Tag Archives: special operations forces

A descent into darkness by our special operations forces

Summary: Only slowly have Americans begun to see the dark thing done in our name during our post-9/11 wars. For years we tightly closed our eyes. We told ourselves that only terrorists were killed, or fighters “on the battlefield” — plus a few civilians as collateral damage. Slowly those lies get debunked and we see the institutionalized assassination machinery created in our military – dirtying our reputation, operationally ineffective, and strategically counterproductive. But it doesn’t matter what we think, for the war has slipped beyond civilian control (as wars often do). {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Even the sharpest sword rusts when plunged into salt water.”
— Ancient wisdom.


  1. SEAL Team 6: quiet killings.
  2. Elite soldiers become assassins.
  3. Assassination seldom works.
  4. Women can fight and kill.
  5. There are alternatives.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  SEAL Team 6: quiet killings

The New York Times gave a tangible example of our madness, a nice follow-up to Study body counts to learn about our wars: how we fight, why we lose:  “SEAL Team 6: A Secret History of Quiet Killings and Blurred Lines“, 6 June 2015 — “The unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been converted into a global manhunting machine with limited outside oversight.”

Once a small group reserved for specialized but rare missions, the unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been transformed by more than a decade of combat into a global manhunting machine. That role reflects America’s new way of war, in which conflict is distinguished not by battlefield wins and losses, but by the relentless killing of suspected militants.

… Afghan villagers and a British commander accused SEALs of indiscriminately killing men in one hamlet; in 2009, team members joined C.I.A. and Afghan paramilitary forces in a raid that left a group of youths dead and inflamed tensions between Afghan and NATO officials. Even an American hostage freed in a dramatic rescue has questioned why the SEALs killed all his captors.

Let’s hold the applause for a few minutes and consider what this means for our wars, for our military, and for America.

Continue reading


Should we use our special operations troops as assassins? Is it right, or even smart?

Summary: As we learn the details about the raid by US special operations forces on bin Laden’s home, we should reflect on how we have used our elite troops since 9/11. Years of dark deeds with bad outcomes show a people on the road to failure. Closing our eyes while we fantasize makes the ride more enjoyable, but not the end.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“I’ll be the good guy.  You be the American special ops assassin.”
— Children at play around the world.

Special Forces

Image by Eric A. Hendrix.


  1. Destroying the brand.
  2. The tip of our spear.
  3. Consequences.
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  Destroying the brand

Every first year MBA student knows that a company’s brand is among its most valuable assets. So it goes for nations as well, where brands attack allies and generate foes. WWII created the brand that we think of as America. But we’re creating a new brand for America that will influence our grand strategy for generations to come.

The CIA has long had a dark reputation overseas, overthrowing democratically elected governments that dare to oppose America. It installed tyrants. But the doers of these dark deeds was compartmentalized, it’s deeds somewhat concealed.

The bin Laden raid shows a next step in the formation of a new face for America as our finest soldiers indelibly stain their reputations by becoming assassins, striking from the night (much as America’s technology becomes Skynet — drones run by cowards that kill from cushy seats on the other side of the globe).

The occasional hit might be forgiven or overlooked.  But as the Romans said, Dosis facit venenum.  It is the dose that makes the poison.  Too many hits and our special ops forces might as well adopt “America’s Sword and Shield” as their motto.  If the KGB will lend it to us.

Continue reading

Who overthrew the Taliban: Special Forces’ guns or CIA’s cash?

Summary: The information superhighway gives us the illusion of knowledge about our world. Yet the past 50 years teaches us that we know so little and that so much remains hidden for so long. Previous posts provide examples from the post-WWII era. Today we look at a telling vignette from our post-9/11 era, a story still shaping how we view these endless and futile interventions. As we begin a new round of wars, we should clearly see the outlines of the ones before.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
— The Editor explains in “Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962).

Our secret weapon in Afghanistan

Our secret weapon in Afghanistan.

We have to be suspicious of hidden history behind what we know. For example thirty years passed until we learned about the Allies’ secret weapon in WWII — cryptography — and had to downgrade the accomplishments of our generals (If NAZI’s had such an advantage, the swastika might still fly over Berlin). How much of our history since 9/11 remains hidden?

For example, what were the reasons for our government’s invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan (the stated reasons appear bogus)? Today we examine a smaller issue that shows two reasons why we remain ignorant. It explains how we so quickly overthrew the Taliban in our 2001 invasion, with so few troops.

The standard “narrative” tells how the Special Forces moved among the native — dressing like them, showing mastery of their skills — much as the white guy hero did in Avatar — convinced them to rebel, and with the aid of US airpower led the natives to victory.  It was a reboot of the equally almost-true story of our role in defeating the Russian in Afghanistan, right down to the heroic unconventional troops on horseback. Is this the whole truth?

Continue reading

What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why?

Summary:  We resume our analysis of modern war with a brief description of 4th generation war. Who fights it, and why. This is the 4th chapter in a series of posts following the 25th anniversary of the Marine Corps Gazette article “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”. A series of writers explain our past defeats at the hands of 4GW foes, and prepare you for those to come. Since these defeats are unnecessary, this might motivate you to join the effort to retake the reins of America.


Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid


  1. What is the 4th generation of war?
  2. War is a conflict; not all conflicts are war
  3. Posts in this series about 4GW
  4. For More Information
  5. The Evolution of Warfare graph

(1)  What is the 4th generation of war?

Many trends since WW2 forced ended the supremacy of 3GW (aka maneuver war, blitzkrieg), and powered the rise to dominance of 4GW. Two of the most important are…

  1. The slow spread of nuclear weapons since WW2 has forced the end of conventional warfare between developed states.
  2. Loyalty to the State has peaked around the world. As its influence declines in people’s hearts and minds, other loyalties emerge.

These increase the power of non-state entities, reversing the growth of State power since the Treaties of Westphalia legitimized the the State as the only entity able to use force within its bounds. Unlike the first 3 generations of war (from Napoleon to Hitler), 4GWs are fought by a wider range of players (as they were before).

  1. Multi-national corporations (imagine a 21st C East India Company)
  2. Non-governmental non-profit organizations, for example those providing regulatory services (e.g., engineering standards) and charitable efforts
  3. Ideological groups, such as radical environmentalists (example), animal rights and anti-abortion activists
  4. Mercenary armies (the Bush administration reversed centuries of work to minimize them)
  5. Transnational ethnic groups (e.g., the Kurds, the Pashtun people)
  6. Religious groups, benign or inimical depending on the observer
  7. Organized crime networks

Groups can combine along more than one of these affinities (e.g., ethnic criminal networks such as the Mafia). These can organize within a state, or use modern communication and transportation technology to easily build global networks, greatly increasing their power and reach.

Any of these can employ force, either domestically and globally — within the State, between States, between States and global non-state entities, and between non-state entities. In the 21st C any of these non-state entities can again become great powers, as they have in the past. Martin van Creveld calls these non-Trinitarian conflicts, as they break Clausewitz’s “trinity” of the government, the army, and the people.

Continue reading

“SAS kill up to 8 jihadis each day, as allies prepare to wipe IS off the map.” Bold words we’ve heard before.

Summary: We interrupt our series of articles about 4GW for a news bulletin illustrating why we so often lose them.  We don’t just lose them. We excitedly cheer while losing. We feel bold and powerful when we lose. FAILure to learn has painful consequences, but feels great when it blinds us to unpleasant news. Reform hurts; it’s the price paid to win. A price we seem unwilling to pay.

Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. This is the 2nd of two posts today.

— Old wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous (details here)


Vainglorious (click to enlarge and see the real picture)

SAS quad bike squads kill up to 8 jihadis each day,
as allies prepare to wipe IS off the map

Daily News

22 November 2014
(the date doesn’t matter, since these stories appear so often in the news —
and have since the 1950s)

Opening to this story about bold Western soldiers on their way to victory:

Daring raids by UK Special Forces leave 200 enemy dead in just four weeks. Targets are identified by drones operated by SAS soldiers. Who are then dropped into IS territory by helicopter to stage attacks. The surprise ambushes are said to be ‘putting the fear of God into IS’. The raids are attacking IS’s main supply routes across western Iraq. …

Pictures of brave bold British soldiers and their weapons accompany the text. Plus aerial photos of the results. These fun stories build support for the government, enthusiasm for the war, make us feel well-informed, and fill the space between advertisements. In the future these stories will be written by software, as their rigid template has been perfected by use in scores of wars since Mao brought 4GW to maturity after WW2.

How many such stories have we read since 9/11? Too bad that killing our way to victory has almost never worked when applied by foreign armies against well-established insurgencies. See the links below to learn about the sad history of this tactic against 4GW. For an analysis of why this fails see The solution to jihad: kill and contain our foes. Give war another chance!

That we try it again (and again) represents a FAILure to learn, perhaps even outright insanity. Why do we fail to learn? The officer corps of western nations is probably the best-educated in history (although Martin van Creveld shows that they’re not usefully educated). They’re supported by a massive corps of civilian geopolitical experts, most with PhD’s in relevant specialties, often from our elite universities. Yet out ability to learn from experience would be considered retarded in a toddler.  Perhaps we cannot reform our military until we solve this puzzle.

Continue reading

Expanding the size and scope of our Special Operations Forces, an alternative to learning from our failed wars

Summary:  The military runs to daylight, using the public’s fears and cheers to expand. We make that easy, since Americans have long loved bold violent heroes. Our latest heroes are the men of the Special Operations Forces. And so the military literature fills with proposals for their expansion in size and missions. Without, unfortunately but typically, examining their record of success.

Special Operations Command


  1. A Special Operations Forces Extravaganza
  2. The Special Forces at work: The School of the Americas
  3. Since we don’t learn, here’s the obligatory story about Vietnam
  4. Future of SOF
  5. Conclusions
  6. A warning
  7. History of COIN
  8. For More Information
  9. Nostalgia for the last time we took this ride

(1)  A Special Operations Forces Extravaganza

American military history since WW2 has been a series of fads. The nuclear Army battlefield. Unconventional warfare,. The Air Force’s variable-wing aircraft and their countless multi-billion dollar X-failures.  COIN. Adequate research would have shown the critical flaws in all these, but we preferred not to know.

Now we have the latest: the Special Operations extravaganza. As described in “Thoughts on the Future of Special Operations“, David S. Maxwell, Small Wars Journal, 31 October 2013

As the post 9-11 era of the War on Terrorism winds down, the Services are rightly looking to the future.  With the severe fiscal constraints, drawdown of personnel, and an uncertain future of threats there is a debate on whether the military should focus solely on traditional war fighting and deterrence or sustain and further develop the capabilities to deal with the unconventional warfare threats posed by state and non-state actors from the Iran Action Network to North Korea’s Department 39 to Al Qaeda.  The Special Operations community is having this debate as well and it has resulted in controversial visions for the future including establishing a Global SOF Network (GSN).

The purpose of this paper is to briefly argue that the future of Special Operations rests in a thorough understanding of its fundamental and traditional missions and then adapting sound, tried and true, and still relevant historical doctrine, mission sets, and tactics, techniques, and procedures for the uncertain future operating environment.

In summary this paper will briefly highlight six specific points.

  1. The U.S. faces national security threats in three fundamental forms of warfare: nuclear warfare, conventional warfare, and unconventional warfare.
  2. The future is characterized by the need to conduct unconventional warfare (UW) and to be able to counter unconventional warfare.
  3. The U.S. has the greatest surgical strike capability in the world but it needs to prioritize and resource equally our special warfare capabilities.
  4. The U.S. needs Strategists and Policy makers who have a deep understanding of and value the strategic options of UW and Counter-UW.
  5. Effective Special Warfare is counter-intuitively characterized by slow and deliberate employment – long duration actions and activities, relationship establishment, development, and sustainment.
  6. SOF will always have a role in hybrid conflict and conventional warfare.

This is an excellent article by an expert, well-conceived and well-written. From another perspective it is quite strange. We have just lost two substantial wars — failures to achieve a gain for our national interests despite the expenditure of massive blood and money. Both wars had large-scale involvement of special operations. Both wars’ legacy have the potential of serious long-term damage to our relationship with important nations:

Continue reading

The future calls the Marine Corps, but they refuse to answer

Summary:  An organization’s destiny rides on its leaders’ decisions on those rare occasions when the future call. Their response puts the organization on the path to success, or decay. Sometimes that happens on the field in battle.  Sometimes it’s a call to action, to serve by growing. After 9/11 the future called the US Marine Corps, and they refused. They might not get another opportunity.



Here’s a timely, insightful, and provocative article: “Can the Marines Survive?“, Lloyd Freeman (Lt Col, USMC), Foreign Policy, 26 March 2013.

The author is a Marine infantry officer, and has served three combat tours, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He currently serves as the Deputy Executive Assistant in the Expeditionary Warfare Division of the U.S. Navy.


Following the 9/11 attacks, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approached the Marine commandant and asked if the Marines could take on a special operations role within the Department of Defense.

For the secretary, it seemed logical. The Marine Corps is designed to operate independently when necessary; it can sustain itself with a well-oiled logistics organization, and it even has its own air wings. At the time, most special operations forces resided in the Army and in Navy Special Warfare and there was an emerging shortage of operators. The Corps could have filled the gap in special forces that existed right after 9/11.

Instead of taking taking this bold path to the future, the USMC attempted to become a second Army, putting their investment capital in the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (see Wikipedia) and the VTOL version of the F-35. The first has been canceled; the F-35 limps forward with costs skyrocketing and inferior performance (See “Marine F-35 Jump-Jet PR: Caveataxpayer Emptor“, Time, 27 March 2013).

These failed programs, burning much of their R&D funding, are less important for the USMC’s future than their loss of the “elite ground forces” niche in the minds of the American public — now owned by the Special Operations Forces.  This bumps the USMC decisively into the “second Army” market niche.  When budgets get cut, the second source gets cut first.

Result: the Marines have a small slice of the exiting future for US ground forces — Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) — when they could have had almost the whole pie.

Can the USMC recover from this? It will take more creativity and insight than USMC’s leadership has shown so far.

Destiny offers the Marines two choices

Continue reading