Wednesday, April 27, 2005

More on Special Operations

My good friend Max is a great source of info on Special Forces, where he's served for 17+ years. He recently pointed me to some good reading material on the SF methodology. As part of a series on Counter-Terrorism posted at The Strategy Page, it reminds us of the complex role played in the GWOT by these special operators...

April 22, 2005: The U.S. Army Special Forces tactics are becoming very popular in the war on terror. These techniques involve going in and making friends with as many people as possible, and then waiting for the people you have helped to reciprocate with information, or even actively joining your efforts to chase down terrorists. The first thing you have to do is make an assessment, and this is why Special Forces training includes learning the languages of the area they will specialize in. The five active duty Special Forces groups (brigades) each specialize in a different region of the world. Going around to villages or neighborhoods to introduce yourself usually goes over very well. The Special Forces is an exotic visitor who speaks your language, knows your customs and is very respectful. Two men in each twelve man Special Forces team are medical specialists, and being able to provide professional medical attention in Third World countries is a great ice breaker. Since they know the culture, the Special Forces operators know when it is polite to offer something, how to do it, and when to keep quiet. The people in these poor countries know of America as a rich, generous country, so it’s not difficult for the Special Forces to offer assistance. After all, America has so much, and likes to share, and there are so many poor people.

The Special Forces will usually say why they are there, to catch terrorists who threaten the United States. For that reason, the Special Forces will get cozy with locals who are not Islamic radicals. It’s all about establishing relations, and maintaining them. The army Civil Affairs battalions actually belong to the Special Forces, and specialize in working long term with locals to improve living and economic conditions. Something as simple (for Americans) as have a veterinarian check local herds for diseases, and then inoculating the animals to cure, or prevent livestock diseases, creates lots of good will. Flying in equipment to drill water wells, or passing out battery powered short wave radios (with a wind up mechanism to recharge the battery) builds long term good will. The Special Forces know what goods and services will be most useful, and appreciated, by the locals.

Once the good will is established, the Special Forces then have an invaluable intelligence tool; the ability to go to villagers and just sit and talk. And ask questions that will be answered. Did any armed strangers pass by the village in the last week? The imam (Moslem clergyman) in a nearby town is preaching hatred of the West, is anyone paying attention to him? Is Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda more, or less, popular than he was a year ago. Getting honest answers is not automatic, you have to gain trust first.

The Special Forces training also makes it easier for the operators to detect when they aren’t making progress. To detect when they are being lied to or patronized. This is important, because the Special Forces and Civil Affairs troops might we working an area for months, or years, before the locals decide that the foreigners are OK and can be trusted, and spoken to freely and frankly.

When this rapport is established, a senior Special Forces or army commander that speaks the local language can then invite local leaders to special parties. In Arab countries these are called Diwaniya, and are part entertainment, part eating out, and mostly talking things over. The host supplies the place, and the food, and also can lead the conversation. Usually, the guy hosting the Diwaniya is a local big shot, and the gathering is a way for him to monitor the local public opinion, and also see who needs favors. Doing good deeds for your guests creates loyalty to the host, not to mention good will and a willingness to come back. One British general in southern Iraq worked his way up to being able to hold Diwaniyas, which made his job of keeping the peace much easier.

The war on terror is being fought, and won, with thousands of good deeds and kind words. These are tools that are often more effective than bombs and bullets.

From The Strategy Page / Counter-Terrorism Operations News

Some other resources, and some great stories, on the world of SF from various perspectives can be found at such sites as Go Jack Army and SF Alpha Geek. They are constantly adding other sites to their blogrolls - check 'em out!