Mark Moyer’s recent book on the US Special Operations Forces (Oppose Any Foe) is an excellent history of the birth of Special Operations and into the huge command of over 70,000 troops today. He tells it all, with the triumphs, the mistakes and the clashes with the conventional military establishment.
In his latest piece for the National Review, he delves into the love affair Washington has with the SOF and how our leaders really don’t have a clear sense of what special operators can and can’t do and how the rise of the Special Operations Forces hasn’t been clear sailing.
Through the Osama bin Laden raid and other recent victories, special operators had amassed unprecedented prestige both within Washington and in the country more generally.
Special-operations forces seemed not only more exciting, but also more efficient and decisive than the conventional military forces that had been employed in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. Hollywood was releasing movie after movie extolling the virtues of the special units, including a film called Act of Valor that starred active-duty SEALs. On the Internet, dating sites were hit by epidemics of men pretending to be special operators in order to win the hearts of unsuspecting women.
Although President Obama relied mainly on subordinates to sell his new strategy to the public, he did cite the special operators while explaining the strategy during an interview with journalist Mark Bowden, who was writing a book on the bin Laden operation. “Special Forces are well designed to deal with the very specific targets in difficult terrain and often-times prevent us from making the bigger strategic mistakes of sending forces in, with big footprints and so forth,” he explained. “So when you’re talking about dealing with terrorist networks, in failed states, or states that don’t have capacity, you can see that as actually being less intrusive, less dangerous, less problematic for the country involved.”
What Obama had called “Special Forces” were in actuality the special-operations forces (SOF) — the official term for all the units dedicated to the conduct of special operations. Special-operations forces include not only the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but also the Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Night Stalkers, and Special Operations Marines, among others. Mixing up Special Forces with special-operations forces was a common enough mistake, and one that might have been unworthy of mention had the president merely been dispensing praise to an obscure federal bureaucracy, on the order of the Japan–U.S. Friendship Commission or the American Battle Monuments Commission.
But SOF had become the centerpiece of Obama’s national-security strategy, and hence the misstep encouraged doubts about the amount of thought that had gone into the strategic redesign. Later events were to confirm that administration strategists had not given adequate consideration to the strengths and limitations of special-operations forces before hoisting them to the apex of the world’s most powerful military.
As usual, Moyar’s take is an interesting read that delves into the slow growth, maturation, and subsequent over-tasking of the United States’ special operations warriors.
To read the entire article from National Review, click here:
Photo courtesy US Marine Corps