Special Operations: Unleashing Special Forces In Afghanistan



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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