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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, August 10, 2003

The Magic of Special Operations

With the recent rise of former Special Operations officer Peter Schoomaker to the Army Chief of Staff position, it is clear that Army Special Operations (Rangers, Special Forces, Civil Affairs) will get more consideration than in the past. The Army has always had a love-hate relationship with elites. On one hand Rogers Rangers is a source of great pride, yet most commanders don't like the streak of independence that they have. There's long been a theory that they drain resources and people from regular units.

However, outsiders from Roosevelt to Kennedy and now Bush have fallen in love with the men who seem to be able to do anything, anytime, anywhere.

In the Army, special operators come in three flavors:

Rangers: light infantry trained as commandos. Missions include long range patrols, sabotage, airfield seizure and raids.

Special Forces: Specially trained troops who go behind enemy lines, work with guerillas, train allied armies and do long range reconnaisance. There is also some overlap between their work and intelligence missions.

Delta Force: A specially-trained unit originally created for hostage rescue, but has been used on extremely sensitive missions delegated by the national command authority. Not officially recognized by the Army in it's Table of Organization and Equipment or Order of Battle.

Now, when properly used, they're known as combat force multipliers. A small team of SOC troopers can direct artillery and air support, as they did in Afghanistan and in Iraq. But like a lot of things, they have their clear limits.

First, these men are the best in the Army. They are carefully selected and weeded out for their intelligence, physical fitness and responsibility. They are also amazingly professional in their conduct and appearance.

Second, they are highly trained. It may take well over a million dollars to fully train a Special Forces trooper in various specialities.

Third, they are fragile. Without being used carefully, they can be overrun and killed by even the worst troops. When you have 12 men against 200, bad things happen, regardless of training, expertise or experience. They have to be used with care.

Spec Ops does do some things which could and should be spread throughout the Army, especially in terms of professionalism, fitness and training. But before you remake the entire Army on this model of combat force multipliers, you need to understand the limits of the Spec Ops model and the missions that the US Army is facing.

We're clearly moving into an era of peacekeeping where actual infantry is needed. The US is man short in Iraq because of our incredible investment in technology. We have armor everywhere and troops used to working with armor instead of foot patrols. One of the dirty little secrets of US deployments is that we've relied upon other people's infantry. It's the Pakistanis. Nigerians and the French who we expected to actually walk the streets, while we would sit back and provide the punch. This strategy led Delta Force and Rangers into Mogudishu's streets, killed 18 and wounded 81. We would swoop in, pop down, do missions and leave. The problem with this is that US troops have scant idea of how to patrol and survive. Many of the troops are unskilled in foot patrols and rely on either fragile humvees or large, noisy Brads. We'd simply contracted that work out to anyone and everyone else. While US doctrine was still focused on armored and airmobile warfare, the missions required good old fashioned foot infantry.

Now, they want to rebuild the Army without seeming to admit that the role of the US Army is going to change. Infantry warfare is coming back and you need men, not robot planes and armored cars. There is a great temptation to take the lessons of SpecOps and spread them throughout the Army. And some of them are applicable. But others, especially those which maximize weaponry over actual infantry are risky at best. American troops need to learn to work with people, establish a foot presence and to lose unfounded fear of the locals. More machines cannot do this. Only men can.

posted by Steve @ 7:21:00 PM

7:21:00 PM

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