by Austin Bay
The inquiring TV talking head wanted me to walk him through aSpecial Forces operation. Well, not just any operation. He didn't use theterms "snatch" or "arrest," but that's the commando action he clearly had inmind.
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 "specialoperations forces" (SOF) a tough subject to discuss. Admittedly, given theirelite qualifications, Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs and other SOF personnelare naturals for Hollywood's cinematic superman treatment. Rambo -- thatfigure of testosterone and steroids -- destroys a Russian regiment on hisown, machine gun blazing. Marine Raiders exit a sub in rubber boats andwreak 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 outsidethe military would associate with such elite soldiers. Though highlytrained, very intelligent, completely disciplined, superbly led andexactingly equipped, ultimately, SOF are lightly-armed infantrymen. This isthe case whether they walk, ride, fly or swim to their objective. Stealthand accurate intelligence are their main sources of self-protection.
SOF are not designed to stand and fight. If the SOF unit'sintelligence is faulty and they meet unexpected opposition, if they aredetected by conventional forces armed with artillery, tanks and aircraft, orif their position and activity is compromised by an intelligence leak sothat enemy security forces are prepared for them, even these elite of theelite can be killed or captured quickly. The Rangers' failed arrestoperation in Mogadishu, Somalia (1993), was, in part, the result ofinaccurate intelligence.
"But as they go into Afghanistan -- "
"SOF's already inside Afghanistan," I interjected. SOF's primaryjob is detailed recon. SOF are providing targeting data for air strikes andmaking contact with anti-Taliban Afghanis. SOF sniper teams may also bepre-positioned, hoping for an opportune target.
"But if SOF go by helicopter into Afghanistan, the choppers'llbe 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 beconducted by aircraft. USAF AC-130 Spectre gunships (heavily armed C-130transports) could target a suspicious truck convoy. Ground SOF or electronicintelligence might catch Bin Laden "moving" and direct an airstrike usingair-delivered smart bombs.
This would be similar to the U.S. shoot-down of Japanese AdmiralYamamoto 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 quickscript: Night time. Long-range special ops helicopters (from the 160thAviation Regiment) lift SOF troops from a base in a "friendly country" inCentral Asia. Perhaps other choppers fly "feint routes" to fool Talibanspies watching "avenues of approach."
The helo pilots wear light-amplification goggles and use hi-techavionics to guide them through the mountain valleys. On the chance TalibanStinger teams are deployed, airstrikes sweep the mountain ridges along thehelos' flight path.
Pre-positioned SOF observers watching the cave complex reportthe intel is "hard" -- the terror kingpin is present.
Suddenly smart bombs from high-altitude aircraft begin to fallin a "rain of steel" on defensive positions protecting the cave. The bombsdestroy defenses and leave surviving Taliban in shock. A "fuel airexplosive" bomb slams an open area, destroying land mines and creating alanding zone. Seconds after the last bomb, SOF helicopters swoop into theclearing.
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 isabsolutely certain (which is rare) and (2) if the target is "of the highestvalue."
The final gunfight scene in "High Noon" is a Hollywood classic.The film's denouement is very satisfying as Gary Cooper good whips thugevil. 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 crushedbasements of the World Trade Center. Taking a lousy terrorist alive at theprice of American casualties is -- in my opinion -- not worth the effort.