Tag Archives: special forces

An Overly Militarized Military and its ROI: United States

Syria
Gray zone security challenges…that fall between the traditional war and peace duality, are characterized by ambiguity about the nature of the conflict, opacity of the parties involved, or uncertainty about the relevant policy and legal frameworks….

The U.S. already possesses the right mix of tools to prevail in the gray zone, but it must think, organize and act differently. Gray zone challenges are not new. Monikers such as irregular warfare, low-intensity conflict, asymmetric warfare, military operations other than war and small wars were employed to describe this phenomenon in the past. …

America spends roughly $600 billion every year on defense, and it is the dominant global power by every objective measure. Yet state and non-state actors (e.g., Russia and Daesh) are increasingly undeterred from acting in ways inimical to the global common good.
State actors like Russia and China reasonably believe we will not use nuclear or conventional military force to thwart their ambitions if they craft their aggressive actions to avoid clear-cut military triggers. Despite their inherent ambiguity, the United States should not be
frustrated by gray zone challenges. Rather, we should aim to achieve favorable outcomes by taking some practical steps to improve our ability to address them.

Our responses to gray zone challenges display several clear deficiencies. As separate U.S. government agencies strive to achieve their individual organizational goals, they seldom act in integrated ways to support wider government objectives….

We also need to grow our non-military capabilities. Our gray zone actions are often overly militarized because the Department of Defense has the most capability and resources, and thus is often the default U.S. government answer…. Our counter-Daesh campaign is a perfect example. Thousands of airstrikes helped to check their rapid expansion, but the decisive effort against them will require discrediting their narrative and connecting the people to legitimate governing structures — areas where DoD should not have primacy.

Root Causes: Prudent strategies recognize root causes and address them. Daesh, for example, is merely symptomatic of the much larger problems of massive populations of disaffected Sunnis estranged from legitimate governance and a breakdown in the social order across much
of Africa and the Middle East, which will worsen in coming years by economic and demographic trends. Daesh is also a prime example of gray zone challenges, since the legal and policy framework of how to attack a proto-state is highly ambiguous. Coalition aircraft started bombing Daesh in August of 2014, although the authorization for use of military force is still under debate a year later, highlighting the confusion on how to proceed.
Comprehensive Deterrence: Paradoxically, each deliberate gray zone challenge represents both a success and failure of deterrence — success in averting full-scale war, but a deterrent failure given the belligerent’s decision to take action in the gray zone.

[Develop and Nurture Surrogates to Fight China]

For example, China is both antagonistically asserting its questionable claims to specific islands
and atolls in the South China Sea while simultaneously expanding its import of raw materials from Africa. Instead of confronting China in the South China Sea directly, surrogates could, theoretically, be used to hold China’s African interests at risk in order to compel a more
favorable outcome of South China Sea disputes. Thus, the point of action (e.g., Africa) might be far removed from the point of effect (e.g., Asia), but the intent would be to alter the decision-making calculus regardless of geography. To be credible, such an approach requires
prep work every bit as important as the infrastructure behind our nuclear and conventional capabilities. Capable and trustworthy surrogates are the result of years of purposeful relationship nurturing, and the vast majority of the work should take place pre-crisis….

Changing our vocabulary could help yield better decisions in the gray zone. Adopting a business vocabulary and a “SWOT” model (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) would open other opportunities not available in military decision-making models. Similar to the way businesses decide how to allocate capital, we would necessarily distinguish between opportunities and threats and have at least an estimate of our expected return on investment. Talking and thinking differently about national security in the gray zone would help us measure the oft-ignored opportunity costs and come up with some metric, however imperfect initially, to measure our expected return on investment for defense dollars.

Cost should be a significant up front consideration. For example, we famously refused to provide a cost estimate for Operation Iraqi Freedom, other than to know that $200 billion was ar too high. Assuming we established $200 billion as the top end to “invest” in
Iraq, it would at least force us to review our actions and evaluate our return on investment as we blew through initial estimates on our way to spending in excess of $2 trillion.

Excerpts from the Gray Zone, Special Warfare, Oct-Dec. 2015, Volume 28, Issue 4

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)

Markets Love a War

Heckler & Koch MP7 rifles, image from wikipedia

Naval Special Warfare DEVelopment GRoUp is the official Pentagon acronym for the group more popularly known as “SEAL Team 6,” and is subordinated to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC and  the U.S. Special Forces Command — SOCOM). Drawn from the very best operators within the Navy’s already-superb SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) teams, DEVGRU spearheaded the fight against the Taliban’s top leadership in Afghanistan, and in 2011 launched a daring nighttime raid into Afghanistan to kill Osama bin Laden….

DEVGRU operators are outfitted with “customized” weaponry, specially tailored to their missions. German-made Heckler & Koch MP7 rifles equipped with suppressors, infrared lasers, and thermal optics are just the start of their arsenal. “The SEALs were equipped with a new generation of grenade — a thermobaric model that is particularly effective in making buildings collapse,” reports the NY Times….

Detailed information on funding for DEVGRU is not easy to come by. Media reports suggest that total “special forces” in the U.S. military may now number 72,000, with an overall budget in excess of $10 billion, but a search for contracts awarded via the U.S. Department of Defense specifically benefiting DEVGRU yields a null result. Likewise searches for SEAL Team 6.  Contracts more broadly defined as benefiting SOCOM, however, appear with some regularity in the Pentagon’s daily briefing on contract awards.
•On Feb. 6, 2008, drone specialist AeroVironment received an order for $46 million worth of SOCOM-variant Raven unmanned aerial vehicles.
•Feb. 4, 2011: General Dynamics won a $84 million contract to support “data, voice, and video communications networks” run out of SOCOM headquarters.
•On Feb. 10, 2014, privately held Oregon Iron Works won a $400 million contract to develop Combatant Craft Medium Mark One (CCM Mk1) stealth fast-attack boats for use by SOCOM.
•And to illustrate just how large these contracts can get — on June 21, 2010, Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract worth up to $5 billion “for contractor logistics support services in support of US SOCOM worldwide.”And four years after bin Laden exited the world stage, the special forces contracts just keep coming.

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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

The Super Helicopter: VTOL-X

pave hawk.  Image from wikipedia

From the DARPA website:

The versatility of helicopters and other vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft make them ideal for a host of military operations. Currently, only helicopters can maneuver in tight areas, land in unprepared areas, move in all directions, and hover in midair while holding a position. This versatility often VTOL aircraft the right aerial platform for transporting troops, surveillance operations, special operations and search-and-rescue missions.

Compared to fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters are slower-leaving them more vulnerable to damage from enemy weapons. Special operations that rely on lightning-quick strikes and medical units that transport patients to care facilities need enhanced speed to shorten mission times, increase mission range, reduce the number of refueling events and, most important, reduce exposure to the adversary.

By their very design, rotary-wing aircraft that take off and land vertically have a disadvantage achieving speeds comparable to fixed-wing aircraft.,,,”For the past 50 years, we have seen jets go higher and faster while VTOL aircraft speeds have flat-lined and designs have become increasingly complex,” said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager. “To overcome this problem, DARPA has launched the VTOL X-Plane program to challenge industry and innovative engineers to concurrently push the envelope in four areas: speed, hover efficiency, cruise efficiency and useful load capacity.”  “We have not made this easy,” he continued. “Strapping rockets onto the back of a helicopter is not the type of approach we’re looking for…This time, rather than tweaking past designs, we are looking for true cross-pollinations of designs and technologies from the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds.

Excerpt from DARPA EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT PROGRAM TO DEVELOP THE NEXT GENERATION OF VERTICAL FLIGHT, February 25, 2013

See also https://www.fbo.gov/

Right-sizing the CIA in Iraq

The Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to cut its presence in Iraq to less than half of wartime levels, according to U.S. officials familiar with the planning, a move that is largely a result of challenges the CIA faces operating in a country that no longer welcomes a major U.S. presence.  Under the plans being considered, the CIA’s presence in Iraq would be reduced to 40% of wartime levels, when Baghdad was the largest CIA station in the world with more than 700 agency personnel, officials said.  The CIA had already begun to pull back in Iraq since the height of the war, officials said. But the drawdown, coming six months after the departure of American military forces, would be significant. The officials declined to provide exact numbers, give a breakdown of levels of analysts versus covert operators or say where agency workers would be redeployed, all of which are classified.

Proponents of the change say the CIA can make better use of its personnel in other areas. Those could include emerging terrorist hot spots such as Yemen, home to the al Qaeda affiliate the U.S. considers to pose the greatest threat to the homeland, and Mali, where an unstable government has fanned concerns.

The move comes amid worries over possible gaps in U.S. intelligence about the threat posed by al Qaeda in Iraq. Administration officials, diplomats and intelligence analysts have in recent weeks debated whether the militant organization is a growing threat after an internal government report pointed to a rise in the number of attacks this year, officials said.  The plan would also reduce the U.S. intelligence presence in the region as neighboring Syria appears to be verging on civil war. Al Qaeda in Iraq is also sending fighters to Syria to battle the Assad regime, Pentagon officials say.

The spy drawdown is part of a broader shift in U.S.-Iraq relations, with Washington moving to scale back diplomatic and training missions in the country. But it illustrates the limits of the Obama administration’s national-security strategy, as it steers away from ground wars and toward smaller operations that combine intelligence and special-operations capabilities.  Such a strategy relies heavily on cooperation from host governments, and as the CIA’s Iraq experience shows, cooperation can wane even where the U.S. has invested billions of dollars and lost thousands of lives.  The Iraqi government, including Iraq’s intelligence service, has scaled back its counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. as it asserts its sovereignty, U.S. officials say.  “If you don’t have that cooperation, you are probably wasting the resources you are allocating there and not accomplishing much,” said Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Near East analyst.

Backers of the drawdown say al Qaeda in Iraq doesn’t pose a direct threat to the U.S  [as they are involved in the battle for Syria?]. “This is what success is supposed to be like,” said a senior U.S. official who has worked closely with the Iraqis. “Of course we don’t want to have the same number of people after all U.S. troops go home that we had at the height of the war.”  A senior Obama administration official said the U.S. is in the process of “right-sizing” its presence in Iraq. Both President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have “made very clear that we’re going to continue to have a close and strong security partnership,” this official said.

The planned reductions at the CIA represent a major shift from the approach under consideration just six months ago. Late last year, the CIA and Pentagon were considering several options for CIA and special-operations commandos to team up in Iraq, according to current and former officials. One option was to have special-operations forces operate under covert CIA authority, similar to the arrangement used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.  “There was a general consensus,” said a former intelligence official, “that there was a need for this in Iraq.” But as it became clear that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and that the Iraqi government was less inclined to accept an expansive CIA-special operations role, those plans were tabled. “It’s not going to happen,” said a U.S. official.  Iraq requires CIA officers to make appointments to meet with officials who were previously easily accessible, one of several obstacles that add to a mood of growing distance between the sides. The result is a degraded U.S. awareness about the activities of al Qaeda in Iraq, particularly at a tactical level, officials said.  “Half of our situational awareness is gone,” said one U.S. official.

Iraqi officials said they continue to cooperate with the U.S. on counterterrorism. Hassan Kokaz, deputy head of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s intelligence service, said the U.S. may be adjusting to the new “state-to-state” relationship between the countries since the military withdrawal in December.  “We have asked them to wear civilian clothes and not military uniforms and to be searched when they visit Iraqi institutions,” he said. “Perhaps they are not used to this.”  In the northern oil city of Kirkuk, police are pursuing al Qaeda-linked militants without needing U.S. special-operations forces or the CIA, said Gen. Sarhad Qadir, a local police commander.

Another senior Iraqi security official, however, said Iraqis don’t have the necessary surveillance and other technical capabilities. Iraqi forces also are plagued by clashing sectarian and political loyalties, the official added. “We need the Americans because they were able to work with all the [Iraqi] forces without exception,” he said.  The CIA drawdown would recalibrate the agency’s responsibility in the country away from counterterrorism operations and back toward traditional intelligence collection, with a sharpened focus on neighboring Iran, officials say. Baghdad will remain one of the agency’s largest stations, they say; Kabul is currently the largest. 

Excerpt, SIOBHAN GORMAN And ADAM ENTOUS, CIA Prepares Iraq Pullback, Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2012

Role of Western Special Forces in Libyan Civil War

Throughout the Libyan conflict the focus has been on the large-scale air campaign, especially in destroying Qadhafi’s command and control capabilities as well as aiding – in a limited capacity –rebel ground advances. But on the ground an equally large-scale effort has been undertaken by a range of international special forces (SF). Through an extensive analysis of open source material, includingmedia reports, individual sightings, videos and photographs from the start of the campaign to date, this section looks at the likely evolution, role and importance of coalition special forces in Libya, and in particular how rebel forces may have been organised and assisted by special forces.

The earliest known activities by special forces took place from 23/24 February when a number of countries decided to undertake evacuation operations to protect their citizens, including oil workers, from the emerging conflict in Libya. At the same time, it is reported that the UK and France entered Benghazi and Tobruk to try and build links with the rebels and understand who the ‘rebels’ actually were (a traditional human intelligence – HUMINT – function).  These forces were also used to assess the effects of coalition air strikes on Qadhafi’s regime.  It took most of March for relationships with the rebels to be built. This is because of the significant number of rebel groupings across the West of the country which were detached from the National Transitional Council.

The coalition’s need to engage with this larger number of dispersed groups between East and West required an increase in the number of deployed forces…..As the conflict developed the range of tasks that needed to be undertaken by special forces began to increase. In addition to building relations and liaising with rebel forces, special forces also had to secure key critical infrastructure and weapons sites (including those housing remnants of Weapons of Mass Destruction) around the country. French forces, for instance, were very active in the south-west desert area in April.5.  This increase in the range of tasks did not match the relatively small increase in special forces numbers made by the UK and France in March, particularly, as awareness grew of the poor state of rebel organisation, discipline and capability. Coupled with political concern about an emerging stalemate, there was a growing need for more extensive operational mentoring and training of the rebels and the provision of specialist equipment.

Arab special forces played the central role in the planning for Tripoli.

Excerpt from , Accidental Heroes, Britain, France and the Libya Operation, An Interim Rusi Royal United Services Institute) Campaign Report, Sept. 2011

 

Special Forces and Transparency: UK

The SAS, rarely viewed publicly as they were during the Iranian embassy seige, was used to rescue oil workers from Libya at the weekend. The letters SAS conjure up exotic, dangerous, and covert operations. This week the media had every reason to highlight the role played by Britain’s special forces in supporting the missions by RAF Hercules aircraft to evacuate oil workers stranded deep in the Libyan desert. ..The missions were meticulously planned and when there is no reliable or up-to-date intelligence, it is better to take precautions, defence officials say. And for the government it was a hugely welcome distraction from the criticism of delay and muddle over its initial handling of the crisis. Yet officially the Ministry of Defence has a policy of never commenting on the operations of Britain’s special forces…This time the MoD was allowed to confirm that special forces were “supporting” the RAF operations, but nothing else. …The official policy that operations involving the special forces can never be revealed and is more honoured in the breach than the observance. Special forces commanders might want to maintain the mystique and mythology covering their operations, but the troops themselves want “successes” to be publicly recognised. And the policy of never officially commenting on such operations cannot continue. Special forces, like armed but unmanned drones, are being used increasingly in the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan and in the borderlands of Pakistan – and are likely to in future counter-terrorist operations. Their involvement must be more transparent, and the troops involved in them more accountable, at least to ministers. Otherwise we could unknowingly be conniving in dirty tricks and assassinations, and in operations that might, when found out, be counter-productive and extremely damaging to British interests.

Excerpt,Richard Norton-Taylor, End this official silence on the SAS, Guardian, February 28, 2011