Special Operations: Another Commando Olympics

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January 1, 2016: By the end of 2015 the U.S. and Britain revealed that they are sending more commandos (SAS, Special Forces, SEALs) to Iraq and Syria, all in response to the November 13 ISIL attack in Paris. Previously it was known that Jordan and Iran also had commandos operating in the area. Recently Russia has sent some of its spetsnaz commandos to Syria and several other nations (mostly NATO) are also making contributions. All this is shaping up to look like Afghanistan in the decade after 2001. So many nations spent commandos to Afghanistan in that time that this soon be called "the Commando Olympics". This was not because so many nations had contingents there but because so many of them were working together for the first time. The different commando organizations weren't competing with each other and were performing similar missions. But each national contingent used slightly different methods and equipment. Naturally, everyone compared notes and made changes based on combat experience. That was 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 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 about commandos in Afghanistan and Syria is something you'll never hear much about, except in history books, many years from now.

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. The situation in 2015 Syria is very similar and the international collection of commandos is very similar.

In Afghanistan the abundance of commandos had some interesting side effects. In 2009 the new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan had a Special Forces background and he changed the rules for how special operations forces operated there. This made it easier for commandos to operate in Afghanistan and that encouraged several nations to keep their commandos in Afghanistan even though most nations were preparing to withdraw most of their military forces there.

While Britain invented the modern commando during World War II the United States took this a step further and developed something different after World War II; the U.S. Army Special Forces. This was 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 but 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. That is what happened in Afghanistan and that experience is now used in Syria.

 


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