Special Operations: June 3, 2004

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The Special Forces is trying to make an end run around the long time CIA monopoly on using money as a battlefield weapon. The CIA has long had a large secret budget for bribing foreigners, or hiring them as mercenaries. This sort of thing is an ancient practice, and was used with great success by the CIAs World War II predecessor, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services.) But thats where the current problem begins, in World War II. The OSS was disbanded right after World War II, and only reconstituted as the CIA a few years later (as the Cold War got started.) The problem was, some parts of the disbanded OSS wandered off to try and keep themselves going. 

A lot of the guys who had been out in the bush raising armies of irregulars during World War II went off the U.S. Army and founded the Special Forces. No problem, at first. Initially, the Special Forces were established for use in a major war. The CIA would handle all the peacetime stuff with hiring and training foreign gunmen. This worked, although in Vietnam, the Special Forces had to scrape up cash from the Department of Defense, State Department and anywhere else they could in order to maintain the army they raised among the tribes of the central highlands.  But the war on terror has not worked out the same way. While the CIA brought plenty of cash to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Special Forces are there for the longer term, and the CIA tends to move on, and take their money with them. Theres another new problem as well, and its called SOCOM (Special Operations Command.) Founded in 1987 to coordinate all of the Special Forces, commandoes and special operations in the Department of Defense, SOCOM knew from the start that it might end up competing with the CIA in overseas operations. Not competing in a negative sense, but that SOCOM would have to take over operations that the CIA had started, and SOCOM might inherit a CIA payroll for local troops, agents or allies. Thats exactly whats happening in Afghanistan. 

The Afghanistan victory was won so quickly in late 2001 partly because of cash. Afghan warlords have, for thousands of years, been responsive to a cash offer. Even during the 1980s war with the Russians, many Afghan warlords stayed on the sidelines, or even helped the Russians, because the Russians paid for that help (in dollars or gold.) But over the last year, the CIA has been moving some of its people to other parts of the world, or across the border into Pakistan, leaving it largely to SOCOM and Special Forces teams to fill in. But the CIA took their larger cash stash with them. Thus SOCOM is lobbying Congress to grant SOCOM a cash weapon that is in the same league with the CIAs. 

The CIA is not happy with this kind of competition. The Department of Defense has long complained that the CIA does not provide useful information quickly enough and that the military will go do the job itself. So we have a classic turf battle. But its more than that. The Special Forces should have had, from the beginning, a large pile of cash allocated for each of its operations. The Special Forces uses cash like ammunition, and each operation would involve different amounts of money to hire locals (for spying, construction, or fighting), or bribe local opponents to switch sides to stay neutral. 

The myth had developed that, once the Special Forces showed up, they would rally the locals to fight for nothing. It doesnt work that way. The locals have to eat and provide for their families. While they may want to go off to war with the Special Forces, they have their priorities. The CIA has long understood that, and has always used cash as a weapon, and a way to help their local allies keep their families fed while the CIA was being helped. In Afghanistan is was often a simple matter of hiring a few hundred locals, at under a hundred dollars a month per man, to be trained by the Special Forces, and then to perform whatever military tasks the Special Forces wanted done. The Afghans had their own weapons, and they admired the Special Forces as warriors. In many cases, the CIA would provide the money for the payroll. But when the CIA had to move the money to another area, the Special Forces were left in a tough situation.

SOCOM will probably get the cash, as SOCOM is the ones that have gotten the most done in the last three years (at least publicly, many CIA successes remain secret.) But expect to see the usual you cant trust SOCOM with all this cash antics from Congress before the check is signed. 

 


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