Special Ops Rule in War on Terror

Never before has a war so big been fought by so few: a global conflict waged by a relative handful of elite US troops, even while the scale of the fighting is incredible.”>

On May 8, the Pentagon announced that Abu Wahib was killed by a coalition airstrike in Rutba, Anbar Province, Iraqthe latest of several top-level ISIS officials to meet his objective over the past two months, as the Obama administration has steadily ratcheted up its war on the Islamic State not only in Iraq and Syria, but elsewhere in the Countries of the middle east, in Afghanistan, and Africa. Omar-al-Shishani, believed to be the chief ISIS minister of war, was killed in an airstrike in early March, while Haji Iman, the leading ISIS minister of finance and reputed first lieutenant of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, lost his life in a Special Forces-out commando raid intended to bring about his capture sometime around March 20.

To a degree unprecedented in American military history, the war against ISIS is a conflict spearheaded and orchestrated by the commandos, trainers, and consultants of the elite U.S. Special Operations Command( SOCOM ). And existing conflicts against ISIS is merely the headline-grabber in a much broader, underneath-the-radar fight being waged by Americas shadow warriors to combat instability and looming crisis wherever American vital interests are at stake.

The Special Forces-out communitys increasingly robust presence around the globe is scarcely restricted to deployments in active combat zone. Propelled by sharp spikes in demand worldwide for its unique expertise in irregular warfare and counter-terrorism, SOCOM appears to be well on its way to establishing what former SOCOM commander Admiral William McRaven calls its own global network of likeminded interagency friends and partners.

As of early 2016, almost half of the 7,500 Special Forces-out warriors overseas were posted outside the Middle East and Afghanistan, operating as both liaison and training teams inside more than 80 nations. Some of these teams are assigned to U.S. embassies, where they help to identify security risks, and provide advice to both the U.S. and foreign governments as to how these risks might be addressed before they reach crisis proportions. Others are attached immediately to armies, militias, and police forces as trainers and consultants to buttress local security abilities, and reduce the likelihood of interventions by conventional U.S. forces-out in the event of trouble.

Never before in American foreign policy has so much been entrusted to an elite cadre of unconventional war specialists.

In August 2014, McRaven, chief architect of the dramatic SEAL Team 6 raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, proclaimed, We are in the golden age of special operations. Today, signs abound that the secretive community of upper-class centurions from all four of the military forces that SOCOM oversees has grown considerably more important than it was two years ago in the execution of the Obama administrations national security policy as a whole.

In March, McRavens successor at SOCOM, Army General Joseph L. Votel, assumed the leading role of Central Command, by far and away the most strategically vital of the six regional commands in the American military. CENTCOM, of course, is responsible for overseeing operations throughout the Countries of the middle east, Southwest Asia, and North Africa, the epicenter of the Global War on Terror.

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MC2 Clayton Weis, 1st Lt. Hector R. Alejandro/ politenes US Marine Corps

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter last December announced that a specialized expeditionary force-out of several hundred humen would be sent to Iraq and Syria to buttress the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS there. Carter didnt say so explicitly, but various sources confirm that the force is composed of hunter-killer counter-terrorist squads of Tier I special forces unitsthe Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, the 75 th Ranger Regiment, and their supporting air assets. These commando divisions, said alliance spokesman Col. Steve Warren soon after Carters announcement, will focus on high value people, high-value targets. Their predilection will be to capture activists, because that allows us to collect intelligence on their organizations structure and objectives.

Col. Warren left no doubt about the coalitions mission: to help indigenous forces in the region to defeat ISIS on the ground, and retake the large swath of land it now controls in Iraq and Syria.

The efforts of this newly deployed commando task force are designed to complement those of an undisclosed number of Green Beret Operational Detachment-Alpha( ODA) divisions that have been in the war zone for many months already. These 12 -man teams have extensive linguistic and cultural educate, as well as wide-ranging military expertise, and they work by, with, and through the Iraqi Army, as well as a coterie of anti-ISIS militias in Iraq and Syria, providing tactical advice and forward air controllers to pinpoint ISIS targets for Coalition air strikes.

As of this writing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, SOF, and conventional support troops blended hovers around 4,000, but the Pentagon has made no secret that it expects that number to increase steadily in the coming months. Its a sure bet that a good percentage of these future deployments will be special operators of one kind or another.

Additional SOF deployments have recently been announced to combat ISIS-affiliated groups in Somalia, Libya, Cameroon, and several other African countries, even as SOF forces-out are actively combating a rising tide of Taliban and pro-ISIS insurgents in Afghanistan. U.S. commanders there claim to have killed or captured a hundred or more ISIS-affiliated fighters between late 2015 and early 2016, mostly in and around the politically sensitive border region with Pakistan.

After pledging to withdraw all U.S. troops from war-weary Afghanistan save for counter-terrorist units, President Obama announced late last year that 5,500 American troops would remain there through the end of his presidency in early 2017. Few close observers of the GWT would be surprised to see additional SOF deployments there before this year is out.

The arguments put forward by SOCOM for strengthening the sinews of its nascent global network ten-strike many students of military affairs, including this one, as compelling. In a strategic surrounding where terrorist networks and proxy wars sponsored by both state and non-state actors abound, traditional diplomatic and military approaches to deterrence seem increasingly inadequate. Special operations squads are trained to implement unorthodox alternatives. Former SOCOM commander Votel, in statements before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capability in March 2015, explained how the SOF global network can step into the breach in a world where U.S. national security institutions often work in a kind of gray zone between war and peace šŸ˜› TAGEND

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