by Austin Bay
The inquiring TV talking head wanted me to walk him through a
Special Forces operation. Well, not just any operation. He didn't use the
terms "snatch" or "arrest," but that's the commando action he clearly had in
As for the target of this Army Green Beret or Navy SEAL bravado?
"Bin Laden. My producer wants to know if Special Forces can get him?"
No, the Hollywood script didn't follow, not immediately.
Hollywood must shoulder some of the blame for making "special
operations forces" (SOF) a tough subject to discuss. Admittedly, given their
elite qualifications, Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs and other SOF personnel
are naturals for Hollywood's cinematic superman treatment. Rambo -- that
figure of testosterone and steroids -- destroys a Russian regiment on his
own, machine gun blazing. Marine Raiders exit a sub in rubber boats and
wreak havoc on a Japanese island. It's a risky exploit undertaken by wily,
gutsy individuals. Homer had the plot down pat.
The fact is, SOF are "fragile" and "delicate," words few outside
the military would associate with such elite soldiers. Though highly
trained, very intelligent, completely disciplined, superbly led and
exactingly equipped, ultimately, SOF are lightly-armed infantrymen. This is
the case whether they walk, ride, fly or swim to their objective. Stealth
and accurate intelligence are their main sources of self-protection.
SOF are not designed to stand and fight. If the SOF unit's
intelligence is faulty and they meet unexpected opposition, if they are
detected by conventional forces armed with artillery, tanks and aircraft, or
if their position and activity is compromised by an intelligence leak so
that enemy security forces are prepared for them, even these elite of the
elite can be killed or captured quickly. The Rangers' failed arrest
operation in Mogadishu, Somalia (1993), was, in part, the result of
"But as they go into Afghanistan -- "
"SOF's already inside Afghanistan," I interjected. SOF's primary
job is detailed recon. SOF are providing targeting data for air strikes and
making contact with anti-Taliban Afghanis. SOF sniper teams may also be
pre-positioned, hoping for an opportune target.
"But if SOF go by helicopter into Afghanistan, the choppers'll
be vulnerable to shoulder-fired missiles and anti-aircraft guns, right?"
Correct -- getting in and out runs many risks.
Actually, the most likely SOF "raid" in Afghanistan would be
conducted by aircraft. USAF AC-130 Spectre gunships (heavily armed C-130
transports) could target a suspicious truck convoy. Ground SOF or electronic
intelligence might catch Bin Laden "moving" and direct an airstrike using
air-delivered smart bombs.
This would be similar to the U.S. shoot-down of Japanese Admiral
Yamamoto in 1943, when an intel coup led to the aerial intercept of Yamamoto
's personal aircraft.
That being noted, I gave in to television. Here's the quick
script: Night time. Long-range special ops helicopters (from the 160th
Aviation Regiment) lift SOF troops from a base in a "friendly country" in
Central Asia. Perhaps other choppers fly "feint routes" to fool Taliban
spies watching "avenues of approach."
The helo pilots wear light-amplification goggles and use hi-tech
avionics to guide them through the mountain valleys. On the chance Taliban
Stinger teams are deployed, airstrikes sweep the mountain ridges along the
helos' flight path.
Pre-positioned SOF observers watching the cave complex report
the intel is "hard" -- the terror kingpin is present.
Suddenly smart bombs from high-altitude aircraft begin to fall
in a "rain of steel" on defensive positions protecting the cave. The bombs
destroy defenses and leave surviving Taliban in shock. A "fuel air
explosive" bomb slams an open area, destroying land mines and creating a
landing zone. Seconds after the last bomb, SOF helicopters swoop into the
SOF troops spill from the helos and fire "disposable" mortars
(and possibly tear gas) into the cave. Wearing gas masks and "night goggles"
the SOF rush the cave.
A raid like this will only be undertaken (1) if intelligence is
absolutely certain (which is rare) and (2) if the target is "of the highest
The final gunfight scene in "High Noon" is a Hollywood classic.
The film's denouement is very satisfying as Gary Cooper good whips thug
evil. But a cave in Afghanistan is a poor place for face to face.
It's not the ending Hollywood wants, but in my script, our guys don't go face to face.
They blow the cave -- collapse it, like the crushed
basements of the World Trade Center. Taking a lousy terrorist alive at the
price of American casualties is -- in my opinion -- not worth the effort.