Tag Archives: special operations forces

When Does Preparation Become War?

Today in Secret History: February 10

As people continue to fret about an Israeli (or American) attack on Iran, is there some lesson we can learn from pre-Iraq war history?

On February 10, 2003, the main body of the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) arrived at H-5 airfield in the eastern desert of Jordan in preparation for the second Gulf War (All Roads Lead to Baghdad, p. 97), an in-the-shadows unit, in support of a non-existent special operations task force, at a secret base in a classified country.  Though in hindsight it looked like a war to depose Saddam Hussein was a certainty, at the time, there was still quite a public and international debate.

Of course, from Baghdad’s perspective, war seemed more and more certain, what with the accelerated bombing already taking place under the cover of Operation Southern Focus, with CIA and special operations forces inside Iraq, and special operations deployments building up along the Iraqi border in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the conventional military deployments centered in Kuwait.  In hindsight, as crazy as it might seem, it looks like everyone’s preferred outcome – everyone in the U.S. and Iraqi governments, that is – was war.

By the time the shooting officially started a month later in mid-March, this secret Joint Special Operations Task Force West (JSOTF-W), also known as Task Force Dagger, had built up to include these special operations helicopters of the 3rd Battalion, the 5th Special Forces Group from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, a company from the Army Reserve 19th Special Forces Group, British and Australian special operations forces, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment, a quick reaction force from the 82nd Airborne Division, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System [HIMARS] battery, and the even more secret Task Force 20 (TF-20), the black Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) task force given the mission of finding Iraq’s WMD.

According to the official Army special operations history, the Jordanian-based task force had two missions: “deter the launch of Scuds from western Iraq, and support conventional forces in their attack in southern Iraq.”  I love the use of the word deter here: Deter what?  Ignore for a moment that there were no Scud missiles to be found in Iraq anyhow, and certainly none deployed in western Iraq — an intelligence analysis failure that drove a lot of effort — but how does a secret mission deter?   Of course, the sage explanation for the sensitive Jordanian deployments – and Jordan denied the presence of any U.S. military forces in the country – was to keep Israel out of any war, which is to say, to convince Israel that the United States was doing all it could do to prevent Iraqi attack, just as it had done – and failed to do – in 1991.

It’s a head-hurting house of secret cards: a highly visible and officially secret coalition special operations force preparing to infiltrate into a country even prior to the “outbreak” of war.  Retired Gen. Mike Delong, the deputy commander of U.S. forces, says in his autobiography Inside CENTCOM (p. 93) that up to 300 commandos, “dressed as native Iraqis” infiltrated into Iraq prior to March 19.

When the special operations forces found no Scuds, they moved on to Iraqi airfields and Hadithah Dam – which intelligence speculated might be intentionally blown up to flood the Euphrates River valley; again no explosives were found to corroborate such speculation.  Some commandos headed for Saddam’s western palaces, others for suspected WMD sites.  It wasn’t without cost on the U.S. side: Three Rangers were killed at Hadithah in what was probably the first suicide car bombing of the long war.

Did the deployments make war more certain?  Would they have changed the public (or international) debate had they been known?  Do these clandestine special operations undermine or enhance diplomacy?  Why do we fall back on rote words like deterrence when in fact the mission was destruction and prevention?  All good questions still very much unanswered today.

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Today in Secret History: February 4 – What’s in the Word Selected?

What’s in the Word Selected?

Why the continuing use of euphemism in foreign affairs when everyone knows?   For anyone who even has a passing interest in the subject, the famous words “such other duties” contained in the 1947 National Security Act probably ring a bell.  This was how the CIA was legally granted the authority to conduct covert action without the words ever being officially uttered.  Everyone knew it, but yet Congress conspired.

These days, the National Clandestine Service of the CIA states on its official website that it conducts “covert action.”   So I guess a lot has changed.

What hasn’t though is the euphemism.  On February 4, 2003, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a revised Unified Command Plan (UCP), the Presidentially-approved document that assigns responsibilities to the military.  UCP 2002 with Changes 1 and 2 was the first major promulgation of a new directive after 9/11, and it assigned expansive new responsibilities to both Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Strategic Command (STRATCOM).  And included in those responsibilities were the underpinnings of a whole new world of military covert action, a world that continues and grows) today.

On SOCOM, the new UCP stated:

“The Commander, US Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida, is the commander of a combatant command comprising all forces assigned for the accomplishment of the commander’s missions.  SOCOM has no geographic AOR for normal operations and will not exercise those functions of command associated with that responsibility.  In addition to functions specified in sections 164(c) and 167 of title 10, USSCOM’s responsibilities include:

            a. Providing combat-ready special operations forces to other combatant commands when and as directed;

            b. Training, to including joint training exercises, of assigned forces and developing appropriate recommendations to the CJCS regarding strategy, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures for the joint employment of special operations forces;

            c. Exercising command of selected special operations missions if directed to do so by the President or the Secretary of Defense.”

 STRATCOM is given responsibility for:

“Integrating and coordinating DOD information operations (IO) (currently consisting of the core IO capabilities of computer network attack (CNA), computer network defense (CND), electronic warfare (EW), operations security (OPSEC), military psychological operations (PSYOP), and military deception (MILDEC)) that cross geographic areas of responsibility or across the core IO capabilities, including:

            (1) Supporting other combatant commanders for planning;

            (2) Planning and coordinating capabilities that have trans-regional effects or that directly support national objectives;

            (3) Exercising command and control of selected missions, if directed to do so by the President or Secretary of Defense;

            (4) Identifying desired characteristics and capabilities for DOD-wide CND [computer network defense], planning for DOD-wide CND, and directing DOD-wide CND;

            (5) Identifying desired characteristics and capabilities for CNA [computer network attack], conducting CNA in support of assigned missions, and integrating CNA capabilities in support of other combatant commanders, as directed;

            (6) Identifying desired characteristics and capabilities for joint electronic warfare and planning for and conducting electronic warfare in support of assigned missions;

            (7) Supporting other combatant commanders for the planning and integration of joint OPSEC and military deception.”

 Those italics are mine.  The actual UCP finds no need to highlight SOCOM’s selected special operations missions or STRATCOM’s selected missions.  Both refer to specific functions, in Special Operation’s case, the clandestine activities and indeed covert action of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  That’s well known.

But In STRATCOM’s case, since computer network attack and military deception is openly mentioned in separate paragraphs – and is now the responsibility of STRATCOM’s subordinate U.S. Cyber Command — it is unclear what “selected missions” are.  Given the new candidness of the CIA on its responsibilities for covert action, shouldn’t it be.