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Military Split On How to Use Special Forces In Terror War

  • Thread starter Jason Jarvis
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Jason Jarvis

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From someone sitting on civvie street, I find this debate about tactics and doctrine very interesting -- but a little scary as well. It seems to me that the best way to fight terrorists is to act like terrorists. The use and deployment of Special Forces in Afghanistan needs two components -- the “door-kickers” and the “hearts and minds” -- but I don't see the need for these two elements to be separate.

Is it an issue of training? I don't think so, although I do understand the need for a close target recce before an assault -- but is this process an effective one if the bad guys get away? Is it a question of credibility -- can “hearts and minds” forces go back to working with an indigenous population after they conduct a large-scale raid on a suspected terrorist camp? Will their actions essentially destroy any influence they may have built up?

It's been my understanding that terrorists are most successful in their recruiting efforts by planting agents to stir up support for their cause. They chose disaffected population centers and then send in the troops, handing out money, supporting sympathetic civic leaders and looking for young zealots they can mold into their shape. The only effective way to combat this is to put the “hearts and mind” forces on the ground to work with the other part of the population that doesn't support the terrorists -- à la what CF “peacekeepers” have been doing for decades (and as the Green Berets did with the tank in article).

Am I off base here? Have a look at the article (sorry for the length, but I thought it better to include the whole thing and not paraphrase) and tell me what you think.

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Military Split On How to Use Special Forces In Terror War

By Gregory L. Vistica
Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, January 5, 2004 - With Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pressuring the Pentagon to take a more aggressive role in tracking down terrorists, military and intelligence officials are engaged in a fierce debate over when and how elite military units should be deployed for maximum effectiveness.

Under Rumsfeld‘s direction, secret commando units known as hunter-killer teams have been ordered to "kick down the doors," as the generals put it, all over the world in search of al Qaeda members and their sympathizers.

The approach has succeeded in recent months in Iraq, as Special Operations forces have helped capture Saddam Hussein and other Baathist loyalists. But in other parts of the world, particularly Afghanistan, these soldiers and their civilian advocates have complained to superiors that the Pentagon‘s counterterrorism policy is too inflexible in the use of Special Forces overall and about what units are allowed to chase down suspected terrorists, according to former commandos and a Defense Department official.

In fact, these advocates said the U.S. military may have missed chances to capture two of its most-wanted fugitives -- Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, and Ayman Zawahiri, deputy to Osama bin Laden -- during the past two years because of restrictions on Green Berets in favor of two other components of the Special Operations Command, the Delta Force and SEAL Team Six.

They said several credible sightings by CIA and military informants of Omar entering a mosque this spring in Kandahar, Afghanistan, were relayed to U.S. forces at nearby Firebase Gecko, where a Green Beret team was ready to deploy. But rather than send in the Green Berets, who were just minutes from the mosque, commanders followed strict military doctrine and called on the Delta Force, the team of commandos whose primary mission is to kill and capture targets such as Hussein.

In the several hours it took the Delta unit, based hundreds of miles away near Kabul, to review the information and prepare for the raid, Omar vanished, said the sources, all of whom advise Rumsfeld‘s senior aides.

Other informants reported spotting Zawahiri in a medical clinic in Gardez, Afghanistan, in the spring of 2002. Green Berets five minutes away were ordered to stand down so SEAL Team Six, another of the hunter-killer teams, could storm the clinic and capture or kill Zawahiri, according to the sources. But too much time elapsed during preparations, and Zawahiri escaped. The Special Operations Command declined to comment on the reports.

Separate Missions
Both incidents spotlight the ongoing debate over how best to employ Special Operations forces in the global war against terrorism. Special Operations forces refer to a range of soldiers from the Army, Navy and Air Force who are specially trained for sensitive missions, typically secret in nature and frequently involving rescues or assaults on high-value enemy targets.

The military‘s policy, in practice, mandates using only "Special Mission Units," such as Delta Force and SEAL Team Six, to apprehend or assassinate specially targeted individuals. It precludes other Special Forces such as Green Berets -- who are trained primarily to work with indigenous fighters -- from pursuing the most sought-after targets when opportunities arise.

Some experts on counterterrorism contend that it takes the Special Mission Units too long to deploy for unanticipated raids. Some believe equal, if not more, emphasis should be placed on Special Operations forces to develop relationships with local villagers who supply the bulk of valuable information, which is known as counterinsurgency work. In the past year, poor intelligence has often led to the wrong targets being killed or captured.

"For all of the Special Mission Units‘ efforts, how many high-value targets did they get in Afghanistan?" asked one adviser, a civilian advocate of aggressive unconventional warfare with the Special Operations Command. "None."

Supporters say units such as Delta are the only ones trained specifically to carry out the apprehension or assassination of high-value targets.

"By doctrine and training, targets like that belong to the Special Mission Units," said Richard H. Shultz Jr., a scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a Pentagon consultant. "That‘s what they are for."

The Pentagon‘s official position is that there is no conflict between the two approaches. Marshall Billingslea, formerly the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said both approaches are being followed and both are vital to achieving success against terrorist organizations. "The hearts and minds element is essential," Billingslea said.

But according to a classified Defense Department policy briefing on the war against the al Qaeda terrorist network and Baathist insurgents in Iraq, the Bush administration is moving away from work with insurgents and favoring more direct-action strikes.

Rumsfeld has long been enamored of the idea of expanding the role of Special Operations forces in fighting terrorists. He has dramatically boosted the budget of the forces and last year ordered the Special Operations Command to draft a strategy to send hunter-killer teams after terrorist cells.

He is considering expanding their role even more. Among proposals under review is to send the Special Mission Units into areas such as Somalia and Lebanon‘s Bekaa Valley, where little government authority exists and terrorists congregate, seemingly safe from the long arm of the United States, said officials who are reviewing the plan or have been briefed on it.

"There have been briefings about various operations against various targets," a State Department official said. "We‘re prepared to go into these areas," he said, but in a careful way.

‘Black‘ or ‘White‘?
Over the years, such proposals have faced roadblocks, including a shortage of resources, legal questions on Capitol Hill about assassinations, intelligence shortcomings and worries about the political willpower of some officials at the State Department and Pentagon.

According to four officials who have seen it, a top-secret report by Shultz, the Pentagon consultant, contends that despite reliable intelligence on those responsible for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, Special Mission Units were never sent to kill or capture the terrorists responsible.

"It was very, very frustrating," retired Gen. Peter Schoomaker told Shultz. "It was like having a brand-new Ferrari in the garage, and nobody wants to race it because you might dent the fender," said Schoomaker, a former head of the Delta Force who is now the Army‘s chief of staff. "We were never instructed to mount a serious operation against bin Laden, never."

It was not because of President Bill Clinton‘s reluctance to deploy the secret units, concluded Shultz, who would not discuss the classified study. Rather, the Pentagon‘s civilian leaders and generals repeatedly came up with what the report called "showstoppers" to dissuade the White House from launching each mission.

Officials in Billingslea‘s old office who spoke on background about the study said they are watching that such an attitude does not sabotage the current plans.

Rumsfeld‘s "manhunter" plan, as described in memos, is more daring than efforts against terrorist networks during the Clinton years, according to those who have seen it or have been briefed. Rumsfeld‘s plan calls for sending Special Mission Units into a number of countries throughout the world.

The capture of Hussein may increase support for Rumsfeld‘s global vision for the hunter-killer teams. But this worries some in the Special Operations forces community who see more emphasis on direct action and less on unconventional warfare.

Special Operations forces are divided into two distinct but complementary kinds of combat teams: those involved in direct action -- the "black" Special Mission Units such as Delta Force and SEAL Team Six -- and those that support unconventional warfare, the "white" Green Berets and, on occasion, other SEAL platoons.

Although they are capable of killing or capturing terrorists, Green Berets and other "white" units traditionally work to win the trust of local villagers by living and eating with them and taking on their customs and garb. They are also called "force multipliers" because a few Green Berets can turn insurgent groups such as Afghanistan‘s Northern Alliance into a more lethal fighting force. Building such relationships takes time, but the payoff is the ability to solicit the kind of intelligence that enables operations.

But "Delta envy" now permeates the ranks, especially among younger soldiers who realize early in their careers that the "kick down the door approach" is what Washington wants, said one civilian advocate of unconventional warfare. "All they want to do is strike missions," he said.

The better policy, he recently told Rumsfeld‘s senior aides, is to focus more on counterinsurgency rather than assassinations and snatches.

"We want to know where the high-value targets are in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "Who has that information? People at the neighborhood and village level."

A top-secret report by the Defense Intelligence Agency that began circulating in November for senior executives in the intelligence community points out that a "hearts and minds" campaign may have more benefits, particularly in Iraq, than the approach now being followed.

"One of the ways to success in Iraq is . . . creating relationships with the heads of tribes in villages to counter the influences of [Saddam‘s] Fedayeen and radical sheiks," said an administration official who cited passages from the report. "The strategy would take time and appropriate resources," the report said, according to the official.

In locating Hussein, Army officers partly followed this approach, interrogating distant members of the former Iraqi president‘s tribe. But this was more of a police tactic, rather than using Special Forces to build goodwill with local Iraqis to garner intelligence.

Following Convention
In Afghanistan, Special Operations forces face different problems. Officials with the Special Operations Command, some of whom have made multiple trips to Afghanistan, said little emphasis is being placed on unconventional warfare.

Not only are the Special Forces excluded from major raids, any mission that takes them farther than two miles from a firebase requires as long as 72 hours to be approved, said several officials. When Special Forces do deploy, which is infrequently, say officials who have interviewed troops there, they are required to travel in armed convoys, a practice that alerts the enemy. They also have been ordered to stop assisting militias that helped topple the Taliban to avoid competing with the new national army Afghanistan is trying to organize.

A good example to follow, said several officials, was set by a Green Beret team operating along the Afghan-Pakistani border last year. The team drove an abusive warlord out of the region, helped to establish a town council, and rebuilt schools and roads.

With the help of some Afghan workers, they cut up several 40-ton tanks captured from the Taliban into large chunks of steel. The Afghans sold it last year at a market for enough money to build a much-needed medical clinic.

The villagers repaid the Army team many times over with valuable information, which led to the closure of routes used by the Taliban and al Qaeda to infiltrate parts of Afghanistan, according to Defense Department sources.

But this ingenuity violated at least the spirit of the Pentagon‘s kill-and-capture-only policy.

"This type of indirect approach does not fit with the current kick-down-the-door mentality," said one official, a 30-year Army veteran and retired Special Forces officer who has made multiple trips to Afghanistan to interview troops. "Their focus is to capture and kill. It‘s easier, it‘s quick, and more glamorous," he said. "Based on what I saw, clearly no, it‘s not working."

Meanwhile, the Special Forces and others continue to debate whether the emphasis on Special Mission Units is, at times, counterproductive. When Omar and Zawahiri were sighted, for example, it might have been more productive to let the Green Berets scout the mosque and the medical clinic to determine the accuracy of the information.

"Did we know with 100 percent certainty that it was Zawahiri and Omar?" asked the official with the Special Operations Command. "How would you know that if you never went into town? We never got to take a look."

From the Washington Post.
 
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