Tag Archives: US special forces

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

US Special Forces Wars: 2017

location of drone base in Niger

Yemen to Syria to Central Africa, the Trump administration is relying on Special Operations forces to intensify its promised fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups as senior officials embrace an Obama-era strategy to minimize the American military’s footprint overseas.

In Africa, President Trump is expected to soon approve a Pentagon proposal to remove constraints on Special Operations airstrikes and raids in parts of Somalia to target suspected militants with the Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda. Critics say that the change — in one of the few rejections of President Barack Obama’s guidelines for the elite forces — would bypass rules that seek to prevent civilian deaths from drone attacks and commando operations.

The global reach of special operators is widening. During the peak of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 13,000 Special Operations forces were deployed on missions across the globe, but a large majority were assigned to those two countries. Now, March 2017, more than half of the 8,600 elite troops overseas are posted outside the Middle East or South Asia, operating in 97 countries, according to the Special Operations Command.  Still, about one-third of the 6,000 American troops currently in Iraq and Syria are special operators, many of whom are advising local troops and militias on the front lines. About a quarter of the 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan are special operators.

In Africa, about one-third of the nearly 6,000 overall troops are Special Operations forces. The only permanent American installation on the continent is Camp Lemonnier [Djibouti], a sprawling base of 4,000 United States service members and civilians in Djibouti that serves as a hub for counterterrorism operations and training. The United States Air Force flies surveillance drones from small bases in Niger and Cameroon.

Elsewhere in Africa, the roles of special operators are varied, and their ranks are small, typically measured in the low dozens for specific missions. Between 200 and 300 Navy SEALs and other special operators work with African allies to hunt shadowy Shabab terrorists in Somalia. As many as 100 Special Forces soldiers help African troops pursue the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony. And Navy SEALs are training Nigerian commandos for action in the oil-rich delta.

The United States is building a $50 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, that is likely to open sometime in 2018 to monitor Islamic State insurgents in a vast area on the southern flank of the Sahara that stretches from Senegal to Chad.  Mr. Trump’s tough talk on terrorism has been well received in Chad, where American Special Operations and military instructors from several Western nations finished an annual three-week counterterrorism training exercise last week.

Excerpts from AERIC SCHMITT, Using Special Forces Against Terrorism, Trump Seeks to Avoid Big Ground Wars, Mar. 19, 20187

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

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

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

West versus the Islamic State: the Apostles

ODA 525 team picture taken shortly before infiltration in Iraq, February 1991.  Image from wikipedia

Undercover warriors [led by the US spy agency CIA] will aim to “cut the head off the snake” by hitting the command structure of the Islamist terror group responsible for a trail of atrocities across Iraq and Syria, reports the Sunday People.  PM David Cameron has told the SAS and UK spy agencies to direct all their ­resources at defeating IS [Islamic State] after a video of US journalist James Foley being beheaded shocked the world.

British special forces will work with America’s Delta Force and Seal Team 6. The move sees a rebirth of top secret Task Force Black, which helped defeat al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq .This time the counter-terrorist ­experts will be targeting Abu Bakr ­al-Baghdadi, leader of IS and now the world’s most wanted terrorist.

A source said: “We need to go into Syria and Iraq and kill as many IS members as we can. You can’t ­negotiate with these people.  “This is not a war of choice. They are cash rich and have a plentiful ­supply of arms. If we don’t go after them, they will soon come after us…You have to get on the ground and take out the commanders – cut off the snake’s head.

The new task force will comprise a squadron of the SAS, special forces aircrews from the RAF and agents from MI5 and MI6. The operation will be led by America’s CIA spy agency.

One of the first jobs will be to identify the British Muslim shown on an IS video released last week apparently cutting Foley’s head off with a knife. UK intelligence sources confirmed that the killer, believed to be a British-born Pakistani from London, is already at the top of a CIA “kill list”…

Troops will also train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters…There are also moves to revive a defunct Iraqi special forces unit called the Apostles, which was ­created by the first Task Force Black a­fter the Iraq War.

Excerpts from Aaron Sharp, SAS and US special forces forming hunter killer unit to ‘smash Islamic State’, Mirror, Aug.23, 2014

United States Special Operations in 30 African Countries

burkina faso

The United States Army’s Transportation Command (US-TRANSCOM) is looking for private flight contractors to transport commandos from the Joint Special Taskforce Trans-Sahara as they conduct ‘high risk activities’ in 31 African countries.The pre-solicitation notice, issued by the US-TRANSCOM on 1 April, says the contractor will need to conduct air drops, fly commandos in and out of hostile territory and carry out short notice medical evacuation between 12 August 2013 and 27 June 2017. A 10.5 month base period will start in August this year to be followed by three one-year option periods.  [This is]  under the auspices of the US military’s Africa Command, under which the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara (JSOTF-TF) falls.

TRANSCOM is looking for aircraft able to carry at least six passengers and 2 500 pounds of cargo. From the US intelligence hub located in a military airfield in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso..…”Services shall be based at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, with services provided to, but not limited to, the recognized political boundaries of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, South Sudan, Tunisia, and Uganda, as dictated by operational requirements. It is anticipated the most likely additional locations for missions from the above list would be to: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia,” the Transcom work statement reads.

The expansion of US commando operations is focused on confronting the threat posed by Sahelian and sub-Saharan terror groups which include Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which operate in nearly all north and north-west African countries. The operations are also aimed at confronting Al Qaeda inspired Nigerian Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and its more radical splinter movement Jamā atu Anṣāril Muslimīna fī Bilādis Sūdān (Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa), better known as Ansaru.

In East and Central Africa, the US special forces operations will target renegade rebel groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader Joseph Kony, Al Shabaab in Somalia, Islamic militant sleeper cells in the coastal areas of Kenya and Tanzania and various regional rebel groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In yet another sign of intensifying US military and security interest in Africa, the US Defence Logistics Agency on April 12 issued a request for bids to provide the US Air Force with 547,500 gallons of No. 2 diesel fuel “for ongoing deliveries to Niamey Airport, Niger, (Africa).“The fuel is intended for a fleet of unarmed US Predator drones which are presently flying intelligence and surveillance missions from a military airport in Niamey into Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, Algeria and other suspected terrorist locations in the Sahel.

Since 2009, private flight contractors engaged by US special operations forces have been operating Pilatus PC-12s on intelligence gathering and image collection missions over Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and other Central African states from a small airport located near the Ugandan city of Entebbe. 

Excerpt, Oscar Nkala, US Army seeking private contractors for African commando transportation, www.defenceweb.co.z, May 7, 2013