The 16th Space Control Squadron is Air Force Space Command’s first defensive counterspace unit and employs the Rapid Attack, Identification, Detection, and Reporting System (RAIDS), that has the capability to detect an anti-satellite (ASAT)-
Four months ago, Admiral William McRaven commanded the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. Now, as the new head of U.S. special forces, he argues that his shadowy, secretive warriors are increasingly central to how America and its allies fight. When the suntanned, towering SEAL testified to the Congressional House Armed Services Committee in September, just a few weeks after he took over his new role, he used posters detailing the growth of his forces. In the decade since Sept. 11 2001, U.S. Special Operations Command personnel numbers have doubled, its budget tripled and deployments quadrupled.
The Bin Laden takedown is simply the tip of an iceberg of fast-growing, largely hidden action by the United States and its allies. Those with knowledge of such operations say this changing state of warfare could spark a range of unintended consequences, from jeopardizing diplomatic relationships to unwanted, wider wars. That’s not entirely new. Secret wars against communism in Southeast Asia in the 1960s helped spawn larger conventional conflicts. In the 1980s, the “Iran-Contra” arms-for-weapons scandal embarrassed the Reagan administration, while support for Islamist guerrillas fighting Russian occupation in Afghanistan helped produce Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. And it’s not just western powers. Just last week, the United States accused Iran of a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador.
The appeal of such tactics is clear. Military operations are far more politically palatable if you keep dead bodies off TV screens. A computer worm planted in Iran’s nuclear program, secret help to rebels in Libya, drone strikes to cripple Al Qaeda — all can achieve the desired effect without massive publicity. In an era of budget cuts, they are also cheap — particularly compared with the cost of maintaining and deploying a large conventional military force. McRaven said his 58,000 operatives cost a mere 1.6 percent of the Pentagon’s predicted 2012 budget.
“Put simply, (they) provide a tremendous return on the nation’s investment,” McRaven told the unclassified portion of the Congressional hearing. “The special operations forces have never been more valuable to our nation and allies around the world than they are today, and that demand will not diminish for the foreseeable future.”
The CIA has long retained its own, much smaller band of paramilitary operatives, sometimes operating with military special forces. Their numbers have also risen sharply in recent years to hundreds or even thousands, security experts say. Under its new director, General David Petraeus, the agency is expected to further increase such deniable operations as assassination and sabotage.
Britain, Israel and others are also believed to have renewed their focus on specialist, hidden techniques, and are ploughing resources into emerging fields such as cyber warfare. As the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns ramp down, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and Mexico are all touted by security and intelligence experts as potential theaters for new operations. U.S. special forces are now deployed in some 75 countries, where their missions range from training to assassinations.
Yet even some supporters of the new tactics worry about the lack of public discussion. “We may find ourselves fighting more wars with fewer people,” says John Nagl, a former U.S. Army officer who wrote its counterinsurgency manual and now heads the Centre for New American Security, a think tank. “That raises some interesting questions — like whether we have the right to do that. There is much less public debate. Society doesn’t pay the cost and so doesn’t ask the questions.”
Quietly, this approach is already redefining how conflicts are waged. Conventional troop surges might have dominated coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan, but behind the scenes the generals were heavily dependent on secret, special operations. Intelligence operators, remote-controlled drones and troops from the SEALS, Delta Force, Britain’s SAS and other forces fought hidden campaigns against insurgent leaders and bomb makers, working with local communities to turn conflicts against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies. “There has been a real renewed focus on special operations and clandestine services,” says Fred Burton, a former U.S. counterterrorism agent and now vice president for strategic intelligence firm Stratfor. “They were always there, of course, but they had become somewhat sidelined. That’s definitely changed now.”
To an extent, the shift is down to technology. This provides some entirely new weaponry — such as the cybermunition Stuxnet, which caused Iranian nuclear centrifuges to rip themselves apart. It also allows force to be more targeted. “You change your ability to integrate information, which in many ways is at least as important as collection,” says Anthony Cordesman, a former senior U.S. intelligence official now at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “You have collation of information almost in real time. You can pull together the information and find the target.”
That is already changing the shape of western militaries. A drone can be flown remotely by just one pilot, but it takes around 20 analysts to interpret and assess the data it collects. This in turn produces a much larger array of potential targets. In Afghanistan alone last year, McRaven says his forces conducted some 2,000 raids against identified high-value adversaries.
To work with tribal groups and win their loyalty, language skills and cultural awareness are essential. Special forces helped shape both the “Sunni awakening”, which swept Al Qaeda and its allies from much of Iraq, and the more recent rebel victory in Libya. McRaven said he believed the Afghan “village program”, working with local communities and police, might prove his forces’ most important contribution to that war. The need for such skills is not new, of course. McRaven demands all his officers and NCOs learn a second language. Others in the field read ancient histories or the writings of idiosyncratic English archeologist T.E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia”.
But some argue the most important force driving the new tactics is an almost visceral objection to more conventional warfare in the wake of the Iraq conflict, and Israel’s wars in Lebanon and Gaza. “It’s almost always a matter of political will,” says Nigel Inkster, a former deputy chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). “The new technologies do give you some new options, but broadly these capabilities have always existed. The question is whether you choose to take the more covert route or send in the 101st Airborne. Cash flow is also key. Those with knowledge of western strategy towards Libya say it was driven more by what could not be done than what could. A wider military intervention was politically impossible and financially unaffordable, yet politicians demanded something be done. Some of the most successful strategies were not conventional. British officials say the secret “oil cell” that helped starve Muammar Gaddafi of fuel supplieswas key to rebel victory, yet involved the use of little or no military force.
Besides straining budgets, the global financial crisis has also made great powers more reluctant to risk the economic shock of serious conflict. One reason Stuxnet was such an appealing tool, security experts say, is that it carried less risk of Iranian military retaliation against shipping in the Gulf. That would have sent oil prices soaring. A senior Israeli official has said cyber warfare offers a less politically dangerous option for nations in a media-saturated age. Israel suffered widespread international scrutiny and frequent condemnation for its wars in Lebanon and Gaza.
“War is ugly, awfully ugly,” Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor — who overseas spy services and nuclear affairs — told diplomats and journalists at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs in February. “War is all the time on television… people see this and can’t take it… Because it is difficult, one looks for other ways. One of these ways is the intelligence community … are trying to do things that don’t look that ugly, don’t kill people.”
But the secret campaign against Iran’s nuclear program has not been entirely bloodless. Sabotage might be relatively clean, but Israel’s Mossad is also suspected of being behind the killings of several of Tehran’s nuclear scientists. With so much now taking place behind the scenes, a handful of critics is expressing concern that there is simply far too little scrutiny. “The implications are vast,” says Patricia De Gennaro, a counterinsurgency expert and professor at New York University who has worked with U.S. forces in the Middle East. “There is no accountability. People have been basically brainwashed, with the help of the media and others in the Beltway, into believing we don’t have a right to know what their military is doing.” In an era that may see heightened state-to-state rivalry — not least between older western powers and increasingly assertive emerging states such as China — any operations that go awry could heighten tensions further The information revolution may also be making it harder to keep operations secret. The Bin Laden raid was reported by a local resident on Twitter within minutes of the helicopters touching down. It would be a delusion to see covert operations as a simple solution to global problems. “This comes in cycles,” says Cordesman. “There is a tendency to grossly exaggerate success and underestimate the cost… These things are never under control, not even in a democracy. Nothing you ever do with violence is going to be clean or simple. But sometimes you just have to look at the options, look at the consequences of not acting, and then do it.”
Peter Apps, The rise and rise of western covert ops, Reuters, Oct 18 2011
The SEALs are just part of the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, known by the acronym JSOC, which has grown from a rarely used hostage rescue team into America’s secret army. When members of this elite force killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May, JSOC leaders celebrated not just the success of the mission but also how few people knew their command, based in Fayetteville, N.C., even existed.
This article, adapted from a chapter of the newly released “Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State,” by Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, chronicles JSOC’s spectacular rise, much of which has not been publicly disclosed before. Two presidents and three secretaries of defense routinely have asked JSOC to mount intelligence-gathering missions and lethal raids, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in countries with which the United States was not at war, including Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Nigeria and Syria.
“The CIA doesn’t have the size or the authority to do some of the things we can do,” said one JSOC operator. The president has given JSOC the rare authority to select individuals for its kill list — and then to kill, rather than capture, them. Critics charge that this individual man-hunting mission amounts to assassination, a practice prohibited by U.S. law. JSOC’s list is not usually coordinated with the CIA, which maintains a similar but shorter roster of names.
Created in 1980 but reinvented in recent years, JSOC has grown from 1,800 troops prior to 9/11 to as many as 25,000, a number that fluctuates according to its mission. It has its own intelligence division, its own drones and reconnaissance planes, even its own dedicated satellites. It also has its own cyberwarriors, who, on Sept. 11, 2008, shut down every jihadist Web site they knew.
Obscurity has been one of the unit’s hallmarks. When JSOC officers are working in civilian government agencies or U.S. embassies abroad, which they do often, they dispense with uniforms, unlike their other military comrades. In combat, they wear no name or rank identifiers. They have hidden behind various nicknames: the Secret Army of Northern Virginia, Task Force Green, Task Force 11, Task Force 121. JSOC leaders almost never speak in public. They have no unclassified Web site.
Despite the secrecy, JSOC is not permitted to carry out covert action as the CIA can. Covert action, in which the U.S. role is to be kept hidden, requires a presidential finding and congressional notification. Many national security officials, however, say JSOC’s operations are so similar to the CIA’s that they amount to covert action. The unit takes its orders directly from the president or the secretary of defense and is managed and overseen by a military-only chain of command.
Under President George W. Bush, JSOC’s operations were rarely briefed to Congress in advance — and usually not afterward — because government lawyers considered them to be “traditional military activities” not requiring such notification. President Obama has taken the same legal view, but he has insisted that JSOC’s sensitive missions be briefed to select congressional leaders….
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, smarting from the CIA’s ability to move first into Afghanistan and frustrated by the Army’s slowness, pumped new life into the organization. JSOC’s core includes the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron, and the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and 75th Ranger Regiment.
The lethality of JSOC was demonstrated in the December 2001 mountain battle at Tora Bora. Although bin Laden and many of his followers eventually escaped across the border into Pakistan, an Army history said that on the nights of Dec. 13 and 14, JSOC killed so many enemy forces that “dead bodies of al-Qaeda fighters were carted off the field the next day” by the truckload.
It also made mistakes. On July 1, 2002, in what the Rand Corp. labeled “the single most serious errant attack of the entire war,” a JSOC reconnaissance team hunting Taliban came under attack and an AC-130 gunship fired upon six sites in the village of Kakarak. The estimates of civilian deaths ranged from 48 to hundreds. The “wedding party incident,” as it became known because a wedding party was among the targets accidentally hit, convinced many Afghans that U.S. forces disregarded the lives of civilians.
Nevertheless, on Sept. 16, 2003, Rumsfeld signed an executive order cementing JSOC as the center of the counterterrorism universe. It listed 15 countries and the activities permitted under various scenarios, and it gave the preapprovals required to carry them out.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, lethal action against al-Qaeda was granted without additional approval. In the other countries — among them Algeria, Iran, Malaysia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia and Syria — JSOC forces needed the tacit approval from the country involved or at least a sign-off from higher up on the American chain of command. In the Philippines, for example, JSOC could undertake psychological operations to confuse or trap al-Qaeda operatives, but it needed approval from the White House for lethal action. To attack targets in Somalia required approval from at least the secretary of defense, while attacks in Pakistan and Syria needed presidential sign-off.
In the fall of 2003, JSOC got a new commander [Brig. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal] who would turn the organization into arguably the most effective weapon in the U.S. counterterrorism arsenal…..
The Iraqi insurgency’s reliance on modern technology also gave tech-savvy JSOC and its partners, particularly the National Security Agency, an advantage. The NSA learned to locate all electronic signals in Iraq. “We just had a field day,” said a senior JSOC commander, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe secret operations. One innovation was called the Electronic Divining Rod, a sensor worn by commandos that could detect the location of a particular cellphone. The beeping grew louder as a soldier with the device got closer to the person carrying a targeted phone.
Killing the enemy was the easy part, JSOC commanders said; finding him was the hard part. But thanks to Roy Apseloff, director of the National Media Exploitation Center, the U.S. government’s agency for analyzing documents captured by the military and intelligence community, JSOC’s intelligence collection improved dramatically. Apseloff offered to lend McChrystal his small staff, based in Fairfax, to examine items captured in raids. Apseloff’s team downloaded the contents of thumb drives, cellphones and locked or damaged computers to extract names, phone numbers, messages and images. Then they processed and stored that data, linking it to other information that might help analysts find not just one more bad guy but an entire network of them.
The major challenge was how to find the gems in the trash quickly enough to be useful. The key was more bandwidth, the electronic pipeline that carried such information as e-mail and telephone calls around the world. Luckily for the military and JSOC, the attacks of 2001 coincided with an unrelated development: the dot-com bust. It created a glut in commercial satellite capacity, and the military bought up much of it.
Within a year after McChrystal’s arrival, JSOC had linked 65 stations around the world to enable viewers to participate in the twice-daily, 45-minute video teleconferences that he held. By 2006, JSOC had increased its bandwidth capability by 100 times in three years, according to senior leaders.
The other challenge JSOC faced was a human one: Ill-trained interrogators had little information about individual detainees and didn’t know what questions to ask or how to effectively ask them. Worse, some members of the JSOC’s Task Force 121 were beating prisoners. Even before the Army’s Abu Ghraib prison photos began circulating in 2004, a confidential report warned that some JSOC interrogators were assaulting prisoners and hiding them in secret facilities. JSOC troops also detained mothers, wives and daughters when the men in a house they were looking for were not at home. The report warned these detentions and other massive sweep operations were counterproductive to winning Iraqi support….Eventually, 34 JSOC task force soldiers were disciplined in five cases over a one-year period beginning in 2003.
McChrystal ordered his intelligence chief, Michael Flynn, to professionalize the interrogation system. By the summer of 2005, JSOC’s interrogation booths at Balad sat around the corner from the large warren of rooms where specialists mined thumb drives, computers, cellphones, documents to use during interrogations. Paper maps were torn down from the walls and replaced with flat-panel screens and sophisticated computerized maps. Detainees willing to cooperate were taught how to use a mouse to fly around their virtual neighborhoods to help identify potential targets.
JSOC had to use the rules laid out in the Army Field Manual to interrogate detainees. But its interrogators were — and still are — permitted to keep them segregated from other prisoners and to hold them, with the proper approvals from superiors and in some case from Defense Department lawyers, for up to 90 days before they have to be transferred into the regular military prison population…
By the end of 2005, a shocking picture emerged: Iraq was rife with semiautonomous al-Qaeda networks. Al-Qaeda had divided Iraq into sections and put a provincial commander in charge of each. These commanders further divided their territory into districts and put someone in charge of each of those, too, according to military officials. There were city leaders within those areas and cells within each city. There were leaders for foreign fighters, for finance and for communications, too.
By the spring of 2006, using the expanded bandwidth and constant surveillance by unmanned aircraft, JSOC executed a series of raids, known as Operation Arcadia, in which it collected and analyzed 662 hours of full-motion video shot over 17 days. The raid netted 92 compact discs and barrels full of documents, leading to another round of raids at 14 locations. Those hits yielded hard drives, thumb drives and a basement stacked with 704 compact discs, including copies of a sophisticated al-Qaeda marketing campaign. Operation Arcadia led, on June 7, 2006, to the death of the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, when JSOC directed an airstrike that killed him.
JSOC’s lethality was evident in its body counts: In 2008, in Afghanistan alone, JSOC commandos struck 550 targets and killed roughly a thousand people, officials said. In 2009, they executed 464 operations and killed 400 to 500 enemy forces. As Iraq descended into chaos in the summer of 2005, JSOC conducted 300 raids a month. More than 50 percent of JSOC Army Delta Force commandos now have Purple Hearts.,,,
If killing were all that winning wars was about, the book on JSOC would be written. But no war in modern times is ever won simply by killing enough of the enemy. Even in an era of precision weaponry, accidents happen that create huge political setbacks…. JSOC’s success in targeting the right homes, businesses and individuals was only ever about 50 percent, according to two senior commanders. They considered this rate a good one…..
When Obama came into office, he cottoned to the organization immediately. (It didn’t hurt that his CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, has a son who, as a naval reservist, had deployed with JSOC.) Soon Obama was using JSOC even more than his predecessor. In 2010, for example, he secretly directed JSOC troops to Yemen to kill the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula….
Excerpts from Dana Priest and William M. Arkin,‘Top Secret America’: A look at the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, Washington Post, Sept.2, 2011
A Civilian population lost between the night raids, drone strikes, suicide bombings and targeted killings….Report from Reuters
In 2010, violence across Afghanistan was its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, with civilian and military casualties at record levels. A total of 711 foreign troops were killed in 2010, the deadliest year of the war for the coalition, and at least 340 have been killed so far this year, according to independent monitor http://www.icasualties.org and figures kept by Reuters. U.S. and European military commanders have claimed significant success against Taliban insurgents in the south over the past 18 months, mainly with the help of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops deployed in the Taliban’s southern heartland to fight a growing insurgency.
However the Taliban and other insurgents have shown an alarming ability to adapt their tactics and shift the focus of their attacks out of the south into the east and the once relatively peaceful north and west….There has been a series of high-profile attacks and assassinations in the north in the past couple of years as insurgents seek to demonstrate their reach beyond their traditional southern heartland. The police chief of north Afghanistan, General Dawood Dawood, was assassinated in late May by a massive bomb in Takhar province that also killed the Takhar police chief. In June, a suicide bomber killed at least four policemen at a memorial service for Dawood in Kunduz. The attack appeared to target the police chief of Kunduz province, Sameullah Qatra, whose predecessor was killed by a suicide bomber in March.
NATO soldiers killed as Afghan violence flares, Reuters, Aug. 4, 2011