Special Operations and the Hunt for Osama Bin Laden

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

The always interesting Bill Gertz at the Washington Times has the scoop on a hot debate between the intelligence community and DoD on the use of Special Operations inside Pakistan to kill or capture OBL.

Defense officials are criticizing what they say is the failure to capture or kill top al Qaeda leaders because of timidity on the part of policy officials in the Pentagon, diplomats at the State Department and risk-averse bureaucrats within the intelligence community.

Military special operations forces (SOF) commandos are frustrated by the lack of aggressiveness on the part of several policy and intelligence leaders in pursuing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his top henchmen, who are thought to have hidden inside the tribal areas of Pakistan for the past 6½ years.

The focus of the commandos’ ire, the officials say, is the failure to set up bases inside Pakistan’s tribal region, where al Qaeda has regrouped in recent months, setting up training camps where among those being trained are Western-looking terrorists who can pass more easily through security systems. The lawless border region inside Pakistan along the Afghan border remains off-limits to U.S. troops.

The officials say that was not always the case. For a short time, U.S. special operations forces went into the area in 2002 and 2003, when secret Army Delta Force and Navy SEALs worked with Pakistani security forces.

That effort was halted under Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, who recently blamed Pakistan for opposing the joint operations. Mr. Armitage, however, also disclosed his diplomatic opposition to the commando operations. Mr. Armitage, an adviser to Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain, told the New York Times last month that the United States feared pressuring Pakistani leaders for commando access and that the Delta Force and SEALs in the tribal region were “pushing them almost to the breaking point” …

Another major setback for aggressive special operations activities occurred recently with a decision to downgrade the U.S. Special Operations Command. Under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the command in 2004 began to shift its focus from support and training to becoming a front-line command in the covert war to capture and kill terrorists. In May, SOCOM, as the command is called, reverted to its previous coordination and training role, a change that also frustrated many SOF commandos.

Critics in the Pentagon of the failure to more aggressively use the 50,000-strong SOF force say it also is the result of a bias by intelligence officials against special forces, including Pentagon policy-makers such as former CIA officer Michael Vickers, currently assistant defense secretary for special operations; former CIA officer Mary Beth Long, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs; and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a former CIA director.

There’s more at the link, but the gist of the argument is captured above.  More than a little daydreaming of daring-do invades this notion of the use of special operations to perform the hard activities.  It’s a nice notion, this dream of more training in explosives, airborne qualifications and language making soldiers into supermen and capable of leaping borders and mountains in a single stride, but the fact is that the Pashtun are opposed to the global war on terror, and upon questioning, it has now been learned that the majority of Pakistani soldiers in the NWFP are in favor of the Taliban and believe that they are in a wrong war with them.

The Pakistanis don’t want combination bases with U.S., be they special operations or otherwise.  Any known special operations presence inside the tribal region would be an open invitation to mortar fire and the unnecessary death of all of the special operators caught without the proper force protection, and this — very soon after discovery.

The Small Wars Manual makes no mention of the use of special or black operations (although it does incorporate the use of distributed operations with as small as squad-size units connected to larger forces), but focuses more on known presence and contact with both the population and the enemy, as the Marines have done in the Helmand Province.

The reflexive turning to black operations and surreptitious engagements to remove high value targets is an artifact of the failed Rumsfeld paradigm for Afghanistan.  High value targets, according to the Small Wars Manual which makes little mention of such a thing, are not so high value after all.

The proper use of special operators has to do with the conduct of operations and operations support which requires different and specialized training (such as language, airborne qualifications, training of indigenous fighters, reconnaissance, and so forth).  There is no replacement for the conduct of counterinsurgency, not even special operations.  Afghanistan is the place to start for the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban.  After Pakistan senses commitment to the campaign, their disposition towards U.S. troops on Pakistani soil will change.

  • Warbucks

    Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw in the 1973 movie, The Sting: DoD plays Paul Newman, Pakistan plays Robert Redford, and of course OBL plays bad guy Robert Shaw’s roles.

    The great theme music plays in the background. We are just about to the part where the bad guy, Robert Shaw’s character, Doyle Lonnegan, our OBL character, says to our young hero, (the western alliance leaning remnants of modernization in Pakistan cobbled together by President of Pakistan, Perez Musharraf) “Your boss is quite a card player, Mr. Kelly, how does he do it?” … the “boss” of course is DoD, our far seeing, orchestrator, main character, Paul Newman, embodies the wisdom of the ages in warfare.

    The famous response: “He cheats” …. Followed by more music, end of scene.

    Note to DoD:

    Let’s play the final scene guys. The country needs closure.

    Warbucks

  • jbrookins

    Just a note. Special Operations and Counterinsurgency are not the same. Special Forces maybe.


You are currently reading "Special Operations and the Hunt for Osama Bin Laden", entry #1191 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,al Qaeda,CIA,Department of Defense,Pakistan and was published July 10th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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