Tag Archives: U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM)

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

Codification of Best Practices to Capture or Kill

image from http://www.socom.mil/pages/jointspecialoperationscommand.aspx

The creation of a new  Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC ) entity,  the “Counter-External Operations Task Force,” this late [November 2016]  in the Obama’s tenure is the “codification” of best practices in targeting terrorists outside of conventional conflict zones, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity …[These practices]include guidelines for counterterrorism operations such as approval by several agencies before a drone strike and “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed. This series of presidential orders is known as the “playbook.”

The new JSOC task force could also offer intelligence, strike recommendations and advice to the militaries and security forces of traditional Western allies, or conduct joint operations, officials said. In other parts of the world, with weak or no governments, JSOC could act unilaterally…

The new JSOC task force will report to the Pentagon through the U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, according to U.S. military officials, creating a hybrid command system that can sidestep regional commanders for the sake of speed….But [the problem is that] regional commanders, all four star generals, guard their turf carefully.

Officials hope the task force, known throughout the Pentagon as “Ex-Ops,” will be a clearinghouse for intelligence coordinating and targeting against groups or individuals attempting to plot attacks in places like the United States and Europe.  According to officials familiar with plans for the task force, it will initially draw on an existing multinational intelligence operation in the Middle East that tracks foreign fighters, called Gallant Phoenix, and one of JSOC’s intelligence centers in Northern Virginia.

While in the past the smaller task forces, such as Gallant Phoenix, were staffed by representatives from different intelligence agencies, the new task force aims to have decision-makers present, ensuring that the targeting process happens in one place and quickly…. “There has never been an ex-ops command team that works trans-regionally to stop attacks.”

Excerpts from  Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe, Obama administration expands elite, Washington Post, Nov.25, 2016

 

 

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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The New Army: United States Special Operations in 70 Countries

SEALS_wearing_diving_gear. Image from wikipedia

Not long after Adm. William H. McRaven led the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, he was put in charge of the nation’s entire contingent of Special Operations forces, and set to work revamping them to face a widening array of new threats as America’s combat role in the Middle East and southwest Asia winds down….Admiral McRaven’s goal is to recast the command from its popular image of commandos killing or capturing terrorists, and expand a force capable of carrying out a range of missions short of combat — including training foreign militaries to counter terrorists, drug traffickers and insurgents, gathering intelligence and assessing pending risk, and advising embassies on security.

But along the way, the ambitious Admiral McRaven has run into critics who say he is overreaching, or as one Congressional critic put it, “empire building” at a time when the military is shrinking its footprint in Afghanistan and refocusing on other hot spots around the world. Congress has blocked, at least temporarily, an idea to consolidate several hundred of the command’s Washington-based staff members in a $10 million-a-year satellite office here, saying it would violate spending limits on such offices.

At the same time, Admiral McRaven has also faced criticism that he is encroaching on the turf of the military’s traditionally powerful regional commanders. Shortly before leaving the Pentagon, former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta granted Admiral McRaven new authority to make staffing decisions in the Special Operations units assigned to the regional commanders. While they will still have the final say on missions in their region, Admiral McRaven will now have the ability to allocate the much sought-after 11,000 deployed Special Operations forces where he determines intelligence and world events indicate they are most needed.

Indeed, in the past year, the command has conducted three classified exercises to determine where it can expand Special Operations forces in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As for the office he has sought in Washington, Admiral McRaven couches his plans to consolidate the command’s disparate operations into a new “National Capital Region” office in similar reform-minded terms, telling Congress in April that it would “better support coordination and decision-making” with other federal agencies.  Supporters described the plan as a management efficiency for the 373 people serving as liaison officers scattered in dozens of executive branch departments and the intelligence community, as well as members of a legislative affairs office that has operated here since the mid-1980s.  If the plan is approved, an additional 70 Special Operations personnel could be assigned to the Washington office. By comparison, the Central Command, which oversees the Middle East and South Asia, has just 15 people in Washington. The Africa Command has 10. The headquarters would be overseen by a three-star officer and is envisioned to have an annual budget of $10 million, although some of that money is already in the command’s budget for staff assigned to duties here.

Admiral McRaven’s proposals have run afoul of Congress before. Last spring [2012], the Special Operations Command sought approval for new authority from Congress to train foreign internal security forces that had been off limits to the American military… Statistics provided by Special Operations Command noted that in any given week, its personnel were operating in more than 70 countries. During one week in March (2012), for example, the command had teams in 92 nations.  Until now, those troops have been financed through the geographic commands in the Middle East, Africa, Europe or Latin America….The goal, command officials say, is not just improving their quality but also improving their coordination with foreign troops and diplomats. The command has sent liaison officers to 10 United States embassies worldwide – Australia, Canada, Britain, Jordan, Poland, Colombia, France, Turkey, Kenya and Italy – to advise indigenous special forces and coordinate activities with those troops.

Nearly a decade ago a similar experiment to place small teams of Special Operations troops in American embassies to gather intelligence on terrorists and to prepare for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them, backfired.  In one case, members of the “military liaison elements” in Paraguay were pulled out of the country after killing an armed robber who attacked them. The shooting had nothing to do with their mission, but the episode embarrassed senior embassy officials, who had not been told the team was operating in the country.

Admiral McRaven says those early problems have been ironed out, and his troops carry out missions only with the approval of the regional American commander and the United States ambassador in that country.

ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER, A Commander Seeks to Chart a New Path for Special Operations, New York Times, May 1, 2013

See also the Power of the US Special Operations Command

Why the CIA Loves Somali Warlords

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US military special operations teams carried out frequent espionage and counter-terrorism missions inside Somalia starting in 2003, according to a recent series of articles in a newspaper focused on the US Army.Secret operatives who flew or swam to Somalia planted cameras and phone-tapping devices and paid local warlords to help hunt for key figures in Al Qaeda’s East African network, the reports in Army Times reveal.

Sean Naylor, a reporter for the privately owned Virginia-based newspaper, attributes the disclosures mostly to anonymous sources currently or formerly affiliated with US military or intelligence services.  For example, he quotes “an intelligence source with long experience in the Horn” indicating that although Al Qaeda’s “centre of gravity” was in Mogadishu, “there was a huge support cell split between Nairobi and Mombasa.”  Some of the clandestine missions inside Somalia yielded important results, Army Times reports.

In late 2003, CIA agents persuaded warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed to sell them about 40 surface-to-air missiles, each capable of shooting down a civilian jet liner, the newspaper recounts.  It was a weapon of this type that was fired at, but missed, an Israeli aircraft taking off from the Moi International Airport in Mombasa in 2002.  The CIA paid about $360,000 for the missiles — a sum described by a US intelligence source as “peanuts.” They were taken initially to the US military base in Djibouti and later flown out, Army Times writes.  American agents were flown into Somalia from Kenya on civilian turboprop planes loaded with miraa, the newspaper says.  “The safest flight you can be on in Somalia is the miraa flight,” a source is quoted as explaining.  The planes are said to have landed at the K50 airport, about 50 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu.  From there, CIA case officers and “shooters” from a US special operations force travelled to Mogadishu in small convoys escorted by militants loyal to one or another warlord, Naylor reports.

Devices for eavesdropping on mobile telephone conversations were seeded in several locations in the Somali capital. “The ability to listen to Al Qaeda in East Africa’s phone calls paid big dividends,” Naylor writes.  The ultimate aim of these undercover missions was to capture or kill the 20 or so most important Al Qaeda figures in Somalia, Army Times says. “But rather than use US forces to do this, the CIA’s plan would have Somali warlords capture the Al Qaeda personnel before turning them over to the US to send — or ‘render’ — them to an American ally or one of the agency’s secret prisons,” according to Naylor’s account. At least two of the targets were subsequently hit.

Saleh Ali Nabhan, described as a key Al Qaeda operative in East Africa, was killed in a 2009 raid by US Navy special forces; Aden Hashi Ayro, a leader of Al Shabaab, was among several militants who died in a US airstrike in 2008.  In southern Somalia, US intelligence agents paid local spies up to $2,000 a month, Army Times reports.  A key point of interest was a rumoured Al Qaeda training camp in Ras Kamboni, a coastal town three kilometres from the Kenya border.  But it was not until 2007 that the US became convinced that “hundreds” of fighters were indeed training in and near Ras Kamboni, the newspaper says.

Somali warlords who did not agree to co-operate with the US in exchange for payoffs were threatened with the possibility of air strikes, Naylor reports. That was supposedly a bluff on the part of the CIA, however.

In the first of his articles, published in Army Times on October 31, Naylor describes an operation involving about a dozen forays into Somalia to plant cameras that had been disguised to look like natural or man-made objects.  These “Cardinal” devices were put in place by special forces who travelled via small submarines to within a mile of the Somalia coast and then swam to shore through what the newspaper describes as some of the world’s most shark-infested waters.  The cameras were placed near suspected militant training sites as well as in Kismayu and other ports where foreign fighters were believed to be arriving.

The missions were opposed by then-US ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy as well as by the CIA station chief in the Nairobi embassy, Naylor reports.  On the other side was US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. President George W Bush was eventually persuaded to approve the missions, Naylor reports.  One of the devices was discovered in January 2004 by fishermen from Ras Kamboni, Army Times says, citing a report on a Somalia news website.  “Nothing” came out of these operations, however, says a source cited by Naylor. A “senior intelligence official” offered the same verdict: “If it were a business, it’s not making any money.”

Seven or eight years ago, “the warlords’ fear of being whacked by US air power was groundless. There were no US aircraft overhead,” Naylor writes.  He quotes a US source as saying, “We had very, very few imagery assets available — everything was still dedicated to Iraq.”  It was the lack of pilotless aircraft and a shortage of reliable local spies inside Somalia that led the US to undertake risky espionage missions that, in some cases, produced no useful information.

KEVIN KELLEY, Reports detail past CIA operations in Somalia, East African, Nov. 20, 2011

The Benefits of War: how to train a fighting force

Perhaps no service was jolted by 9/11 more than the US Army. It reaped the benefits of developing a new way of fighting. …”The biggest change – the Army was really not an expeditionary force,” said retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who was a top aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the 2007 Iraq surge….”But ever since 9/11, the U.S. Army has been nothing but expeditionary. And soldiers who have grown up in the decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have gone through multiple deployments and have fought two wars,” he said. “So the Army has become an organization that is stressed, yes, but has also become comfortable deploying around the world and operating overseas. I think that’s one of the big changes.”

Along the way, the Army learned a new way to fight…. The big change: The Army used to stay in operating bases, launch raids into neighborhoods to kill insurgents, then return to barracks. Under the Petraeus plan, soldiers would set up shop inside insurgent territory to conduct strikes and protect civilians.  Said Col. Mansoor: “Counterinsurgents operate best when they operate among the people; … when you disperse your forces, getting them to live among the people, you generate a lot more intelligence and you insulate the people to a certain extent from insurgent violence and intimidation.”

Before 9/11, “we weren’t really thinking insurgency warfare, guerrilla warfare, irregular warfare,” he said. “We thought that was something we could pawn off on the special-warfare community. Since 9/11, obviously the U.S. Army has had to deal with it in a very serious way. And there have been a lot of growing pains in that regard, but the capabilities have increased enormously.”

Gen. Conway said that while the Army needed a new doctrine, the Marine Corps all along had been following a “small-wars manual” that had been developed over decades.  “It was new for the Army. It wasn’t new for the Marine Corps,” Gen. Conway said. “To his credit, Petraeus was always the best Army general at incorporating the things that we believe very strongly in. But the things he sort of brought to the Army were the things that we were practicing in stride.”

The irony is both of the nation’s land forces, the Marines and Army, had to switch roles. The Army became expeditionary like the Marines and then had to learn a new style of counterinsurgency. The Marines became a second land army, setting up shop in a foreign country to fight for extended periods.  “We’ve been able to morph into a second land army because that is what the country needed,” Gen. Conway said.

Counterinsurgency involves not only combat. A major challenge has been for the military to learn how to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the chief cause of casualties in Afghanistan. The Pentagon set up a new agency just for that purpose, pumping billions of dollars into electronic jammers, surveillance equipment, aircraft, metal detectors and robots.,,When Robert M. Gates succeeded Mr. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, he learned that the Marines and Army were building a new troop carrier that could repel explosions and save lives.  But why were they not out in the field? Mr. Gates demanded to know. He ordered the services to ramp up production of the vehicle known as MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) and sent them overseas.  Today, virtually every combat unit has MRAPs. The 9/11 attacks had led to a revolution in how troops move on the battlefield.

While 9/11 resulted in a gradual transformation for conventional forces, the al Qaeda strike brought immediate change for a backwater outfit in Tampa, Fla. – U.S. Special Operations Command (SoCom).Created to correct flaws discovered in the disastrous 1980 Desert One rescue mission in Iran, SoCom was more bureaucrat than war fighter….As the Pentagon still burned, Mr. Rumsfeld was thinking of SoCom as the leader of the war on terror. Commando units were the perfect organizations to hunt down and kill an unconventional enemy who worked out of ungoverned territory, safe houses and mountain caves. First, he awarded SoCom the prestige of being a “supported” command as opposed to its old role as a “supporting” one. This gave the SoCom commander authority to plan and execute what is called direct action combat.”…

Money started flowing to Tampa. The command brought in a whole new cadre of war planners and began enlarging all its special-operations components. And the Marine Corps for the first time joined SoCom and nurtured its own commandos.  “He gave them somewhere between $1.2 [billion] and $1.5 billion to take that headquarters and turn it into a war-fighting headquarters,” Gen. Boykin said of Mr. Rumsfeld.

The secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), home to Delta Force, had spent most of its time training for hostage rescues. Now, it and other commandos started preparing for how to find and hit an al Qaeda or Taliban hideout.  In less than two months, Army Green Berets were leading the invasion of Afghanistan, teaming up with anti-Taliban fighters in Pakistan and crossing the border via low-flying helicopters.  “It was a godsend because unconventional warfare was losing its luster,” Gen. Boykin said. “It was way down on the list of priorities. Afghanistan refocused attention on the [unconventional warfare] capabilities.”

Today, the command stands at 61,000 personnel, up from 45,600 on Sept. 11, 2001. It has added three Ranger companies, five Green Beret battalions, a special operations aviation battalion and an unmanned aerial squadron….

While the Pentagon built up SoCom, it also knew the expansion would be meaningless without intelligence on where terrorists and their leaders were located.  Mr. Rumsfeld created a new post, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, to coordinate information from the Pentagon’s various collection agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency. Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan now had a senior civilian to whom it could request intelligence assets for a particular mission.

In the field, it meant units such as the SEALs and Delta Force were fused into large task forces that included the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, a special military intelligence unit known as Task Force Orange, and the electronic eavesdropping National Security Agency.

The 2006 hunt for al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi illustrated the new alliance. The Delta task force intercepted communications that led it to a Zarqawi adviser, who in turn led it to his hide-out north of Baghdad. F-16s bombed the hut and killed one of the most ruthless al Qaeda operatives in the Middle East.

“They’ve really learned how to bring all the resources of the intelligence community into their operations to where the hard work is done really by the intelligence folks,” Gen. Boykin said.

The cost for all of this has been immense. The annual base defense budget since 2001 has nearly doubled to $570 billion. In addition, the wars themselves have cost an additional $1.3 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Excerpts, from Rowan Scarborough,9/11 changed war-fighting, Sept. 8, 2011