Tag Archives: Special Forces covert operations

Privatization for Obfuscation: military training in Jordan

KASOTC facility. Image from wikipedia

US military aid to Washington’s key ally in the region –  Jordan – has risen to a staggering $463m in 2016 alone. But little is known about how this money is spent. Who benefits? And who or what is secured by US military funding?

The King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre (KASOTC) is the centrepiece of US-Jordanian counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation. It not only offers a base for the training of international Special Forces and Jordanian border guards, but also for military adventure holidays, corporate leadership programmes, and stunt training for actors. While war at KASOTC is an interactive and consumable event for affluent customers, it engenders deadly realities for others.

Following Jordanian approval of a political-military agreement concerning the use of the facility, the US provided $99m of military assistance for the construction of the centre, accounting for a third of the total US military aid to Jordan in 2005. While KASOTC was built by the Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Programs Center, it is owned by the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF), and managed by the Maryland-based limited liability company ViaGlobal.

The ViaGlobal staff based at KASOTC have US military background. Also the board of the company almost exclusively consists of retired US military personnel. Although KASOTC thereby comes close to operating as a US army training centre, its business structure allows both the US and the Jordanian governments to insist that there are indeed no foreign military training centres in the country

According to one ViaGlobal employee, in 2013, 60 percent of the revenues earned at KASOTC came from the training of US soldiers and 20 percent from the training of Jordanian forces.  KASOTC offers its customers what its construction manager imagined to be an environment that is just like what soldiers might encounter with terrorists. Besides a fake Afghan village, a real Airbus 300, a mock city, and a sniper range, KASOTC also features its own artificial refugee camp. The simulation of a typical terrorist environment is further enhanced by the use of thousands of sound and smell effects, fog generators, and rooftop explosions…

As part of its Annual Warrior Competition, KASOTC for instance invitesSpecial Forces units from all over the world to what its business manager, a former US marine, in 2013 aptly called the Olympics of Special Forces.   The event itself primarily serves PR purposes and is sponsored by international weapons producers. In return for their sponsoring, the latter can directly showcase their products to the participating units.

Excerpts from Benjamin Schuetze, Jordan’s KASOTC: Privatising anti-terror training, AlJazeera, July 17, 2018

All for the Hard Drive

The Pentagon has quietly ordered new commando deployments to the Middle East and North Africa amid an unprecedented series of American airstrikes in Yemen, counterterrorism officials tell ABC News.  The moves appear to signal that the U.S. military is kicking off a more aggressive counterterrorism campaign… against Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS strongholds in Syria and areas in North Africa.

The Trump administration in late January 2017 launched the first known ground force operation in Yemen in two years followed by an unprecedented two-dozen or more airstrikes the first week of March 2017 targeting al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, including airstrikes March 2, 2017 night. This week also saw the killing of al-Qaeda’s overall deputy leader in a U.S. drone strike in northwestern Syria….

Un-announced fresh deployments of elite American commando units from the Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEAL teams continue…

But the first known ground force operation in two years on Jan. 28, 2017 raid by the Navy’s “black ops” counterterror unit, SEAL Team Six, came at a high price.  The experienced operators were caught in a withering mountain gunfight with fighters from AQAP, the only terrorist group which has succeeded three times in smuggling sophisticated bombs aboard U.S.-bound jetliners, which were defused before they exploded.

“There were women straight up shooting at the SEALs,” said a counterterrorism official briefed on the fight, describing the unusual battle, which resulted in one SEAL killed in action, some children in the compound killed by crossfire as the SEALs tried to search buildings and then broke contact, leaving the site aboard MV-22 Osprey aircraft. One Osprey had to make a hard landing, which injured three SEALs and the aircraft had to be destroyed in place by the operators….

One computer hard drive and phones containing a wealth of contact information for al-Qaeda operatives around the region were recovered by the SEALs…While the Yemen operation has become politicized in Washington as having “failed,” with some Democrats questioning whether any intelligence gains were worth the high cost of SEAL Ryan Owens’ life, a $75 million aircraft crashed and children killed in crossfire, military analysts continue “docex” — document exploitation — in an eavesdrop-proof sensitive compartmented information facility….

Excerpts from JAMES GORDON MEEK,US special ops step up strikes on al-Qaeda and ISIS, insiders say, Mar. 3, 2017

 

The Body Count and the Small Footprint

Jan. 14, 2014. Islamic State marching in Raqqa Syria. Image Associated Press

The U.S. assaults… have been far more deadly than is generally recognized. Military sources say that drone strikes have killed between 20,000 and 25,000 Islamic State operatives in Iraq and Syria. U.S. conventional attacks have killed about 30,000 more, for a total “body count” of over 50,000….The CIA and JSOC both conduct roughly the same number of drone flights every day. But the sources said the military’s drones conducted more than 20,000 strikes over the last year, in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, while the CIA is said to have struck less than a dozen targets over that same period.

The CIA oversaw much of America’s drone warfare during the first half of Obama’s presidency, when it was targeting al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan. But the agency’s focus on such counterterrorism “direct action” appears to have diminished over the past several years.
Obama’s  preference for special operations forces and their “small-footprint” tactics, as opposed to big conventional assaults….One unlikely legacy of Obama’s presidency is that he made the secret, once-impermissible tactic of targeted killing the preferred tool of U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Excerpt from David Ignatius, Pentagon and CIA in a terror turf war,  Washington Post. Dec 12, 2016

Unlimited Deception: Blowing Up People with Booby Traps

Controlled Explosion of IED, US Army Iraq

The Iraq war was, in part, a proxy battle between the US and Iran….By early 2007, some US intelligence estimates held that as many as 150 Iranian operatives were in Iraq. Many were member of the Quds Force, the covert arm of Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy. Their mission was to coordinate the violent campaign being waged against US forces by Iraq’s Shi’ite militias.“It was 100 percent, ‘Are you willing to kill Americans and are you willing to coordinate attacks?’ ” said an officer who studied the Quds Force’s approach closely. “ ‘If the answer is “yes,” here’s arms, here’s money.’ ”

The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) set up a new task force, named Task Force 17.Its mandate was simple: go after “anything that Iran is doing to aid in the destabilization of Iraq,” said a Task Force 17 officer…But political restrictions hobbled Task Force 17, particularly as the US lowered its profile in Iraq. The country’s Shi’ite-dominated government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, wasn’t happy with any attacks that targeted Iran operatives or their Iraqi proxies.  But for a small number of Shi’ite targets, JSOC found a way around the political restrictions by killing its enemies without leaving any US fingerprints.  The command did this using a device called the “Xbox.”

Developed jointly by Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, the Xbox was a bomb designed to look and behave exactly like one made by Iraqi insurgents, using materials typically found in locally made improvised explosive devices…[The Xbox] was made by the Delta and Team 6 explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel… After capturing some IEDs intact on the Afghan and Iraqi battlefields, the EOD troops set about taking them apart.  It wasn’t long before they realized they could build them as well..  At first, the officer said, JSOC’s bomb makers used components typically found in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater: “Chinese circuits and Pakistani parts . . . and explosives from old Soviet munitions, et cetera.”  The intent was to create a device that if it were sent to the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center in Quantico, Va., the Bureau’s experts would mistakenly trace the bomb back to a particular terrorist bomb maker because of certain supposedly telltale signature elements of the design that JSOC’s explosive ordnance disposal gurus had managed to re-create.

But the Xbox was different from regular IEDs in several ways… First, unlike many IEDs, such as those detonated by vehicles running over pressure plates, it had to be command detonated, meaning an operator somewhere was watching the target and then pressing a button. Another design requirement was that the Xbox device had to be extremely stable, to avoid the sort of premature explosions that often kill terrorists.

JSOC wanted to use the device to kill individuals, rather than crowds…JSOC used reconnaissance operators, who are typically some of Delta’s most experienced, because getting the device into position, by placing it in the target’s vehicle, for example, was “a lot of work,” he said. It usually involved surveillance of the target for days on end, understanding his pattern of life — his daily routines — so that the operators could predict when they would be able to gain access to his vehicle unobserved….[A] senior Team 6 source, who questioned the morality of using the device [said]: “[It’s] a great tool, but as many of us have said — hey, we’re no different than the enemy if we’re just blowing people up with booby traps.”

Excerpted from Sean Naylor “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command” (2015)

Who is Marsoc

Marine special operators conduct combat operations in eastern Afghanistan.  Image from wikipedia

The Marine Corps is close to completing a realignment of its elite Special Operations troops, sending some of them to the Middle East in January 2015.  Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, the new commander of the Marine Corps’ Special Operations force said they will be spread across the Middle East and focused on training and coordinating with friendly governments to guard against insurgencies. Others already have been deployed to Africa and the Pacific….

The new deployment to the Middle East is part of a wider effort to “regionalize” Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the general said…The force’s three battalions have been reorganized regionally, with one each focusing on the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East…

MARSOC was first established in February 2006 at the order of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as the Iraq War raged and an increasing emphasis on Special Operations emerged….

The command was established by pulling Marines from the service’s highly trained Force Reconnaissance units, however, and first sent a Special Operations company to Afghanistan in 2007. The first deployment was mired in controversy after a convoy of Marines in Nangarhar province was ambushed in March 4, 2007, and a firefight led to the death of at least 10 Afghan civilians. Army commanders removed the unit from the battlefield, but top Marine Corps commanders ultimately found that no one involved should face criminal charges.  MARSOC eventually found its footing in Afghanistan. Deployed mostly to western and southern Afghanistan, the unit trained Afghan Local Police and other Afghan troops and engaged in combat regularly with the Taliban and other insurgent groups….

While much of the military shrinks after years of war in Afghanistan, MARSOC is still expanding. The organization is expected to eventually have about 2,500 troops, including 830 elite “critical skills operators,” …[Bu] roles that MARSOC trains for, but also are carried out by Navy SEALs, Force Reconnaissance Marines and other well-trained U.S. troops.

Excerpts from Dan Lamothe, Marine Corps realigns its Special Operations, sends elite troops to Middle East, Washington Post, Jan. 20. 2015

Exquisite Capabilities to Manipulate People: needed

Pamphlet disseminated in Iraq. The text translates as "This is your future al-Zarqawi," and depicts al-Qaeda terrorist al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap which is being held by an Iraqi Army soldier or an Iraqi Policeman. Image from wikipedia

“We have, in my view, exquisite capabilities to kill people,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland. “We need exquisite capabilities to manipulate them.”  Psychological subtlety and the US military don’t always go hand-in-hand. Worldwide, we’ve become better known for drone strikes and Special Operations raids to kill High Value Targets. But that wasn’t enough for the last 13 years of war, according to a RAND study …“We’ve built a great apparatus for terrorism and to some degree we’ve got to be careful that doesn’t create blind spots,” Cleveland said… during a panel discussion at RAND. “There’s a cottage industry that’s built up around it [counter-terrorism]. You run the risk of basically taking on an entrenched infrastructure” whenever you try to broaden the focus killing and capturing the bad guys, he said, but we have to try.

“I don’t think we understand completely the fight we’re in,” Cleveland said. …In the US, though, “we’re horrible at ‘influence operations,’” said Cleveland. The US approach is “fractured” among multiple specialties and organizations, he said. Some key elements are in Cleveland’s USASOC — civil affairs, for example, and Military Information Support Operations (MISO), formerly known as psychological operations — while others lie entirely outside — such as cyber and electronic warfare.

To the extent US forces address psychology, propaganda, and politics at all, we tend to do it as an afterthought. “We routinely write a plan for kinetic action, and buried in there is the information operations annex,” said William Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and combating terrorism. “Many times, it should be the opposite…. When you’re dealing with these types of adversaries [e.g. ISIL], that is often the decisive line of operations.”

That’s just one example of how the US ties its own hands with organizations, processes, even laws — indeed, an entire national security culture — designed for a very different kind of warfare. All warfare is a clash of wills, Clausewitz famously said, but Americans tend to fixate on technology and targets, not winning — or intimidating — hearts and minds….” Even when unconditional surrender is the goal, victory always means convincing the enemy to stop fighting….

Likewise, local partners are rarely reliable allies, but they aren’t the enemy either. Commanders need to understand the good, bad, and ugly of partners who may be corrupt, inept, or grinding their own political axes on the heads of rival ethnic groups. US intelligence, however, is still geared to figuring out “the enemy,” defined as a clear-cut foe. “…Where combat advisors are allowed, their roles must be negotiated between the host government and the US country by country, case by case, and there are usually strict restrictions — often imposed by American political leaders fearful of putting US troops in harm’s way.  “Putting people on the ground to do this kind of work is inherently more risky than flying an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and dropping a Hellfire, but we have to learn how to accept that risk, because this at the end of the day is much more often the decisive line of operation,” said Wechsler….

“We are shooting behind the target in almost every case,” said Hix, because we have to grind through our methodical, outdated planning process while adversaries innovate. A new Joint Concept does away with the traditional “Phase 0″ through “Phase 5″ system, which conceives the world in terms of before, during, and after major conflicts, Hix told me after the panel. In the new world disorder, “we need those resources and authorities in what we consider to be ‘peace,”” he said. If you don’t have them, he warned, “your enemy’s playing chess while you’re playing checkers.”

By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR., Killing Is Not Enough: Special Operators, Breaking Defense, Dec. 16, 2014

What Putin and the CIA have in Common

ukraine

The West has made NATO’s military alliance the heart of its response to Russia’s power grab in Ukraine. But we may be fighting the wrong battle: The weapons President Vladimir Putin has used in Crimea and eastern Ukraine look more like paramilitary “covert action” than conventional military force.  Putin, the former KGB officer, may in fact be taking a page out of America’s playbook during the Ronald Reagan presidency, when the Soviet empire began to unravel thanks to a relentless U.S. covert-action campaign. Rather than confront Moscow head on, Reagan nibbled at the edges, by supporting movements that destabilized Russian power in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola and, finally, Poland and eastern Europe.

It was a clever American strategy back then, pushing a wounded Soviet Union and opportunistically exploiting local grievances, wherever possible. And it’s an equally clever Russian approach now, offering maximum gain at minimum potential cost.  The parallel was drawn for me this past week by John Maguire, a former CIA paramilitary covert-action officer, who served in the contras program in Nicaragua and later in the Middle East. “At the end of the day, Putin is a case officer,” says Maguire. “He watched what we did in the 1980s, and now he’s playing it back against us.”..  [T]he real action was covert destabilization of major cities in eastern Ukraine. Since these cities are largely Russian-speaking, Putin could count on a base of local popular support.  Last week, Pro-Russian “demonstrators” seized buildings in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk. Some demonstrators said they wanted to conduct referendums on joining Russia, just as Crimea did prior to its annexation. It was a clever exploitation of local cultural and religious bias — the sort of “divide and rule” move favored by intelligence agencies for centuries…

If you look back at the way the United States worked with Solidarity in Poland in the 1980s, you can see why this form of clandestine activity is so powerful. The CIA’s primary ally was the Catholic Church, headed by a Polish pope, John Paul II, who believed as a matter of religious conviction that Soviet communism should be rolled back. To work with the church, the agency needed a waiver from rules that banned operations with religious organizations.

One thing Putin learned from watching the Soviet empire fall is that the most potent weapons are those that go under the radar — and are nominally legal in the countries where operations are taking place. All the nuclear might of the Soviet Union was useless against the striking workers in Poland, or hit-and-run guerrillas in Nicaragua, or mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union was a giant beast felled by a hundred small pricks of the lance.

How can America and the West fight back effectively against Putin’s tactics?… The trick for the interim government in Kiev is to fight a nonviolent counterinsurgency — keeping a unified Ukrainian population on its side as much as possible.

The Ukrainian struggle tells us that this is a different kind of war. Putin has learned the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, yes, but also those of Poland and East Germany. An ex-spy is calling the shots in Moscow, using a dirty-tricks manual he knows all too well.
Excerpt, David Ignatius, David Ignatius: Putin steals CIA playbook on anti-Soviet covert operations, Washington Post, May 4, 2014