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Special Operations: Unleashing Special Forces In Afghanistan
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June 15, 2009: The new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has a Special Forces background, and is expected to change the rules for how special operations forces operate there. From the beginning, in September, 2001, Afghanistan was very much a special operations (commando) 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. 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. All were encouraged by the American example, where a few hundred Special Forces operators managed to use some Afghan allies and U.S. warplanes equipped with smart bombs, to bring down the Taliban government in less than two months.

Afghanistan went on to be called "the Commando Olympics," because so many nations have (or had) 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.

Most Americans tend to forget that the U.S. Army Special Forces are a unique organization in military, and intelligence, history. No other nation has anything like the Special Forces, and never had. The idea of training thousands of troops to very high standards, then having them study foreign languages and cultures, is unique to the Special Forces. The war on terror is the kind of war Special Forces are perfectly suited to dealing with. But because of decades of operating independently, the Special Forces troops tended to operate on their own, with infrequent collaboration with regular army (or marine) troops. Many in the Special Forces and regular forces have urged that there be more operations featuring closer cooperation and coordination between Special Forces and the more traditional combat troops. It's expected that this will now be happening in Afghanistan.

In addition, Special Forces (and special operations troops in general) will get more resources. This is part of a trend, as commanders have found that efforts are more successful when Special Forces personnel are taking the point. This has led to some special operations troops getting special privileges, like wider authority to call in artillery fire and air strikes. Thus this "unleashing" of the Special Forces and other special ops units (SEALs and foreign commandos) will lead to some interesting situations.

 

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Iconoclast1    wrong again   6/15/2009 5:57:40 AM
Normally I agree with strategy page articles 90% of the time. The one exception is when it comes to mistakes in the historical record when it comes to describing the American military. The first time was when an article talking about armoured warfare described the american tank crews of WWII as superior to the germans, enabling them to defeat their opponents in normandy and elsewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth.
 
This article is the second time that the author has a rather american centric distorted view on history.  The statement "No other nation has anything like the Special Forces, and never had. The idea of training thousands of troops to very high standards, then having them study foreign languages and cultures, is unique to the Special Forces." is completely false. Read up on the Brandenberg division and the german special forces in general during WWII (Jagerverbande Mitte and Skorzeny in particular, along with the operations during the Battle of the Bulge which formed the template for Spetznaz and US special forces alike), which the Americans studied and copied just like they studied and copied German fighter tactics and created the top gun program based around the teachings of german air aces. 
 
 Other than these occasional inaccuracies, I enjoy and respect strategy page considerably. I just wish that sometimes Americans didnt believe they invented everything first.
 
 
 
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Tamerlane    Concur 100%   6/15/2009 8:32:10 AM
What gave the writer the idea that spec ops was something new?  Back in The Big War the OSS trained many who could acculturate into German and E European nations to  raise hell.  Lately, the US has placed a lot of emphasis on Spec Ops & SOCOM and it had better pay off cause they are usually getting what they want at the expense of regular forces.  The sutpid part is that everyone from the local redneck sheriff to regular forces want to play the Spec Ops-fast-roping, Combat Rubber Raiding Craft game, this is is really evidenced when way too many (and redundant) SWAT-like assets show up at something like the recent Holocaust Mus. shooting.  Al Qaida, et al, ain't stupid.  With all these assets on scene, who's gonna keep track and any idiot with a BATF/FBI/SWAT....sweat shirt, high-speed gear and an AR-15 could show up and raise hell.
 
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razputin       6/15/2009 7:00:19 PM
You guys are missing the point. We Russians tried this before. OsNaz units or as its known now SpetsNaz has had a great success in Afghanistan during the SU engagement there. We lacked the modern communications equipment of the SpecOps but whatever special training,  tactics and weapons at our disposal prooved very effective when tracking mujaheddin, their leaders and caravans. We had the close air support at our disposal as well and yet carpet bombing afghans into submission never really worked. It only produced more resentment and even more mujaheddin to kill.
 
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cwDeici       6/16/2009 4:59:08 AM
It goes like this: they read other articles and agree with the assertion that the number of high-quality Amie SpecOps is unparalelled in history. Being intermittently lazy (though not as much as with Pakistan in particular) they don't bother to check up on history.
 
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Sty0pa       6/16/2009 1:44:43 PM
While the tone of the article is needlessly US-centric, and by no means are US Special Forces unique in that they're elite, nor even that they are special in that they learn foreign cultures and languages - all of that has been done for years by many countries.
 
I think what's nearly unique (I'm sure someone will contradict me) about US SF is that they are specifically trained to train others, and to use as their primary mission the peoples in which they're embedded.  They're not particularly meant to be commandos (ala Force Recon, SEALs, etc.) but instead to TRAIN native soldiers and act as a cadre for the formation of indigenous forces.
 
The uniqueness lies in their focus on native forces.  Soviet Special Forces were certainly trained to go behind NATO lines and work with already-established 5th Columns; but the US SF troops were based on (what I think is a US assumption) that there were 'normal people' who would be sympathetic to whatever the US war goals were in a given conflict.  Nazi germany had airborne commandos, but none of them (as far as I know) were trained to land in France or Britain and raise forces against those governments.  Soviet commandos operated in Afghanistan, but I don't believe that they spent a great deal of time training and equipping irregular forces to fight against the Mujahedeen.  (Of course, this was a little reversed, since Soviets were supporting the sham government in Kabul, I'd expect that they DID train actual Afghan army personnel.)
 
So that's my take - the US SF is unique (or nearly so) in its focus and primary role, not for its languages or elite training.
 
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gf0012-aust       6/16/2009 5:25:29 PM
I think what's nearly unique (I'm sure someone will contradict me) about US SF is that they are specifically trained to train others, and to use as their primary mission the peoples in which they're embedded.  They're not particularly meant to be commandos (ala Force Recon, SEALs, etc.) but instead to TRAIN native soldiers and act as a cadre for the formation of indigenous forces.
Not meaning to nitpick, but thats not something unique to the US either.  eg look up the AATTV for a "published" example.  That was a focus for commonwealth specwarries in certain conflicts as we have never had the same critical mass and luxury of "fat" that the US is able to enjoy.  Borne out of necessity so to speak.  UK SAS did the same in Aden as well as in jungle communities in the 50's
 
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smitty237       6/17/2009 12:55:18 AM
StyOpa has a point.  The American Special Forces units are trained to perform the same missions that other nations' elite unit are trained to perform, but what makes the Special Forces unique is their focus on the ability to infilitrate hostile environments and work closely with the indigenous population.  The only way you can effectively do this is if you are well versed in the customs and language of that particular area.  The American Special Forces are organized so that they can respond to situations anywhere in the world on short notice and begin working with the locals.  Within weeks of 9/11 American Special Forces troopers were on the ground in Afghanistan coordinating with the Northern Alliance.  No other country can do this as well as the Special Forces.  Sure the British SAS, German KSK, and French Foreign Legion are definitely among the best operators on the planet, but they do not have the same language capabilities and civil affairs training that your Special Forces Teams do. 
 
This is not just an "American centric" bragging point, because no other unit in the US military can do what the Special Forces can do either, including Delta, the SEALS, or anything the Marine Corps has (although they're working on an equivalent). 
 
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Panther       6/17/2009 1:16:15 AM


This is not just an "American centric" bragging point, because no other unit in the US military can do what the Special Forces can do either, including Delta, the SEALS, or anything the Marine Corps has (although they're working on an equivalent). 

Very good point smitty! And one that i am sure rankles other regular military units?
 
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gf0012-aust       6/17/2009 4:49:07 AM
Sure the British SAS, German KSK, and French Foreign Legion are definitely among the best operators on the planet, but they do not have the same language capabilities and civil affairs training that your Special Forces Teams do. 
again, thats not the case.  eg we interact with (at last count) 27 other special forces from just over 20 different countries - every one of those countries has a native speaking cohort.  Certainly for UK SAS, Canada JTF2, Aust SASR, NZSAS we put our operators through accelerated language classes.  In the case of Aust we conduct that through agencies such as DFAT.  UK and NZ do it through their equiv foreign affairs agencies as well.  In the case of Regular army training, we for example have arabic diallects and bhasa as mainstream courses.  

There are some very bad assumptions in that article and the problem is they will end up getting quoted as fact.  Thats juist bad factual currency and more effort should be made to get the content of these articles more factual than "attention arresting" 
 
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wrs10       6/17/2009 5:14:01 AM
As has already been pointed out outfits such as the  SAS and SBS were formed in WW2 to fill these roles.   Indeed it was the comparison between the SAS's relief of the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980 with the US's military efforts to release US hostages in Tehran which finally persuaded the US's top brass of the need to specialize.
 
I would not go overboard in the uniqueness of the US's Special Forces language skills either.  Others have been there and done that too!  Those who already had language skills or previous postings in the area would have been approached first for building the specifictask  team.  It would be reasonable to argue that the US's forces are now the biggest and the best - but certainly not unique!
 
 
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