Special Operations/Covert Operations to the Rescue

Posted on Fri 05/06/2011 by


By Major General Paul Vallely, U.S. Army (Ret)

Many Americans including myself have desired an effective change in the US war strategy and the wider global war against Islamic extremists and nations supporting them. I recommended to President Bush and the Defense Department team in 2003, that we must pursue a strategy of placing experienced unconventional warfare leaders in charge of the war effort against radical jihad and not use a conventional warfare strategy. The termination of Osama Bin Laden by our Navy Seals and Special Operations Commanders has once again proved the point of how we should fight for victory and success in this global war.

The team of US Special Operations Forces who killed Osama bin Laden in a pre-dawn raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was led by elite Navy SEALS from the Joint Special Operations Command. Operators from SEAL Team Six, also known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or “DevGru”, are the most elite warriors (and Delta Team) in the US military.

They are not in the business of converting anybody to our nationalist goals and nation building. They are the quiet professionals. They do it, and do it well, but they don’t talk about it. The Joint Special Operations Command (JSCOC) is an all-star team made up of the Army’s Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, Army Rangers, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment known as the “Night Stalkers.” JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. More recently, JSOC added a Targeting and Analysis Center as one of its key facilities.

The Osama bin Laden raid launched from lily pad bases with modified MH-60 helicopters flew covertly to the suburb of Abbottabad, about 30 miles from the center of Islamabad. Aboard the flight were Navy SEALs, flown across the border from Afghanistan, along with tactical signals personnel, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyper spectral imaging devices, secured by overhead fighter security. After bursts of fire over 40 minutes, 22 people were killed or captured. One of the dead was Osama bin Laden, done-in by a double tap—boom, boom—to the left side of his head.

His body and a lot of evidence were loaded aboard the choppers that made the trip back. One helicopter experienced mechanical failure and had to be destroyed by US forces on location. Latest intelligence informs us that the survivors were turned over to Pakistani security forces. They should have been extracted as well (at least the adults) for interrogation purposes. A cache of documents, hard drives and other intelligence material was also extracted and delivered to the CIA for analysis.

Under wraps, remnants of the downed U.S. helicopter are taken away by the Pakistani army.

It appears at this point, that we shared our intelligence on this compound where bin Laden lived with no other country including Pakistan; US officials believed it was essential to the safety and security of the operation and our personnel. The fact that compound was a stone’s throw from a Pakistani military installation in an upscale urban area raises disturbing questions about Pakistan’s military and/or intelligence services’ knowledge of his location and operations.

The United States has a lengthy history of US Special Operations Forces/CIA conducting targeted kill or capture operations inside Pakistan. Khalid Sheik Muhammad is perhaps the best example.

Former Pakistani President Pervez stated “that it’s a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan,” after bin Laden’s killing was announced. “American troops coming across the border and took action in one of our towns, Abbottabad, is not acceptable to the people of Pakistan.”

Musharraf’s comments are ironic given that he personally made a deal with General McChrystal to allow US Special Ops Forces to cross into Pakistan from Afghanistan to target bin Laden or other Al Qaeda leaders in the past. The so-called “hot pursuit” agreement was predicated on Pakistan’s ability to deny it, had given the US forces permission to enter Pakistan.

It is imperative that we reserve the right for US forces to operate unilaterally in any country across the globe in pursuit of proven high value terrorist targets. The Obama administration’s expansion of US Special Operations activities globally has been authorized under a classified order dating back to the Bush administration. Originally signed in early 2004 by then–Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, is known as the “AQN ExOrd,” or Al Qaeda Network Execute Order. The AQN ExOrd was intended to cut through bureaucratic and legal processes, allowing US Special Operating Forces to move into denied areas or countries beyond the official battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus, who is poised to become director of the CIA, expanded and updated that order in late 2009. SEAL Team Six also carried out the operation that killed the Somali pirates that hijacked the Maersk Alabama in April 2009. They flew from a discreet US base in Manda Bay, Kenya.

The vast majority of JSOC’s missions are highly classified and compartmentalized. In some cases, JSOC operators have conducted operations without informing the combatant commanders of their presence. “Only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of these operation.”

Unlike U.S.-led coalition troops, the adversaries in this war do not carry arms openly, wear uniforms or insignias, and abide by other laws and customs of wars specified in Geneva conventional and protocols. They instill fear in military opponents and local populations through use of suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, kidnappings, and beheadings. They often disguise themselves as civilians and hide among civilian populations with weapons stored and discharged from mosques, schools, hospitals, market-places, private residences, and public roads.

To prevail, the U.S. must continue to transition from a conventional war footing to an unconventional version and make the enemy pay a heavy price for their despicable tactics. Maybe, finally; our National Security team will advance to a new strategy that I call Joint Strike Force Operations (The Lily Pad Strategy). Let us cease this wasteful use of human and financial resources in the Middle East called “Nation Building” with its appeasing strategies entertaining the notion of bringing democracy to these nations and tribal groups. In Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, traditional troops, weapons, and tactics are less useful than tools of influence, covert operations, and intelligence brought to the battlefield by special operators working harmoniously with indigenous forces and local populations. The prime objective is to create a climate of fear within enemy ranks that breaks their will to continue the armed jihad movement. Special Operations Forces (Rangers, Seals, Delta Force, and other special Air units) leaders and troops are uniquely qualified for this global mission. In January 2003, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld designated the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as the lead military organization to prosecute the Global War on Terror but unfortunately that has never materialized.

It’s time to alter U.S. strategy by putting USSOCOM Generals and Admirals truly into command of the global war. The action continues to meet resistance throughout DoD’s conventional warfare ranks, their industry partners, and congressional allies. Many military professionals prefer to have special operators continue in a supporting; not in the lead role.

It’s imperative that the U.S. transition quickly to an unconventional war strategy with USSOCOM Generals and/or Admirals in charge or the war will be lost. There is a section of the Art of War that can help the United States. This is Sun-Tzu’s repeated emphasis on the “unorthodox” or, as we prefer to call it today, unconventional warfare. We must, from a command strategic view, look at this current global war as combating an enemy who fights in a completely unorthodox manner, and we must fight him the very same way, but more cleverly and more effectively. We must use our full military and intellectual arsenal as a super power to bring victory sooner rather than later. This can only be done with a specific endgame in mind, and with a corollary commitment to victory.

Drawn from the conflation of thought that crystallized as Taoism, the ancient strategist observes: “…in battle, one engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox.” In an especially complex passage, Sun-Tzu discusses how the orthodox may be used in unorthodox ways, while an orthodox attack may be unorthodox when it is unexpected. Taken seriously by our strategic planners, this passage could represent a subtle tool for strategic and tactical implementation, one that might purposefully exploit an enemy state’s particular matrix of military expectations.

Special covert operations are the best way to fight global terrorism. The successful Bin Laden mission shows how the war against global terrorism can best be fought by relying on special covert operators instead of huge conventional armies. It is high time our national leaders recognized this. Our nation simply doesn’t have the resources to continue investing blood and treasure into nation building enterprises or foreign aid packages – like those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan – for governments who seem too willing to protect terrorists in the hope of keeping U.S. money flowing into their coffers. President Obama often talks about teachable moments, here we see that moment clearly and starkly on display.

FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Paul E. Vallely, Major General (USA/Ret.) is an author, military strategist and Chairman of Stand Up America and Save Our Democracy Projects.

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