recruits—not even the Selous Scouts had to kill puppies and bite the heads off of live chickens. The Kaibiles also benefited from cross-training with U.S. special forces, something not possible for a Rhodesia surrounded by neighboring states that housed the guerrilla forces against which the Scouts and their allies fought. The Kaibiles fought in the Guatemalan Civil War, where they conducted the Dos Erres Massacre (and countless other atrocities). In short, the Selous Scouts were trained more to adapt to guerrilla tactics and adopt/coopt them to use them against the guerrillas, whereas the Kaibiles seem to be a more "conventional" counterinsurgency force.

The Selous Scouts fought for a white supremacist ethnostate in the Rhodesian Bush War, and their tactics included things like dressing in blackface and imitating their enemies' speech patterns in an attempt to "blend in" before attacking. The Kaibiles similarly fought for a genocidal dictatorship during the Guatemalan Civil War, although since the war's termination, many ex-Kaibiles have lent their services to Mexican drug cartels. As far as their training is concerned, both groups have sufficient exposure to indoctrination and brutal discipline. The difference is that the Selous Scouts were dissolved after Rhodesia ceased to be a state, whereas the Kaibiles continue to exist nowadays as a contemporary special forces unit.​

The Kaibiles have a substantial advantage since they received funding, training, and equipment from the United States and Israel. As was mentioned above in the training and experience X-Factor, the Selous Scouts and Rhodesia were geographically isolated and relied on arms from South Africa, as well as captured equipment from hostile guerrilla forces. The Selous Scouts tended to operate behind enemy lines anyway, so they may well have traveled lightly in the first place, mitigating the logistical disadvantage they have relative to the Kaibiles.

The Selous Scouts focus on clandestine operations that imitate guerrilla activities. This frequently crosses the line into outright terrorism, such as bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings. Wen it comes to actual combat operations, the Scouts harrassed opposing forces with disguises, moving quickly through checkpoints before guards could pay attention to particulars of uniforms and equipment, and making use of ambushes and hit-and-run tactics to wreak havoc behind the front lines. The Kaibiles, alternately, focus heavily on jungle warfare and counterinsurgency tactics. They, too, employed disguises during the Dos Erres Massacre, and received detailed counterinsurgency programs during training in places like the School of the Americas.

This is a somber comparison between two groups that excel in this category. The Selous Scouts routinely beat and tortured those prisoners who they did not "turn," and utilized terrorist attacks as a strategy to intimidate guerrillas and even pin the blame on the very victims of said attacks. Look up the photographs taken by J. Ross Baughman if you want to see what the brutality of the Selous Scouts looked like (these images can be rather graphic). The Kaibiles were no less brutal, not only in their training that demanded the killing of puppies, but also during episodes like the Dos Erres Massacre, where the Kaibiles murdered infants, children, women, and old people (more details on this massacre can be found online too, but I don't want to reproduce the specific gory details on this site because, honestly, I don't want to trivialize the massacre). Suffice it to say that both groups really push the boundaries in terms of wartime brutality and it's really shocking.

Battle

Waiting for Home

1. Papi's Box of Memories

Francisco Sacul squinted out through the sunny window into the yard of his Sun City, Arizona retirement-home condo, out at his grandkids running around over the stones and around the bushes, shrieking with laughter. Normally his neighbors—retirees a good couple of decades older than the 59-year-old Guatemalan immigrant—would have stuck frustrated, sneering noses out from behind tightly-drawn shutter blinds, outraged that the carefully-manicured tranquility of their retirement community would be disrupted by rambunctious children. But it was in the middle of August, and a good half of those residents were out of state, seasonal inhabitants, the so-called snowbirds who dodged the inhospitable snowy winters of their east coast home states, only to return in time to avoid the punishing Arizona summer sun.

Not that Francisco ever really minded, anyway—the sounds of the kids or the heat. He was used to both, and in fact he was quite happy to give his grandchildren the time of day that the other adults in the family didn’t. He was the kind of man who felt deeply and thought deeply, but not pretentiously, so that the kids naturally flocked to him with their own burgeoning curiosities. It was a crop he was proud to cultivate, guided by his gentle, firm hand that still trembled occasionally because of the injuries he’d suffered back in his younger days, back during the war in Guatemala.

The civil war was something he had pushed from his mind as best he could, as fully as possible, so that he could devote his energies and commit the full labor of his love for his family. Especially for his grandchildren. “Cariño, here’s your coffee.” Carmen, his wife, interrupted his thoughts as she leaned forward and set down a cup on the table. Nobody ever guessed that she was Guatemalan—with her pale skin and her blond hair and green eyes—a stark contrast to his dark skin, black hair, and dark eyes that his neighbors glanced at with disdain, noting him as an outsider despite the fact that he had deliberately perfected his accent when he spoke English to avoid just that. “I’ll bring them in and get them ready for lunch.”

The door spilled open and in poured the grandkids, all five of them, their voices overlapping and clattering against the thin condo walls and into the little kitchen. “Chicos, chicos, settle down,” Francisco said with mock sternness. He winked at Carmen as the littlest ones bounced right through into the living room. “Felipa, go get your primos, would you?” Carmen asked the oldest, a normally quiet, studious, introspective girl with a love for books and especially history—who nonetheless was, at that moment, roaring with laughter alongside her younger siblings and cousins. Felipa nodded and disappeared into the living room, from where a cacophony of giggling burst forth.

“Okay, chicos, your abuelita has your sandwiches put on plates on the counter!” said Francisco. “This isn’t a restaurant, go and get the plates and sit down, now!”

“Papi, I can’t reach!” protested four-year-old Pepito, pouting, looking up at the countertop where the promises of a full belly sat just beyond his wiggling fingertips.

“You know, when I was your age, we had to reach for our plates!” boomed Francisco in a mock roar, lunging forward and scooping up Pepito under the arms. “We had to reach to the skies for our food!” Pepito shrieked as his grandfather lifted him up, then leaned forward and grabbed a plate as Francisco held him within reach.

“Me next! Me next!” the smaller grandkids were suddenly back in the room, bouncing up and down in place, hollering at their bemused papi, looking like a sheepdog trying to figure out how to corral an especially recalcitrant flock.

Felipa’s question struggled to break through the younger kids’ clamor, but Francisco heard it the first time she asked. “Papi? Who’s this?”

She held an old, worn photo in her outstretched hand. Two young men sat side by side in a color photo that was faded by the years, no longer vibrant. They looked remarkably similar—the main difference was in the eyes. One had eyes that flashed like lightning, hardened like steel tempered under the fires of a volcano, an ixcanul, in the Indigenous tongue the young man had been brutally taught to forget rather than speak aloud. The other had eyes that twinkled with the patient humor and good-natured kindness of a summer morning, before the sun gets too hot and while the breeze still carries enough freshness to whistle with the brook that bubbled along the little town where he lived.

Francisco Sacul’s smile vanished from his face. The grandkids didn’t notice—except for Felipa, who took a half-step back, worried she had done something wrong—and Francisco set Pepito down, who hopped over to his abuelita and noisily demanded that she pick him up and seat him at the table with his sandwich, already sliced diagonally and with the crust carefully shaven off. Carmen didn’t notice at first, but when she turned she saw that Francisco’s hand was trembling something ferocious. “Papi?” repeated Felipa, her voice quivering.

“Where did you get this, mija?” he finally managed, his voice suddenly tired and with a heaviness that his grandchildren had never before heard. It was still kind, not filled with any manner of anger or blame for his granddaughter, whose shimmering eyes reflected his own pained gaze back upon himself.

“Carlitos and Yolanda found a box under the TV cabinet,” she said. “There were pictures and papers. I didn’t know if … maybe you knew who they were.”

Carmen put her hand on Francisco’s shoulder as she strode past him, gently taking the photograph from Felipa’s still-outstretched grasp. She pressed it into Francisco’s chest, and he regained control of his hand enough to reach up and take it. He looked down at it—at the photograph he had buried in that box under the TV that he never really watched except for when the grandkids were over—cartoons, always cartoons—at that faded and delicate piece of glossy paper with the dog-eared corner.

“Well, mija,” he answered, searching deep within himself for the resolve to follow through with the story, to keep his voice from cracking. “That’s Pacho and Pancho.”

2. Days of War

TBC

Expert's Opinion

To be determined.

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