Questioning Death from Above

Today in Secret History: February 6

Six years ago today, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) was unveiled, affirming “irregular warfare” as “the dominant form of warfare confronting the United States, its allies and its partners.”

The shift from 20th to 21st Century warfare, the QDR, state “must account for distributed, long-duration operations, including unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and stabilization and reconstruction operations.” The document has been the basis for the abandonment of the so-called two-war strategy that had dominated U.S. military planning since the end of the Cold War. And it opened the war for irregular everything.

The 2006 QDR was the triumph of special operations forces (SOF), and on the same day, the Pentagon announced that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) commander Army Maj. Gen. Stan McChrystal would be nominated for a third star and that JSOC would become a three star command.

“SOF will increase their capacity to perform more demanding and specialized tasks, especially long-duration, indirect and clandestine operations in politically sensitive environments and denied areas. For direct action, they will possess an expanded organic ability to locate and track dangerous individuals and other high-value targets globally. SOF will also have greater capacity to detect, locate and render safe WMD,” the QDR stated.

In those two sentences, every aspect of the growth of “black” special operations since 9/11 is explained. JSOC now has its own Joint Intelligence Brigade, a beefed up headquarters, its own drones, its own airlift, communications, networks, and its each of its core commands (Delta force, Navy SEALs, Air Force special tactics) has significantly increased in size. JSOC is actively hiring contractors to work at its Ft. Bragg, N.C. headquarters, particularly in intelligence and information technology. And The New York Times reported Saturday that the United States would shift to these “elite units” as conventional forces are whittled down in Afghanistan.

That article, of course, could have been written any time in the past five years, and indeed it has been many time – on May 26, 2010, The Times reported pretty much the same thing, minus the Obama’s administrations election year promise. What’s interesting to me, now that black special ops – clandestine, long-duration, missions to “locate and track” high value targets – is bipartisan policy and conventional wisdom is that so few seem to question whether killing individual one at a time in this way is a winning strategy.

There is no question that reducing the U.S. military footprint in this part of the world will reap enormous benefits. But a combination of constant death-from-the-sky clandestine attacks and not really withdrawing (i.e., forces still in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, the Stans, Pakistan, and the Indian Ocean, not to mention Afghanistan and Iraq), will undermine the benefits of withdrawal. And death from above, even on its own terms, needs to be more closely examined as a strategy. I get the sense that now that JSOC and the intelligence world have perfected the process – hence success with Osama bin Laden – there is mechanical acceptance of the pursuit.

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s