Information Warfare: May 1, 2003

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Details on coalition special operations activity in Iraq are starting to come out of the shadows. As many suspected, Special Forces troops were in Iraq months before the war began. These men were Arab speaking members of the Special Forces who were either of Arab ancestry, or could pass (many Hispanic soldiers qualified) as Arab. These troops went in wearing civilian clothes to make contact with Iraqis that had previously been identified (by intelligence or exiles) as likely to aid American war efforts. Using cash, or simply the desire of many Iraqis to drive Saddam out, agents were put to work collecting information, and being ready to support military operations. Lots of satellite phones were handed out to key people. The troops of the 5th Special Forces Group have been training their entire careers for this sort of thing. And the Special Forces itself was originally established half a century ago for missions like this. 

As one group of helpful Iraqis was established, the Special Forces A Teams would move on to use new contacts to develop additional agent networks. Before long, the Special Forces teams were operating in Baghdad itself. One mark of the success of the operation was that no Special Forces, or allied commandos, were captured during all this activity in enemy territory. There were a lot of close calls and intense firefights. But SOCOM (Special Operations Command), had its own air force of all weather helicopters and gun ships. These were backed up by coalition warplanes as needed. 

Two potential disasters were avoided largely by Special Forces efforts. The Iraqi oil fields were not set on fire because many key oil field people were bribed or threatened to not set off the explosives. Only nine oil wells were set on fire, and those were put out by April. The dams north of Baghdad were not blown because Special Forces teams monitored attempts to destroy the dams and directed the movement of U.S. Army Rangers and commandos to take control of key dams and prevent their destruction. 

Throughout the war, combat units would find themselves getting a radio message to hold fire when a few trucks with "friendlies" crossed their path. Sometimes the trucks would be full of uniformed Special Forces troops, at other times they would be men in civilians clothes. These "operators" would sometimes work with the troops to take out an otherwise unseen enemy force. Otherwise, the Special Forces teams would communicate directly with the warplanes above, to bring smart bombs down on targets the Iraqis thought they had successfully hidden.

One Baghdad and Tikrit fell, the Special Forces shifted to dealing with political unrest in the country. Civil Affairs teams (which belong to SOCOM) flooded into the country and psychological warfare units (also part of SOCOM) shifted from taking the fight out of Iraqi troops to calming down Iraqi civilians. 

When the full story of the Iraq campaign are told, SOCOM will loom far larger than just the small number (about 10,000) troops involved. The psychological impact of these operations on Iraqi troops and officials was immense and played a major role in the rapid collapse of Saddam's government.

 


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