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Special Operations: The War Inside SOCOM
   Next Article → COUNTER-TERRORISM: Al Qaedas Arabian Riddle
August 12, 2007: In the U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command), there's a growing friction between advocates of Unconventional Warfare (UW), and Direct Action (DA). UW means doing what the Special Forces were originally established to do. That is, go into hostile territory, develop useful contacts, collect information, and pave the way for effective direct action, or, preferably, arrange for friendly locals to do it for us. The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was a good example of UW. The few hundred CIA and Special Forces operators who went in had, over the years, developed contacts inside Afghanistan. In 2001, they brought cash, and smart bombs from American warplanes overhead. Few of those operators did much fighting. They were there to facilitate, negotiate and expedite. UW at its finest. The Afghans did most of the fighting, and the Taliban were out of power within two months.

 

But as the war on terror proceeded, there were more calls for direct action by SOCOM commandos (Special Forces, SEALS and Rangers). The feeling is that there is no time available to spend years developing contacts and laying the ground work for the kind of rapid defeat of the enemy as happened in Afghanistan. Indeed, the underpinnings of the rapid collapse of the Taliban went back about twenty years, when the Special Forces and CIA got involved aiding Afghans who were fighting the Russian occupation of their country. But now, no one wanted to wait two decades, or even one, to prep the battlefield for a decisive defeat of al Qaeda. People, politicians and the media wanted action, Direct Action.

 

Many in SOCOM view the UW crowd as old fashioned, and relics of a bygone era. It's believed that new information processing and communications technologies make UW less useful, and DA more likely to produce results, and a lot sooner. The DA crowd has impatient politicians and media behind them, while the UW guys just continue to point out that the only way to get results in some situations, like pinpointing the location of Osama bin Laden, is via UW.

 

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Sol    Hmmm   8/12/2007 3:02:38 PM
More direct action would justify the expansion of spec ops, but more UW would require a "more tailored" force. I can't wait to see how this plays out. I think a major cause of this problem is the fact that conventional forces are starting to do traditional Special Forces training missions. This might just be a squabble over turf in the end. Good piece.
 
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Horsesoldier       8/12/2007 3:29:08 PM

More direct action would justify the expansion of spec ops, but more UW would require a "more tailored" force. I can't wait to see how this plays out. I think a major cause of this problem is the fact that conventional forces are starting to do traditional Special Forces training missions. This might just be a squabble over turf in the end. Good piece.


It's actually a rather poorly informed and misleading piece.  In my opinion, from inside USASOC, we're stressing both approaches very heavily.  Everyone understands that what the piece kind of incorrectly identifies as "UW" is how we identify targets.  DA is how we kill them.  Can't have one without the other, and I don't know anybody who says otherwise.  You might find some guys who don't want to personally do UW because DA is sexy (a lot of them are in the Navy . . .), but everyone I deal with recognizes that without someone working the unconventional warfare side of the equation an SF ODA or SEAL Platoon is just a fairly poorly armed infantry squad.
 
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SOP919F3       8/13/2007 1:11:14 AM
The DAs are spending too much time watching Spike TV.
 
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GOP       8/13/2007 1:20:19 AM
I don't see how there is any war in SOCOM. Both parts are absolutely necessary, especially in todays confusing brand of warfare. I don't understand the point of the article. Like horse said, you use UW to find the enemy and DA to kill them, they are both vital to the mission. There are very few SOF units that are designed solely for UW or DA, outside of guys like Civial Affairs and ISA who almost do pure UW missions. Almost anyone in the business (and I'm definitely not in the business) knows that both parts are equally important, so there is no war.
 
Horse, nice cheap shot at guys in the Navy. You are pretty good at those cheap shots at SEALs. You seem to forget how well the SEALs did in the Balkans and other places using UW.
 
 
 
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longrifle       8/13/2007 7:51:37 AM
Maybe I don't know the full story, but I don't believe anyone spent years in Burma developing contacts with the Kachin people before OSS Detachment 101 was inserted to organize, train, and lead them against the Japanese.

Maybe the British Indian Army had previous contacts with them?



 
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longrifle       8/13/2007 8:02:26 AM
Maybe I should clarify my last post a little.

I thought the article made it sound like UW doesn't have a chance unless years have been invested developing rapport with a particular people before they can be made into effective resistance fighters.  I'm sure that's a great advantage but is it always a necessity? 

I'd like to hear Old Grunt weigh in on this one.

 
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DarkNinja       8/13/2007 10:54:32 AM



More direct action would justify the expansion of spec ops, but more UW would require a "more tailored" force. I can't wait to see how this plays out. I think a major cause of this problem is the fact that conventional forces are starting to do traditional Special Forces training missions. This might just be a squabble over turf in the end. Good piece.



It's actually a rather poorly informed and misleading piece.  In my opinion, from inside USASOC, we're stressing both approaches very heavily.  Everyone understands that what the piece kind of incorrectly identifies as "UW" is how we identify targets.  DA is how we kill them.  Can't have one without the other, and I don't know anybody who says otherwise.  You might find some guys who don't want to personally do UW because DA is sexy (a lot of them are in the Navy . . .), but everyone I deal with recognizes that without someone working the unconventional warfare side of the equation an SF ODA or SEAL Platoon is just a fairly poorly armed infantry squad.

Ok...I don't know a thing about the inner working of SOCOM but I do know that reverse mission creep has set in....former Marine Drill Instructors are now doing foreign military training.  The same applies I believes to regular formations in the Army as well....The Air Force and Navy are also hopping on this bandwagon.  The dye has been cast and the Special Ops community is going to only have DA missions left.  Correct me if i'm wrong but didn't the Army move its Civil Affairs Units out of the Special Ops house?  When was the last time you heard of a Special Forces Team training another nations forces????  Even in the biggest Special Ops area of all--Afghanistan, you don't find them doing what was once their bread and butter mission but doing more DA.  Force Recon -which got gobbled up into SOCOM - had a DA mission way down on its list of missions but with its addition you can bet its for one reason...SHOOTERS! So the regular spin isn't going to work...UW is out DA is in. 
 
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FJV       8/13/2007 3:30:07 PM
I guess at times you propably need both. Of course what the US might need more at the moment is better and more effective nation building to effctively transfer all those gains in Afghanistan and Iraq into victory.




 
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dirtykraut       8/13/2007 4:03:16 PM
Dark Ninja I have to disagree. UW is not overrated, or unwelcome. We don't pay to organize small groups of elite soldiers to be shooters, we pay to organize and train them so they could perform complex tasks, and UW is one of the tools in which they use to do their job. Without it, it's just has Horse said, they are nothing more than glorified infantry, and lightly armed targets at that. 
 
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Ehran       8/13/2007 5:03:38 PM

Maybe I don't know the full story, but I don't believe anyone spent years in Burma developing contacts with the Kachin people before OSS Detachment 101 was inserted to organize, train, and lead them against the Japanese.

Maybe the British Indian Army had previous contacts with them?




well the kachins had contact with the japs and could be considered "motivated" guys.  not necessarily the kind you run into today.
 
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