Special Operations: March 31, 2004


Commandos in Iraq and Afghanistan are getting back to their roots. From the beginning (during World War II), commandos were used for intelligence gathering as well as daring attacks. Sometimes the two missions would be combined, with a commando raid on an enemy headquarters deep in enemy territory. Such missions not only put an important headquarters out of action for a while, but also resulted in a valuable haul of enemy documents or equipment. But most often, commandos were sent into enemy held areas to just watch, and take notes. 

In Afghanistan, small groups of Special Forces troops move, unobserved (usually at night) deep into territory controlled by a pro-Taliban tribes. There, they set up telescopes and electronic sensors and watch, for days, who entered or left a compound that was suspected of hiding senior Taliban or al Qaeda people. Sometimes these missions paid off, and another few terrorists were captured or killed.

In Iraq, Special Forces and commandos have proved particularly effective on raids (looking for terrorists, documents or anything useful). Special Operations troops are selected for many abilities, and one of them is a talent for carefully observing a location and quickly finding items that are out of the way or hidden. On scouting missions, this ability to "see what others miss" is often the difference between life and death. But charging into a home or workplace, commandos are better able, than regular troops, to see where someone tried to hide something, or set up a booby trap. Saddam Hussein was carefully hidden in his hole, but the commander of the troops searching for him on December 14, 2003, was confident that his well trained commandos would spot any hiding place.

All infantry and marines are trained to look for things that are not all that obvious, but the commandos get more intensive training and more practice. This is one of those skills that is often overlooked when one thinks of what makes a commando so effective. But being able to see, what is normally unseen, is one of the key skills in many aspects of special operations.


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