Archive for the 'Special Forces' Category



Reigning in SOF in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

From The New York Times:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has brought most American Special Operations forces under his direct control for the first time, out of concern over continued civilian casualties and disorganization among units in the field.

“What happens is, sometimes at cross-purposes, you got one hand doing one thing and one hand doing the other, both trying to do the right thing but working without a good outcome,” General McChrystal said in an interview.

Critics, including Afghan officials, human rights workers and some field commanders of conventional American forces, say that Special Operations forces have been responsible for a large number of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan and operate by their own rules.

Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi, the chief spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said that General McChrystal had told Afghan officials he was taking the action because of concern that some American units were not following his orders to make limiting civilian casualties a paramount objective.

“These special forces were not accountable to anyone in the country, but General McChrystal and we carried the burden of the guilt for the mistakes they committed,” he said. “Whenever there was some problem with the special forces we didn’t know who to go to, it was muddled and unclear who was in charge.”

Spencer Ackerman seems to support McChrystal’s consolidation of forces into one chain of command because of the need to protect the population as the center of gravity of the campaign.  I do not.  To be clear, I do not support the consolidation of forces into one chain of command for the reason that the population is the center of gravity (see Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN).  I do indeed support the consolidation of forces.

Ending the silly high value target campaign (capturing mid-level Taliban commanders, only to release them 96 hours later) won’t end unintended noncombatant casualties.  The attempt to completely end noncombatant casualties has already contributed to unnecessary deaths of U.S. troops.  I support the consolidation of forces because SOF shouldn’t be operating out of the chain of command.  If there is a direct action raid and a father or a son is killed in the middle of the night, the infantry (or those attached to the infantry, i.e., SOF) should have done it, under the direction of the immediate chain of command, and they should all be present the next morning to explain to the village why it happened.  If you don’t harbor insurgents, this won’t happen.  There is nothing like a little time with the villagers by those who did the killing … expending effort policing, teaching and admonishing.

Prior:

Abolish SOCOM

The Cult of Special Forces

Abolish SOCOM

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

Regular readers already know my history regarding special forces (and read here also special operations forces).  While on the one hand advocating specialized billets for certain forces that would  be too expensive to establish across the board, I have also strongly advocated against the reliance on SOF as direct action troops while relegating GPF (general purpose forces) to counterinsurgency efforts and policing the population.

SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred.  It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF.

Furthermore, it misses the point of why SF were created.  Finally, it allows the degradation of the qualifications and capabilities of GPF by rule, regulation and law.  To rehearse yet another sore spot, I have strongly opposed women in combat billets, and yet with the division of SOF to perform DA missions and GPF to perform COIN, it makes it easier to justify women in these billets, especially if they operate out of huge bases rather than from combat outposts.  The Army in the Korengal Valley has proven that GPF can do what is needed in terms of DA missions and other combat.  The Marines in the Helmand Province have also shown why only males are allowed in combat billets (with combat loads of 120+ pounds).

The Small Wars Journal has an interesting commentary on whether SOCOM has outlived its usefulness.  You can read the entire commentary at the SWJ, but a few comments are lifted out and given below.

… many outside the military establishment are enamored with the myth and romanticism of Special Operations. There are so many “groupies” among staffers and in academia that it is hard to see Special Operations for what it really is and what it has become. And within the military, Special Operations has been “hijacked” by a group of hyper-conventional Ranger types and other supporting elements that Special Operations and most important, its heart and soul – Special Forces – has lost its way …

USSOCOM has allowed itself to become dominated by the hyper-conventional side of SOF with domination by the so-called direct action forces to the detriment of Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations. The cultures of these two types of forces hinder effective cooperation and coordination. There is probably more disdain between the direct and indirect forces of SOF than there is between SOF and conventional forces.

The entire paper is worth the study time.  A comment made by MAJ Mike Dhunjishah is also telling:

As a former 7th SFG officer who has been away from group for several years, I find it interesting to talk to my contemporaries who, upon returning to group, find that SF has indeed “lost its way.” I’m not sure who is to blame, but it seems as if Army SF is focused on DA at the expense of UW. After 9/11, Army SF filled a void that General Purpose Forces (GPF) could not regarding DA missions. However, now, 8 years later, the GPF have developed the capability to do all but the most complicated DA missions. Therefore, it is time for SF to do what SF was created to do; conduct missions that the GPF cannot. We need to refocus on the hard stuff, read UW, before we lose our institutional knowledge. Great article on some of the hard questions Army SF and the Special Operations community in general needs to address.

Finally, as one pictorial depiction of just what is being said, see this photo taken from Foreign Policy.

SOF_Beards

I’ll let you read Foreign Policy’s take on why this bearded SOF is not good for the campaign.  But take note of what has happened.  This special operator no longer looks anything like any of the Afghanis, even if he is SF and not SOF.  If he is SOF performing direction action operations along with other SOF operators, then with the backwards ball cap, sleeveless shirt and lack of a uniform, he simply looks like an undisciplined thug.  Nothing more.  He doesn’t need to look like he does.  He has no compelling reason to appear thuggish and silly.

Again to the position that I have pressed: just like Force Recon Marines, attach all SOF to infantry (and Force Recon has no business with SOCOM, as they are simply another Marine billet attached to infantry).  If an infantry unit needs a specialized billet, then train to that billet.  Rely on GPF to perform most if not all DA missions, and this reliance will shape the force.  It’s time to end the absurdity that has become SOCOM.  If you want the romantic notion of direct action SOF operators who perform missions like those that can be found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (air support from the AC-130), then train a few operators to do this.  It’s still better to make this capability more widely distributed rather than less, and to attach these troopers to infantry.

Prior:

The Cult of Special Forces

Special Operations Forces Navel Gazing

Fathers and Sons, Diamonds and Goats

Special Forces category

Fallujah, Navy SEALs and Effeminate Crying

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

Remember this?

Blackwater_Fallujah

Right.  Four Blackwater employees dead (two strung up at the the green  bridge at Fallujah over the Euphrates River).  It was instigated by a terrorist named Ahmed Hashim Abed.  Several Navy SEALs captured him, and Abed came away from the experience with a busted lip.  Now three Navy SEALs are under charges.

Navy SEALs have secretly captured one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq — the alleged mastermind of the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah in 2004. And three of the SEALs who captured him are now facing criminal charges, sources told FoxNews.com.

The three, all members of the Navy’s elite commando unit, have refused non-judicial punishment — called a captain’s mast — and have requested a trial by court-martial.

Ahmed Hashim Abed, whom the military code-named “Objective Amber,” told investigators he was punched by his captors — and he had the bloody lip to prove it.

Now, instead of being lauded for bringing to justice a high-value target, three of the SEAL commandos, all enlisted, face assault charges and have retained lawyers.

Matthew McCabe, a Special Operations Petty Officer Second Class (SO-2), is facing three charges: dereliction of performance of duty for willfully failing to safeguard a detainee, making a false official statement, and assault.

Petty Officer Jonathan Keefe, SO-2, is facing charges of dereliction of performance of duty and making a false official statement.

Petty Officer Julio Huertas, SO-1, faces those same charges and an additional charge of impediment of an investigation.

Neal Puckett, an attorney representing McCabe, told Fox News the SEALs are being charged for allegedly giving the detainee a “punch in the gut.”

“I don’t know how they’re going to bring this detainee to the United States and give us our constitutional right to confrontation in the courtroom,” Puckett said. “But again, we have terrorists getting their constitutional rights in New York City, but I suspect that they’re going to deny these SEALs their right to confrontation in a military courtroom in Virginia.”

The three SEALs will be arraigned separately on Dec. 7. Another three SEALs — two officers and an enlisted sailor — have been identified by investigators as witnesses but have not been charged.

FoxNews.com obtained the official handwritten statement from one of the three witnesses given on Sept. 3, hours after Abed was captured and still being held at the SEAL base at Camp Baharia. He was later taken to a cell in the U.S.-operated Green Zone in Baghdad.

The SEAL told investigators he had showered after the mission, gone to the kitchen and then decided to look in on the detainee.

“I gave the detainee a glance over and then left,” the SEAL wrote. “I did not notice anything wrong with the detainee and he appeared in good health.”

Lt. Col. Holly Silkman, spokeswoman for the special operations component of U.S. Central Command, confirmed Tuesday to FoxNews.com that three SEALs have been charged in connection with the capture of a detainee. She said their court martial is scheduled for January.

United States Central Command declined to discuss the detainee, but a legal source told FoxNews.com that the detainee was turned over to Iraqi authorities, to whom he made the abuse complaints. He was then returned to American custody. The SEAL leader reported the charge up the chain of command, and an investigation ensued.

The source said intelligence briefings provided to the SEALs stated that “Objective Amber” planned the 2004 Fallujah ambush, and “they had been tracking this guy for some time.”

The Fallujah atrocity came to symbolize the brutality of the enemy in Iraq and the degree to which a homegrown insurgency was extending its grip over Iraq.

The four Blackwater agents were transporting supplies for a catering company when they were ambushed and killed by gunfire and grenades. Insurgents burned the bodies and dragged them through the city. They hanged two of the bodies on a bridge over the Euphrates River for the world press to photograph.

Intelligence sources identified Abed as the ringleader, but he had evaded capture until September.

A punch in the gut, a busted lip, so on, and so forth.  Things that happen in America every day during High School football practice, gym class during wrestling instruction, brothers fighting each other at home, and U.S. Marine Corps hazing of boots.

I simply cannot help but be struck at how effeminate and muliebrous this has become.  Does some lawyer-mommy want to take care of poor little Ahmed?  Did he get roughed up playing with the big boys?  Surely the enemy scoffs and mocks us.  We should be embarrassed even to ask the SEALs about something like this.  CENTCOM should be ashamed.  SOCOM should be ashamed.  It shows once again that we want to lawyer our engagements instead of win them and that we hold lawyers in higher regard than we do warriors.  This is what we have become.  We have lost the horror of 9/11, and this is the surest way to bring it back.

Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed To Get Bin Laden

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has published a report entitled Tora Bora: How We Failed To Get Bin Laden and Why it Matters Today.  I didn’t read much of it, but let’s rehearse a bit of the executive summary.

Bin Laden expected to die. His last will and testament, written on December 14, reflected his fatalism. ‘‘Allah commended to us that when death approaches any of us that we make a bequest to parents and next of kin and to Muslims as a whole,’’ he wrote, according to a copy of the will that surfaced later and is regarded as authentic. ‘‘Allah bears witness that the love of jihad and death in the cause of Allah has dominated my life and the verses of the sword permeated every cell in my heart, ‘and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together.’ How many times did I wake up to find myself reciting this holy verse!’’ He instructed his wives not to remarry and apologized to his children for devoting himself to jihad.

But the Al Qaeda leader would live to fight another day. Fewer than 100 American commandos were on the scene with their Afghan allies and calls for reinforcements to launch an assault were rejected. Requests were also turned down for U.S. troops to block the mountain paths leading to sanctuary a few miles away in Pakistan. The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines. Instead, the U.S. command chose to rely on airstrikes and untrained Afghan militias to attack bin Laden and on Pakistan’s loosely organized Frontier Corps to seal his escape routes. On or around December 16, two days after writing his will, bin Laden and an entourage of bodyguards walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan’s unregulated tribal area. Most analysts say he is still there today.

The decision not to deploy American forces to go after bin Laden or block his escape was made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, the architects of the unconventional Afghan battle plan known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Rumsfeld said at the time that he was concerned that too many U.S. troops in Afghanistan would create an anti-American backlash and fuel a widespread insurgency. Reversing the recent American military orthodoxy known as the Powell doctrine, the Afghan model emphasized minimizing the U.S. presence by relying on small, highly mobile teams of special operations troops and CIA paramilitary operatives working with the Afghan opposition. Even when his own commanders and senior intelligence officials in Afghanistan and Washington argued for dispatching more U.S. troops, Franks refused to deviate from the plan. There were enough U.S. troops in or near Afghanistan to execute the classic sweep-and-block maneuver required to attack bin Laden and try to prevent his escape. It would have been a dangerous fight across treacherous terrain, and the injection of more U.S. troops and the resulting casualties would have contradicted the risk-averse, ‘‘light footprint’’ model formulated by Rumsfeld and Franks.

But commanders on the scene and elsewhere in Afghanistan argued that the risks were worth the reward. After bin Laden’s escape, some military and intelligence analysts and the press criticized the Pentagon’s failure to mount a full-scale attack despite the tough rhetoric by President Bush. Franks, Vice President Dick Cheney and others defended the decision, arguing that the intelligence was inconclusive about the Al Qaeda leader’s location. But the review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants underlying this report removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora.

This has limited usefulness because I already said it.

Air Force special operators with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives making shady deals with halfway reliable (or all the way unreliable) allies, Delta Force operators in the background, gizmos, gadgets and thingamajigs, tribal elements in the foreground, minute-by-minute radio communications on the whereabouts of UBL, and cloak-and-dagger secrecy after the fact … it all makes for interesting television, civilian amazement, and even more honest books about the abject failure of the Rumsfeld strategy in Afghanistan.

Marines are always in ready reserve, and if their forces needed supplementing, the 82nd or 101st Airborne should have been able to respond to the need of the moment. There is absolutely no replacement for infantry, and in this case, terrain control, interdiction and authority over transit was the solution to the problem. Infantry could have provided this, special forces could not. We let UBL escape, and it was not the fault of special forces. It was Rumsfeld’s fault. It was a strategic blunder.

It isn’t a reflection on their specialized billets, their capabilities or their commitment. It’s a function of force projection. Special forces cannot supply the force projection necessary to win counterinsurgencies. Only infantry can do this. This is what we learn when we put aside the sophomoric posturing over who’s special and who isn’t.

To be sure, the capture or killing of Bin Laden wouldn’t even have come close to ending the transnational insurgency called Islamic Jihad, but at least as regards Bin Laden, to the extent to which the Senate findings comport with our own, they are correct.

Counterinsurgency, Brutality and Women in Combat

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 11 months ago

Generally I think that articles which rely on the ideas of other bloggers is to be avoided.  Occasionally however, it is appropriate to respond to critics.  One strength of blogging is the ability to link, criticize, interact, and respond.  I accept that although I don’t want it to dominate my prose.

Now for Gulliver at Ink Spots.

People will use just about anything as evidence for things they already believe.

Case in point: Herschel Smith thinks that the presence of women in Soviet combat formations is one of the top five most important reasons for their failure in Afghanistan.

I think that other things were essential to the loss, including [a] focus on the cities v. the countryside, [b] complete breakdown of the lines of logistics due to [a] above, [c] heavy losses because of Taliban control over the roads due to [a] above, [d] focus on mounted combat and mounted patrols as opposed to dismounted operations, [e] women in combat billets which led to a high number of lower extremity injuries and a high number of combat ineffective units, and a whole host of other things. [emphasis mine]

This comes in the SWJ comment thread about an article on “Sri Lanka’s disconcerting COIN strategy,” as part of a post in which Smith dismisses Soviet “ruthlessness” as one of the primary reasons for defeat in the Afghan war.

So in short, girls in the infantry were more damaging to the Russian war effort than bad counterinsurgency tactics. “There is the thing of testosterone, and it’s different because God made it that way.” Ok? Ok. Glad we cleared that one up.

Let’s think carefully about both my comment and Gulliver’s reaction to it.  Both say something about the commenters and their thought boundaries.  The comment was left at the Small Wars Journal blog in response to an article by Major Niel Smith.  If I may be allowed to summarize the thesis, he posits that the more violent and less population centric counterinsurgency model has its supporters.  He specifically mentions Ralph Peters and Colonel Gian Gentile; I’m not sure sure about Ralph Peters, but I would comment that the inclusion of Colonel Gentile in this category is true to some extent, but somewhat inappropriate given the nuance included in Gentile’s model and also given the use made of this inclusion (for one of the best discussions of Gentile’s position, see The Imperative for an American General Purpose Army That Can Fight, Foreign Policy Research Institute).  His (Niel Smith’s) discussion ranges into the brutality of less population centric counterinsurgency, and in this he should have (in my opinion) focused more on Edward Luttwak.

But getting back to the main point, Niel goes on to grant the assumption that some of the evidence is compelling in favor of this view, but that there is even more compelling contrary evidence – defeater evidence – for the success rate of counterinsurgency focused on heavier combat tactics.  At this point he uses several examples, one of which is the Russian campaign in Afghanistan.

So Niel has written a fairly open minded article positing that there is evidence to support what I will call the Luttwak position, while more compelling defeater evidence.  He then invites critique.  In my critique I didn’t weigh in on the overall thesis, but did essentially state that the Russian campaign was a poor example to support the thesis.  I opined that there were other more important reasons that the Russians lost the campaign.

Enter Gulliver.  He thinks that I have listed my top five reasons that the Russian campaign failed.  Why Gulliver thinks that I have listed my top five reasons is not known.  Gulliver would have to answer that question himself.  If I had been asked to list my top reasons that the Russian campaign failed, I probably would lead with focus on the population centers and relegation of the countryside to the Taliban to recruit, train and raise support.  In second place wouldn’t be U.S. help and assistance, although many would place this one in first or second.  My second reason (challenging for top spot) would be the existence of the Russian made RPG, plentiful to the Taliban for reasons that included U.S. help.  The Russian RPG was the first EFP (explosively formed projectile) used en mass on the battle field.

But no one asked me to enumerate my top five reasons the campaign failed.  I merely included a list of things that initially came to mind.  Let’s deal with women in combat now.  Gulliver’s response drips with sarcasm even after his incorrect assumptions concerning my list of reasons that the Russians lost.  But it remains undisputed that there were women in combat billets in the Russian campaign, and it remains undisputed that there were a large number of lower extremity injuries and that this led to a large number of ineffective units.

Marine in Helmand suffering under a heavy combat load, way more than 100 pounds.

But there is more to discuss on this issue.  As regular readers know, we have followed the dismounted campaign by the U.S. Marines in the Helmand Province.  CBS reporter Lara Logan has seen the Marines in Helmand without an ounce of fat on their bodies, and she has even expressed concern over their health.  When my son deployed to Fallujah he was so slim and muscular that I wondered how he would lose any weight whatsoever, as there was no weight to lose.  The only way he lost 20 or 30 pounds was the same way the Marines in Helmand do it.  The body turns on itself and begins eating muscle for energy.  I am a weight lifter and I know how to avoid this, i.e., I know when to stop my workout because I am no longer helping my body.  It’s actually dangerous, although Ms. Logan doesn’t know how to express it.  The body hurts itself when it begins using muscle and internal organs for energy.

Here is a test question.  We have discussed the Marines carrying 120 pounds on their back in 120 F heat in Helmand, patrolling all day and even conducting squad rushes with this weight.  Now for the question for the readers.  How many of you – raise your hands now – believe that women could carry 120 pounds in 120 F heat all day in Helmand and then conduct squad rushes?  You can answer in the comments – it’s okay.  But if you answer yes, you are also required to tell us what kind of dope you’ve been smoking.  You see, we all know what the honest answer to this question is, even if Gulliver doesn’t admit that he does.

Now let’s close with a little examination of what the Democrats think about special forces, special operations forces, and women in combat billets.  I support women in the military, and one example of such a role would be the use of female Marines to interact with Afghan women after terrain has been seized.  But the Democrats in Congress ( hereafter Dems) wanted something different for the Army.  Hence, women occupy combat billets in the Army.

The Dems want their social experiments and projects, but even they know that there has to be a boundary for this.  Michael Fumento has a good article on the Dems’ love of SF and SOF and their promise to expand the SF.  I have weighed in on the cult of Special Forces, so I won’t reiterate my issues with the Dems’ proposal or Michael Fumento’s prose here.

The point is that SF are deployed all over the globe.  They are involved in black operations that are never seen, never heard of, and are not subject to the Dems’ social experiments.  The Dems know this and they want it that way.  Women are not allowed in combat billets, not in the Special Forces, not in the Special Operations Forces, and not in Marine infantry.  The Dems want their programs, but they also want to know that they can call on infantry to do the job of infantry, so they restrict their own programs to known boundaries.  I challenged those boundaries and believe that they should not allow women in Army infantry.  The Dems include women in Army infantry.  But they stop there.  Not the Marines, and not Army SF.

There you have it.  They are at the best simply not forthcoming, and at the worst, disingenuous liars.  The truth gets spoken in quiet circles when no one but the power brokers are listening.  The public hears what the power brokers want them to hear.  One piece of that tripe is that there is no difference between men and women in the military.  They know better, but don’t want you to know that they know.

Now back to Gulliver … if Gulliver has managed to hang on and pay attention this long.  Is it I who has allowed his bias (presuppositions) to dictate the outcome, or Gulliver?  Note again his comments above.  Gulliver is simply indignant that I have “dismissed” Soviet ruthlessness as the reason for their failure in the campaign.  But isn’t he begging the question?  Has he not even allowed the Niel Smith’s assumptions to dictate the course of the debate?  Niel has allowed that there is evidence that supports Luttwak’s thesis, but believes that there is stronger defeater evidence.  Gulliver doesn’t engage in the debate.  He simply assumes that the Soviets lost due to the reasons he outlines, and then proceeds from there.  Who then is the one who uses just about anything as evidence for things he already believes?

The reader can judge for himself.  In the mean time, I have given you Luttwak, Gentile, Niel Smith, women in combat billets, heavy combat loads, squad rushes, the Small Wars Journal blog, SF and SOF, black operations and the Dems in Congress to think about.

If I ever give you worthless tripe like you read at Ink Spots, you should savage me in the comments.

General McChrystal to go on Afghanistan Public Relations Offensive

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

Gareth Porter has penned a commentary in the Asia Times on several subjects.  It’s long and much of it not very worthwhile reading.  But it’s necessary to read it entirely in order to understand his mistaken calculus.

At his confirmation hearings as the new commander in Afghanistan two weeks ago, General Stanley McChrystal said reducing civilian deaths from air strikes in Afghanistan was “strategically decisive” and declared his “willingness to operate in ways that minimize casualties or damage, even when it makes our task more difficult”.

Some McChrystal supporters hope he will rein in the main source of civilian casualties: Special Operations Forces (SOF) units that carry out targeted strikes against suspected “Taliban” on the basis of doubtful intelligence and raids that require air strikes when they get into trouble.

But there are growing indications that his command is preparing to deal with the issue primarily by seeking to shift the blame to the Taliban through more and better propaganda operations and by using more high-tech drone intelligence aircraft to increase battlefield surveillance rather than by curbing the main direct cause of civilian casualties.

United States officials at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference in Brussels last Friday told reporters that “public relations” were now considered “crucial” to “turning the tide” in Afghanistan, according to an Agence-France Presse story on June 12.

Central Command chief General David Petraeus also referred to the importance of taking the propaganda offensive in a presentation to the pro-military think-tank the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on June 11. “When you’re dealing with the press,” he said, “when you’re dealing with the tribal leaders, when you’re dealing with host nations … you got to beat the bad guys to the headlines.”

The new emphasis on more aggressive public relations appears to respond to demands from US military commanders in Afghanistan to wrest control of the issue of civilian casualties from the Taliban. In a discussion of that issue at the same conference, General David Barno, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, said, “We’ve got to be careful about who controls the narrative on civilian casualties.”

United States military commanders in Afghanistan “see the enemy seeking to take air strikes off the table” by exaggerating civilian casualties, Barno said. He objected to making civilian casualties an indicator of success or failure, as a CNAS paper has recommended.

The US command in Afghanistan has already tried, in fact, to apply “information war” techniques in an effort to control the narrative on the issue. The command has argued both that the Taliban were responsible for the massive civilians casualties in a US air strike on May 4 that killed 147 civilians, including 90 women and children, and that the number of civilian deaths claimed has been vastly exaggerated, despite detailed evidence from village residents supporting the casualty figures.

Colonel Greg Julian, the command’s spokesman, said in late May that a “weapon-sight” video would show that the Taliban were to blame. However, Nancy A Youssef reported on June 15 in McClatchy newspapers that the video in question showed that no one had checked to see if women and children were in the building before it was bombed, according to two US military officials.

The Afghan government has highlighted the problem of SOF units carrying out raids that result in air strikes against civilian targets. Kai Eide, the chief of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, has now publicly supported that position, saying in a video conference call from Kabul to NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on June 12 that there is an “urgent need” to review raids by SOF units, because the civilian casualties being created have been “disproportionate to the military gains”.

But McChrystal hinted in his confirmation hearing that he hoped to reduce civilian casualties by obtaining more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. Petraeus confirmed that approach to the problem in remarks at the CNAS conference last week, announcing that he was planning to shift some high-tech intelligence vehicles from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Petraeus referred to “predators, armed full motion video with Hellfire missiles”, “special intelligence birds”, and unmanned intelligence vehicles called Shadows and Ravens, which fly 24 hours a day.

Although such intelligence aircraft may make US battlefield targeting more precise, Petraeus’ reference to drones equipped with Hellfire missiles suggests that US forces in Afghanistan may now rely more than previously on drone strikes against suspected Afghan insurgents. Given the severe lack of accurate intelligence on the identity of insurgent leaders, that would tend to increase civilian casualties.

Petraeus’ past reluctance to stop or dramatically reduce such SOF operations, despite the bad publicity surrounding them, suggests that high level intra-military politics are involved.

The Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MarSOC) has been involved in the most highly publicized cases of massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan. MarSOC was only established by the Marine Corps in February 2006 and the first company arrived in Afghanistan just a year later.

MarSOC was unable to recruit the more mature officers and troops needed for cross-cultural situations, and its recruits had only a few months of training before being sent to Afghanistan.

The unit’s commanding officer had been warned by one participant in the training before the unit had arrived in Afghanistan that his troops were too young and too oriented toward killing to serve in Afghanistan, according to Chris Mason, a former US official in Afghanistan familiar with the unit’s history.

In March 2007, a company of MarSOC troops which had only arrived in the country the previous month were accused of firing indiscriminately at pedestrians and cars as they sped away from a suicide bomb attack, killing as many as 19 Afghan civilians. Five days later the same unit reportedly fired on traffic again.

As a result, a powerful Pashtun tribe, the Shinwari, demanded to the governor of Nangahar province and Afghan President Hamid Karzai that US military operations in the province be terminated. Within a month, the 120-man MarSOC company was pulled out of Afghanistan.

Significantly, however, a new MarSOC unit was sent back to Afghanistan only a few weeks later, assigned to Herat province. Last August, a MarSOC unit launched an attack against a preplanned target in Azizabad that combined unmanned drones, attack helicopters and a Spectre gunship. More than 90 civilians were killed in the attack, including 60 children, but not a single Taliban fighter was killed, according to Afghan and UN officials.

Karzai said the operation had been triggered by false information given by the leader of a rival tribe, and no US official contradicted him.

When Petraeus took command at CENTCOM just a few weeks later, Afghans were still seething over the Azizabad massacre. That would have been the perfect time for him to take decisive action on MarSOC’s operations.

But Petraeus took no action on MarSOC. Meanwhile, other SOF units were continuing to carry out raids that did not get headlines but which regularly killed women and children, stirring more Afghan anger. Petraeus may have been confronted with the necessity of stopping all the operations if he wished to discipline MarSOC, which would have been too serious a blow to the reputation of US Special Operations Forces.

For two weeks, from mid-February to early March, the rate of SOF raids was reduced. But in early March, they were resumed, despite the near certainty that there would be more embarrassing incidents involving SOF operations. The worst case of massive civilian deaths in the war would come just two months later, and involved the MarSOC unit.

Analysis & Commentary

Right up front let’s deal with the issue of casualties caused by SOF raids – again.  The Captain’s Journal is generally opposed to high value target raids since an insurgency must be defeated from the bottom up rather than the top down.  The HVT campaign has been a remarkable failure, and should serve as a lesson in military doctrine and strategy classes for the foreseeable future.  We warned you years ago.

But this is not the same thing as saying that casualties – unintended casualties, counterproductive casualties – won’t occur regardless of the tactics being used.  Cessation of the SOF high value target campaign won’t end unintended casualties.  Either Porter’s argument is a non sequitur, or he knows this and he is simply being dishonest.  So he’s either stupid or a liar.

All one must do to understand that the limited force size requires other tactics to prevent U.S. forces from being overrun is read Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops (you won’t find this kind of analysis anywhere on the web, which is why it is still up as a featured article).  TCJ has opposed the separation of Force Recon into MARSOC, believing that it is better for the Corps in particular to keep them attached to infantry.  The same goes for Army SOF and Army infantry.  They should be re-attached.

But while we have been critical of SOF and their use, Porter is mistaken if he believes that we will turn on McChrystal and SOF when he charges McChrystal with dealing with the issue of civilian casualties “primarily by seeking to shift the blame to the Taliban through more and better propaganda operations and by using more high-tech drone intelligence aircraft to increase battlefield surveillance rather than by curbing the main direct cause of civilian casualties.”

This is stupid, and in a single article Porter has penned a hit job on McChrystal, U.S. air power, U.S. special operations forces, and especially MARSOC (of which he knows absolutely nothing).  Frankly, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t appreciate it one bit.  Furthermore, his radical bias leads him to miss the point, a point that was well taken and which would have been a worthwhile article had he drawn this point out and done some investigative labor.  He started well.  It didn’t take him long to crash and burn.

The U.S. is poor when it comes to releasing information, even information that demonstrates that enemy propaganda is false.  It’s OPSEC, or it’s FOUO (for official use only), or it’s has to make its way through a hundred layers of approval to be released.  Meanwhile, the enemy has already released their talking points.

We lose.  Game over.  We must do better at releasing the right information, and we must do it quickly.  Time is of the essence.  This goes contrary to the bureaucracy inherent in the U.S. military, and it will be a hard change to bring to the institution.  Can McChrystal accomplish this?  Time will tell.  But Porter missed the chance at a good article because he is stolid.

Tired Narratives on Afghanistan: Holy Warriors, Militias and SOF

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

Jonathan Kay has been to a conference of “experts” on the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Here is the narrative.

I’ve spent the last two days at a conference in Freeport, Bahamas, sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, listening to dozens of specialists discuss the best way to pacify the Taliban-infested border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s been a humbling experience, as well as an educational one: I seemed to have been the only person on the speaking roster who hadn’t spent a good chunk of his or her life in south Asia. (Emphasis on “or her”: It surprised me how many women have adopted this remote, misogynistic corner of the globe as their focus of study.) Alongside the various ambassadors – current and former – there was a former police chief from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, a former CIA operative, and a variety of brand-name global terrorism experts. Other speakers had done in-depth reporting from the region for Western publications, or run grass-roots NGOs. Most of the attendees agreed that the Taliban was strong, and getting stronger — and not one offered a simple solution.

A basic problem, it emerged, is the sheer complexity of the military dynamic in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. While journalists often talk about the Taliban as if it were a single, unified force, there are in fact many Talibans.

On the highest level are the hard-core, mass-murdering jihadis — men whose cause is inseparable from that of al-Qaeda; who are intermarried into al-Qaeda, and have even adopted Arabic as their primary language. Everyone in the room agreed that ordinary politics means little to these men: Holy War is in their blood.

In the middle tier are the tribal militias, village-defense forces, drug gangs and other Taliban-of-convenience. These groups shift their allegiance around opportunistically depending on who seems to be winning at any given moment.

Finally comes the hapless foot soldiers — illiterate peasants paid by the month to tote a gun and go where they’re told.

Each group calls out for a different strategy. In the case of the dedicated jihadis, the only thing to be done is kill them — which means boots on the ground, special forces, and drones. The militias, by contrast, respond quickly to shifts in popular opinion, propaganda and outreach. And the low-level foot-soldiers can be lured away by jobs — which means economic projects and nation-building.

Who has taught them this narrative?  Where did they get it?  As for Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters have proven resilient despite repeated operations against them.  No turning to the right or to the left.  As for Afghanistan, the indigenous insurgency in the South has proven resilient enough that the U.S. Marines in Garmser had to kill some 400 of them before relative peace came to the city in what at times was described as full bore reloading (only to be lost later because the British couldn’t hold the area).

Where is this group of hard core holy warriors which is so small that drones and SOF can take them out, and the multitudinous groups of militia that turn on a dime to shifts in opinion (rather than extort monies and enforce Sharia at the point of a gun)?

The conference of “experts” is parroting wishful thinking rather than realities on the ground in Afghanistan, in which the U.S. Marines are having to engage in heavy combat in order to pacify an indigenous insurgency in the South.  There’s nothing like a conference of “experts” in a tropical getaway to make things interesting for us.  Unfortunately, it would have been better for them to have had the conference in Now Zad.

The more interesting and relevant narrative for us comes from the Strategy Page.  Note before we get to it that The Captain’s Journal called the interdiction of supplies through Khyber and Chaman before it was in vogue, called for engaging the Caucasus before Russia, called the campaign stalled (and even losing) in 2008 while General Rodriguez waxed on about how the U.S. was taking the fight to the Taliban.

Now finally, remember that we have called repeatedly (there are too many articles to link) for re-attachment of the SOF to the infantry, getting the infantry out of their FOBs into kinetics, classical counterinsurgency and population engagement, everywhere, all of the time with all resources.

Now to the Strategy Page.

Many in the Special Forces and regular forces have urged that there be more operations featuring closer cooperation and coordination between Special Forces and the more traditional combat troops. It’s expected that this will now be happening in Afghanistan.

In addition, Special Forces (and special operations troops in general) will get more resources. This is part of a trend, as commanders have found that efforts are more successful when Special Forces personnel are taking the point. This has led to some special operations troops getting special privileges, like wider authority to call in artillery fire and air strikes. Thus this “unleashing” of the Special Forces and other special ops units (SEALs and foreign commandos) will lead to some interesting situations.

They’re listening, and we’re partly there folks.  No special privileges though.  Re-attach them to infantry, just like Force Recon is attached to Marine infantry.  Just another billet to do specialized things.  The Army is dumbing down their expectations and taking the vast majority of their fighters out of the fight while also taking their SOF fighters out of the counterinsurgency operations.  Time to end that nonsense.  Get back to the basics.

Tim Lynch on FOB Gardez

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

After publishing A Half-Dozen Gargantuan Bases where we discussed the cloistering of Army troops on large FOBs in Afghanistan, we had reactions across the spectrum from Joshua Foust who believes that Philip Smucker’s piece exaggerated the risks in most areas of Afghanistan, to other contacts (active duty Army in Afghanistan) who responded that Smucker had gotten it exactly right.

Friend of The Captain’s Journal Tim Lynch of Free Range International provides a recent significant addition to this narrative.  For folks who get fumed at inter-service rivalries, you may stop reading now.  But a serious reading of Tim’s commentary shows that it isn’t about inter-service rivalries.  It’s about much more than that – institutional intransigence.

As I mentioned in my last post I do not really know what our mission in Afghanistan is. We are engaged in a counterinsurgency war but confine the troops to large FOB’s which directly contradicts our counterinsurgency doctrine. Our troops do not have sustained meaningful contact with local Afghans, cannot provide any real security to them, and due to Big Army casualty policies are forced to ride around in large multimillion dollar MRAP’s where they are subject to IED strikes which they cannot prevent because they do not control one meter of ground outside their FOBs …

While in the VIP barracks – a wooded B hut with my own little bed and table, I listened to the staff officers as they prepared to fly out to various other FOB’s to attend conferences of great import. One discussion I remember is an upcoming multi-day confab concerning “Water Shed Management.” Why the hell are we concerning ourselves with Afghan water shed management?  We have FOB’s sitting in important cities in which the main canals are full of garbage, human and animal waste, large protozoan parasites, and toxic sludge but instead of taking care of that simple problem we are conducting huge meetings on big box FOB’s with lots of senior officers about water shed management.  You know why? Because dozens of senior officers, Department of State flunkies, and US AID techno weenies can spend their entire tour preparing slides, looking at studies, conducting historical research, looking up old hands from the American heyday of public works projects in the Helmund Valley (back in the 50’s and 60’s) to produce a product which in the end is meaningless to the Afghans but shows “forward thinking” on behalf of the fobbits. They then can have multi-day super high speed presentations about water shed management without ever having to leave the FOB’s, deal with a real Afghan, or actually see, taste or feel any real water. It is virtual stability operations done by people who want to help but can’t so they do the next best thing which it to switch on the denial mechanism resident in us all and plow ahead on complex projects designed by complex people who are spending a virtual tour in Afghanistan …

His entire commentary is highly recommended, but now we come to the hard stuff.

You will not hear much about the Marines in the months ahead because they run counter to the preferred MSM narrative but the Afghans in the Helmund valley know who they are and they, according to our local sources (which are extensive in the region…The Boss was exporting fruit and cotton out of here back in 97 when the Taliban ruled and has more than a few reliable sources) the Afghans eagerly await the arrival of the Marines as they understand the Marines are here to stay. The Afghans in the Helmund like the Marines who they feel treat them with more respect than the other forces operating in the region. They also admire the tenacity of Marine infantry and their propensity to operate in small units while taking on large formation of Taliban. I have cited in previous posts examples from the mighty 3rd Battalion 8th Marines who had platoons numbering around 30 Marines attacking groups of Taliban numbering in the hundreds.  They beat on these thugs like a drum while sustaining zero causalities. Old Terry the Taliban doesn’t like fighting the Marines – he would rather throw acid on little girls or behead stoned ANP troops but that is the way it is going to be this summer.  They can run or they can die – there are no other options for the frigging cowards …

The number of enemy killed is meaningless – you have to kill the right guys – the bomb makers, foreign trainers, leaders, and money men. These are the “high value targets” (HVT’s) our tier one special ops guys go after in raids launched from afar based on suspect intelligence which more often results in the killing of innocent Afghans. The only way to separate HVT’s from the people is to be out in the districts with the people – no other method will work which is exactly what our counterinsurgency doctrine says should be done. There is only one large outfit in Afghanistan with the training, ability, attitude, courage and balls to do that – the United States Marine Corps. There are plenty of American Army and ISAF units who can do the same – again it is the institutions which are flawed not the individuals. But the Marines produce competent combat leaders who retain the hunger for the fight at the senior level. They also have the confidence in their small unit leaders to allow them to go outside the wire and stay there.

The Army SF teams, SEALS, SAS operators and small unit fighters from other lands who are as lethal and dedicated as the Marines all welcome the MEB.  They prefer Marine helicopter gunships – primitive though they are when compared to the Army Apache – because Marine pilots fly right into the teeth of dug in enemy to take them on at ridiculously low altitudes and at close ranges. An Army SF guy I talked with said that when his men were pinned down fighting for their lives it was a Marine Huey pilot who hovered right above them spraying mini-gun fire into the faces of the Taliban. Col Mellinger who is the operations officer for the 2nd MEB confirmed the story adding that the pilot took 3 AK rounds in the only place on the bird which would not bring it down – the self sealing fuel tanks. No stand off rocket shots for Marine pilots; they want to get close enough to shoot pistols at the Taliban. The various special operators out there now, preparing the battle space for the 2nd MEB  love Marine air… who wouldn’t?

Tim’s words folks, not mine.  There’s more than a little Oorah in Tim’s commentary, but coming from someone who is in theater and not constrained by hurting feelings, it’s meaningful to read confirmatory analysis.  At TCJ we have been highly critical of these tier one SOF raids that are launched from suspect intelligence and in reality accomplish very little of benefit.  It has been a constant theme, and re-attaching SOF to infantry, and then getting infantry off of the FOBs has been exactly our own counsel.

Note also that there is none of this “butterflies are beautiful and we love you so love us back” counterinsurgency doctrine from Tim.  Tim advocates killing Taliban, but making sure that it’s Taliban with the big T.  The only way to do this is to be amongst the people.

If you have heard it once here at TCJ, you have heard it a thousand times.  And now you’ve heard it from Tim Lynch.  Stop the ridiculous PowerPoint presentations.  Ban them.  Deploy to far flung areas and be amongst the people.  Kill Taliban.

General McChrystal Revamps SOF Efforts in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

We have been a critic of the specific use in which special operations forces have been employed in Afghanistan.  Just to rehearse two recent examples, in Lt. Gen. McChrystal Testifies we said:

TCJ had also hoped that General McChrystal would attach Army SOF to units in the field rather than use them on raids.  No such thing is on his mind, apparently.  Now, we have admitted before of our being nonplussed at this idea, this notion of SOF being the direct action kinetics troops, with so-called General Purpose troops being the defensive forces.  TCJ opposes this …

In A Half Dozen Gargantuan Bases, we said:

Even many of the Army SOF are base-bound except for their forays into the wild via helicopter rides to the next raid.  Some Army are doing it right (e.g., the Korangal Valley), as are the Marines in Helmand.  But the gargantuan bases are an obstacle to success in Afghanistan.  Empty them.  Send the Army on dismounted patrols, open vehicle patrol bases, smaller FOBs, and combat outposts.  Get amongst the people.

Regular readers of TCJ know that this is only a small sampling of our advocacy for re-attaching SOF to infantry as specialized billets.  Now comes developments in the area of use of SOF in Afghanistan.

McChrystal has asked two veteran special operators on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, which he directs, to accompany him to Afghanistan once he wins Senate approval for a fourth star. The two are Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, who headed intelligence for the chief terrorist hunting unit in Iraq; and Brig Gen. Austin Miller, a Joint Staff director for special operations.

Military sources say Brig. Gen. Ed Reeder, who commands special operations in Afghanistan, went in-country earlier this year to revamp the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force and other special operators conduct counter-insurgency.

Green Berets, the same group that led the 2001 ouster of the Taliban from power, now primarily work out of fire support bases, often independently of conventional forces. They fight to control the Taliban-infested border with Pakistan, and train the Afghan army.

Critics within special operations have said the A Teams need to work more closely with conventional forces and with NATO counterparts. “This would give us a needed one-two punch,” said a former operator who served in Afghanistan.

Recalling the ridiculous red tape in NATO’s Afghanistan, TCJ is in favor of returning this to as much of a U.S. operation as possible (including the British, by the way).  This isn’t to show disrespect to our NATO allies, but rather, to say that the effort must be led by the U.S.  But aside from that nuance (” … and with NATO counterparts”), we are certainly one of the critics of SOF.

Note that we aren’t critical of SF (Green Berets) being embedded with the Afghan Army anywhere.  With their language training, that’s there job.  We are indeed critical of SOF (Rangers, et. al.) being detached from infantry and the very counterinsurgency campaign that they should be supporting.  As we have said before, it is almost as bad an idea to separate SOF from the larger COIN campaign as it is to separate infantry from kinetics.

So TCJ nailed it, and we’ve been doing the fancy dancing.  Or did we, and should we?  How will this play out, and what will McChrystal do?  How will he use SOF?  Will this still be a HVT campaign to find and capture mid-level Taliban commanders, sending them to jail only to be set free and resume activities later, or will it become a real counterinsurgency campaign?  Time will tell, but this critic will continue to monitor the situation.

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Special Operations Forces Navel Gazing

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

In what might be the clearest tale to date about SOF narcissism over the Afghanistan high value target campaign, we see that the gaming goes nearly to the top in a recent report at the Army Times (hotel tango SWJ Blog).

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to deploy three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan by the summer has superseded a contentious debate that pitted the Bush administration’s “war czar” against the special operations hierarchy over a proposed near-term “surge” of spec ops forces to Afghanistan, a Pentagon military official said.

The National Security Council’s surge proposal, which grew out of its Afghan strategy review, recommended an increase of “about another battalion’s worth” of troops to the Combined and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, or CJSOTF-A, said a field-grade Special Forces officer, who added that this would enlarge the task force by about a third.

Several sources said that the “SOF surge” proposal originated with Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, the so-called “war czar” whose official title is assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation. The rationale behind deploying more special ops forces to Afghanistan was that any decision to deploy more conventional brigades to Afghanistan would take at least several months to implement, whereas special ops units could be sent much more quickly, the Special Forces officer said.

Not likely.  Afghanistan has been a SOF campaign from the beginning, and the lack of force projection and confused mission have led us to where we are.  It’s hard to believe that the power structure suddenly decided on a SOF surge, since SOF surging is what has been happening for seven years.  Furthermore, there is always CENTCOM ready reserve which is usually comprised of a MEU.  But continuing:

… the proposal sparked a fierce high-level debate, with special operations officers charging that Lute and his colleagues were trying to micromanage the movement of individual Special Forces A-teams from inside the Beltway, and countercharges that Special Forces has strayed from its traditional mission of raising and training indigenous forces and become too focused on direct-action missions to kill or capture enemies.

Most major special operations commands were opposed to the proposal, special operations sources said. The sources identified U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities, headed by Michael Vickers, as all resisting the initiative.

Special operations sources said that those opposing the “SOF surge” were generally against the idea on two grounds: that the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, has not requested them, and that the CJSOTF-A does not have enough “enablers” — such as helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets — to support the forces it has in-country now, let alone another battalion’s worth.

Strayed indeed.  Kinetic operations against high value targets – for whatever worth this has been – don’t require SOF.  It might be that there is something deeper here.   Lt. Gen. Lute certainly must know that Afghanistan cannot continue to be a SOF campaign against HVTs, and the SOF command must certainly know that the beast of Operation Enduring Freedom has grown far beyond what they are able to bear.  If it’s a question of who will break first and say these things, then such gamesmanship over serious military operations is loathsome and detestable.  But it gets even better (or worse).

The short supply of helicopters in Afghanistan has been a constant problem for conventional forces and CJSOTF-A, the “white,” or unclassified, task force in-country. Unlike the secretive, “black,” Joint Special Operations Command task force, which is directly supported by elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, “white” Special Forces groups do not have their own dedicated aviation units and have to compete for helicopter support with the rest of the U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. CJSOTF-A is commanded by a colonel, whereas the other organizations are all commanded by flag officers.

The Pentagon military official said that the planned deployment of an additional 20,000 conventional U.S. troops, including three brigade combat teams, to Afghanistan would also include a lot of “enablers” that the special operations forces could use.

The Pentagon plan includes more helicopters being sent to Afghanistan, as well as the possibility of a one-star special operations flag officer to command “white” SOF forces in country, which would obviate the need to have “O-6s arm wrestling with O-7s and O-9s,” he said.

More politics, and make sure to take notice of what SOF command sees as the mission for these additional “enablers.”  They would go to SOF (‘a lot of “enablers” that the special operations forces could use’).  Finally:

A field-grade officer in Washington who has been tracking the debate said that the “white” SOF leaders’ argument that their forces need more ISR assets and helicopters is a reflection of how Special Forces has veered from its traditional mission of “foreign internal defense” — training host nation forces to conduct counterinsurgency — in favor of the more glamorous direct-action missions.

The officer said Lute believes that special operations forces, particularly Special Forces, “are the right force” to send to Afghanistan because of their skills at teaching foreign internal defense.

This might explain the special operations hierarchy’s opposition to Lute’s surge proposal, the field grade-officer in Washington said. “This is an implicit criticism of what SOF has done for the last five years,” he said. “They haven’t been training indigenous forces. That may be what SOCOM is objecting to, is it’s implicitly a critique of SOF’s over-fascination with direct action.”

It has come full circle, from Lute’s belief that training some Afghan soldiers can solve the problem – or so says the source – to the potential that this proposition is a critique of the evolved SOF mission and a charade, to the campaign that has grown beyond anything that the SOF can possibly handle alone.

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know our position, and we believe that this political maneuvering is disgusting and despicable.  The SOF navel-gazing is embarrassing, and it’s time for both the SOF and the American public to graduate beyond the Rambo understanding of irregular warfare where a SOF operator or two is turned loose in the jungles or deserts and the whole world changes in a day or two because of the thousands of rounds discharged from his weapon.

Really.  This is the stuff of children, adolescents and un-reformable movie-goers.  Can’t we be more serious about our military strategy than this?  Afghanistan will require political and financial investment, force projection (Army and Marines), and – yes – SOF too.  SOF performs an invaluable role in small footprint international force projection, with their special skills in language training and similar “enablers” for their mission.  But the daydream of creating a few extra SOF operators to do the dirty work and returning the Army and Marines stateside is just that.  A daydream.  A small footprint for seven years is why OEF looks the way it does.  We need more serious reflection than that to build the strategies for the future.

Prior:

Concerning Turning Over Afghanistan to Special Operations Forces

60 Minutes and the Special Forces Hunt for Bin Laden

The Cult of Special Forces

Another Disappointing RAND Counterinsurgency Study

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