Special Operations: The War Inside SOCOM

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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