The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan

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Decapitation in Afghanistan
by James Dunnigan
September 9, 2008

Discussion Board on this DLS topic

Afghanistan is once more becoming a gathering place for special operations (commando) operators from dozens of countries. This has led to the development of a new strategy, of trying to destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership. Several years worth of experience and information collected by the thousands of commandos has provided a way to do this. Commandos could track the terrorist leaders, and also use a network of informants they had developed along the border, on both sides, over the years. In addition, the U.S. had developed electronic and visual surveillance capabilities that provide the commandos with additional eyes, and weapons. The commandos are particularly fond of Predator and Reaper UAVs, which come operators describe as having a full time spy satellite overhead. Commandos, as well as smart bombs and Hellfire missiles.

These "decapitation" operations have increased this year, and are expected to keep increasing into next year. The Taliban and al Qaeda have already figured out what is going on, and are increasingly paranoid when it comes to informers, using their own cell or satellite phones, and any unidentified aircraft in the area. The terrorists keep changing the way they meet and communicate, yet they keep getting killed. While the terrorists can replace leaders and technical specialists, they cannot replace them with people of equal experience. And as they move into the shallow end of the talent pool, more mistakes are made. Al Qaeda operatives who have fled Iraq to Afghanistan, have noticed, and commented on, the lower level of technical expertise among their Afghan brothers. While most Iraqi terrorists were literate, and some even had formal technical training, most Afghans are illiterate, and any technical training they might have was acquired informally. This has led to more bombs that don't go off on cue, or, worse yet, explode while being worked on, or emplaced. This sort of thing will happen more, as the talent pool gets diluted. The terrorists have a nearly inexhaustible supply of gunmen and suicide bombers from the hundreds of pro-terror religious schools in Pakistan. Plenty of cash is available from contributions and criminal activities (particularly working for the heroin gangs in Afghanistan). But leadership cannot be bought, nor can you hire technical people to work the high risk (and high death rate) border areas. You have to develop your own leaders and technical people. And if the enemy kills off those leaders and techies too rapidly, the terror operations will collapse. That's how the Israelis crippled Palestinian terrorist operations several years ago, and how the Americans crushed al Qaeda in Iraq, and throughout the rest of the world. Now that solution is being applied to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and commandos from over a dozen nations are in charge.

From the beginning, in September, 2001, Afghanistan was very much a special operations war. The United States asked all of its allies to contribute their commando forces, and most eagerly obliged. This enthusiasm came from the realization that this part of the world was particularly difficult to operate in, and would be a welcome challenge to men who had trained hard for years for missions like this. In addition, most nations saw Islamic terrorism as a real threat, and knew that key terrorist leaders were still hiding out in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Even after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which many Western and Middle Eastern nations opposed, they kept sending their commandoes to Afghanistan. But few commandos were allowed into Pakistan, where most of the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership were hiding. Efforts to operate in Pakistan created growing hostility from Pakistani intelligence agencies, which contained many al Qaeda sympathizers. The Pakistani government was reluctant to come down too hard on the Taliban and al Qaeda members on their Afghan border. So the commandos proceeded to learn all about the pro-Taliban tribes in Afghanistan, and secretly sneaked across into Pakistan as well.

Most of these commando operations have been kept secret. This is typical for commando operations, but in this case, many of the nations involved don't want it known that they are involved. This has especially been the case with Arab nations that have contributed commando units. The only time any information gets into the media is, typically, when a commando contingent returns. In that way, the Norwegian media covered the return of their special forces from, as it was described, "another mission" to Afghanistan. Many nations have either sent their commandoes to Afghanistan in shifts, maintaining a near continuous presence, or send some in for a few months, or up to a year, then bring them home for a year or so, before sending them back. For many nations, this is the only combat experience any of their troops are receiving. These countries are often officially hostile to the U.S. effort in Iraq, and refuse to send combat troops to Afghanistan. But commandos in Afghanistan are another matter, partly because nearly all commandos are eager to go.

Afghanistan has been called "the Commando Olympics," because so many nations have contingents there. While the different commando organizations aren't competing with each other, they are performing similar missions, using slightly different methods and equipment. Naturally, everyone compares notes and makes changes based on combat experience. That's the draw for commandoes, getting and using "combat experience." Training is great, but there's nothing like operating against an armed and hostile foe. This is all a real big thing, as the participating commandoes are becoming a lot more effective. But you can't get a photograph of this increased capability, and the commandoes aren't talking to the press. So it's all a big story you'll never hear much about, except in history books, many years from now.

 

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