Does SF really have a future in the leadership of SOF or the Army?
Sunday, April 02, 2006
More than door-kickers
Special ops forces are misused as man-hunters, critics say
By Sean D. Naylor
For the United States’ special operations forces, these should be the salad days. In late 2001, a relatively small number of Army Special Forces (SF) A-teams worked with the CIA and U.S. airpower to topple Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in what was universally seen as U.S. special operations forces’ finest hour. They followed this triumph with a superlative performance during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, during which multiple joint special operations task forces managed to fix far larger Iraqi conventional formations, facilitating the rapid seizure of Baghdad.
These successes resulted in vocal support for special operations forces (SOF) on the part of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon team, a respect mirrored on Capitol Hill. “Everyone’s infatuated with SOF,” said a Special Forces officer posted to Washington. “To do anything against SOF would be absolute sacrilege on both sides of the aisle.”
This consensus has allowed Rumsfeld to confer unprecedented authority and resources on U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCom), and if the Quadrennial Defense Review released Feb. 6 is any guide, this trend can only continue. The QDR promises a 15 percent increase in special operations forces, including a “one-third” increase in Special Forces battalions.
So why are so many folks in the special ops community wearing such glum faces?
A major factor is a growing perception among special operators that in the Pentagon and, increasingly, U.S. Special Operations Command, senior leaders are only interested in missions and units that emphasize one set of special ops skills — namely, man-hunting and direct action, known colloquially as “door-kicking.” Direct action and man-hunting have long been the preserve — indeed, the raison d’être — of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and its associated units: the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (aka Delta Force), SEAL Team 6 (aka Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DevGru), the 75th Ranger Regiment and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), among others. Direct action is also one of Army Special Forces’ “seven principal missions.”
What troubles many special operators, particularly those from the SF community, is that another six principal missions, as well as the contributions of the Army’s civil affairs and psychological operations units, are undervalued by their leaders. Those missions include unconventional warfare (fostering and promoting an insurgency, as the SF troops did with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban), foreign internal defense (helping a friendly government defeat an insurgency) and information operations. These are missions that, unlike direct action, place a high priority on Special Forces’ language skills and cultural awareness (each of the Army’s seven SF groups has a regional focus).
“My concern is that all we’re focused on is direct action, to the absolute exclusion of all other things,” said Mark Haselton, a retired Special Forces lieutenant colonel. “The war we are fighting (and will be fighting for years to come) will require the ability to export training in ways that others can use to organize their own capabilities. If we spend the rest of our lives ‘capturing and killing’ terrorists at the expense of those SF missions that are more important — gaining access to the local population, training indigenous forces, providing expertise and expanding capacity — we’re doomed to failure.”
An active-duty SF lieutenant colonel agreed that the Pentagon seemed more interested in direct action and man-hunting missions than in foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare and civil affairs.
“The direct action-type missions are usually fast and violent, and you can show effect immediately,” he said. “In an insurgency, though, they’re detrimental to your cause. Civil affairs, MPs, SF doing foreign internal defense, civil-military operations — those kind of things are the ones [that work]. Insurgencies by their nature last a long time, and they take a long time to defeat. So you’re going to defeat an insurgency by doing the things that it takes to defeat it, which are civil-military actions, psyops, CA [civil affairs], not necessarily DA [direct action]. With DA you create more insurgents than you eliminate. For every one guy you kill, you’ve just created five or six more.”
SOCom spokesman Ken McGraw said the facts did not support the critics’ contention that nondirect action special ops missions, such as foreign internal defense (FID) and civil affairs, are undervalued. He said combined joint special operations task forces with Special Forces at their core are performing foreign internal defense missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines. “FID missions are also taking place in other parts of the world,” he added. “[SOCom commander] Gen. [Bryan “Doug”] Brown says all the time that civil affairs is the key to winning the global war on terror, because it attacks the underlying causes of terrorism.”
DEARTH OF QUALIFIED GENERALS
Critics who perceive a bias toward direct action point to an apparent mismatch between the lack of Special Forces-qualified generals in leadership positions in the war on terror and those with a background in far smaller sections of the special ops community, such as the Rangers and the 160th SOAR.
Of SOCom’s approximately 52,000 personnel, 10,000 — almost one-fifth — are in Army Special Forces Command. This includes support personnel who are not SF-qualified but does not include all the SF-qualified soldiers who serve in the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and other headquarters.
But, the critics note, of the eight flag officers at SOCom’s MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., headquarters, only one — Brown — has any Special Forces time, and that was one tour on an A-team as an enlisted soldier. His special operations experience as an officer was as an aviator, commanding both the 160th SOAR and JSOC.
Brown’s deputy is a SEAL — Vice Adm. Eric Olson — and the director of SOCom’s Center for Special Operations, which is responsible for planning and synchronizing the command’s role in the war on terror, is Army Lt. Gen. Dell Dailey, who is also a former commander of the 160th SOAR and JSOC.
“How can they understand ... what regular Special Forces bring to the table?” asked a special operations source rhetorically. “They’ve never experienced it.”
However, McGraw said, Brown has plenty of Special Forces experience close at hand. His executive officer, aide and senior enlisted adviser are all Special Forces men. In addition, McGraw said, four of the five theater special operations commands, which fall under the geographic combatant commands like Southern Command and European Command, are led by SF officers.
The exception is the Central Command’s special operations command (SOCCent), which runs all non-JSOC special operations missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The SOCCent commander is Brig. Gen. (P) Frank Kearney, who has a Ranger background and served as JSOC’s operations officer during the first phase of the war in Afghanistan. Kearney’s boss, CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid, is a former Ranger company commander.
The commander of Joint Special Operations Command, Maj. Gen. Stan McChrystal, is another Ranger. The Pentagon plans to expand the flag officer structure of JSOC from its current model of a two-star commander with two one-star deputies to one with a three-star commander, a two-star deputy and at least two one-stars underneath them, according to several special operations sources. Under this plan, McChrystal would remain JSOC commander and be promoted to lieutenant general, and Kearney would be promoted to major general and move from SOCCent to JSOC as McChrystal’s deputy. The two one-star positions in JSOC remain in the hands of Air Force and Navy officers.
Another Ranger in a leadership position is Lt. Gen. Robert Wagner, the commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, which includes Special Forces Command. Special Forces officers note that the past two commanding generals of SF Command, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert and Brig. Gen. Gary “Mike” Jones, retired at the end of their tenures.