Obama’s use of special forces: not just bad strategy, but a terrible way to thin out an already thin (and very elite) herd

BUDS trainees during Hell Week

Special troops are, by definition, small in number.  If everyone could do what they do, they would be special.  They are made up of men with unusual mental and physical strength.  Again, by definition this is a subset of all men.  (No disrespect meant to the majority of men who aren’t unusual in both their mental and physical strength.)  Once these men are selected, they are subject to rigorous training, training that would be impossible to give to large groups.  Special forces go beyond “the few, the proud.”  They also fall into the class of “rare and few in number.”

Given their numeric limitations, it makes sense to use special forces sparingly.  Once lost (God forbid), each member of a special forces team is very, very hard to replace.  Someone needs to tell that to the President, who, flush with SEAL Team Six’s exquisite raid on Osama (a raid that subsequently resulted in the vengeance-driven loss of many members of that same team), is tasking those guys with responsibility for Afghanistan — all of Afghanistan.  As Max Boot says:

The kinds of direct-action strikes that these units carry out are an integral part of any comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy–but they cannot substitute for the absence of such a strategy. That was the mistake we made in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009. Now it seems Obama is making that mistake again, to judge from news reports the White House is planning to lean heavily on the Special Operations Forces as they withdraw regular troops from Afghanistan. This is not a way to defeat the Taliban, the Haqqanis, and other dangerous terrorists on the cheap–it is a way to lose the war while pretending you are doing something to win it.

To which I would add that it’s also a war to squander a special breed by placing them at unreasonable risk, so that they might no longer be there when we really need them.

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  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    I read the article you linked, and couldn’t find anything about what mission required 22 Seal Team members….and why they should all be flying in the same helicopter!
    That hardly seems wise to me, somehow……is someone pinching pennies?

  • Gringo

    It is just as good strategy as his announcing when we would pull out of Afghanistan. As we leave Afghanistan, we should drop  some bombs on ISI  headquarters.

  • 11B40

    Greetings:  especiailly Mr. Earl

    You might want to try googling SEAL + Wardak to find out about that ill-fated mission.  There’s an Ater Action report floating around the webspace that gives an good analysis.

    My favorite Platoon Sergeant used to say “Nobody goes to war on a round trip ticket”. Alternatively, he also espoused the “Sometimes you eat the bulldog and sometimes the bulldog eats you philosophy. There was a good bit of reaction similar to yours when the shoot-down occurred, but somedays you just get plain out-soldiered. My understanding is that Afghanistan is a rotary wing challenge what with all the altitude and topography.


  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Thanks, 11B40:  I remember reading about the mission, now….the SEALs were reported to have gone in to provide assistance to their Ranger buddies.  Although CNN (are they worthy of our trust?) reported that it wasn’t rescue, just assistance to prevent some Taliban from getting away from Ranger pursuit.
    Anyhow, this sentence from the WIRED (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/08/taliban-chopper-killer/) story is what I was talking about:
    “Normally, JSOC commandos ride in tricked-out helicopters — including stealth models — belonging to the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. But this weekend the SEALs hitched a ride in what was apparently a run-of-the-mill Army National Guard chopper.”
    Why put so many guys in a giant target that moves (comparatively) slowly and can’t maneuver very well?  And into a situation where the good guys are surrounded by the baddies?  Perhaps the Chinook was the only thing available in an emergency, but if that wasn’t the case, I trust everyone is learning from the experience.
    The reporter does write that everyone is saying that it wouldn’t have made any difference if they’d had a different helicopter….but there’s no question that if they’d had six smaller, faster and more maneuverable choppers with five or six guys each, we wouldn’t have 30 dead all in one crash….and there’d be a lot more dead insurgents if one of those babies were to go down.
    My comments are from someone who was never in the military, never flew choppers, and has no experience at anything similar….so they may be worthless.  But reading about this loss, a logical mind has questions about the decisions made…..I hope I’m not the only one, because it would be really nice if we could avoid a rerun……

  • 11B40

    Greetings: especially Mr. Earl

    I share your Chinook (although that’s m not what we called them) concerns. During my all-expense-paid tour of sunny Southeast Asia, I used to seriously hate the damn things. The one exit only tail ramp used to give me flashbacks of the WW II D-Day invasion’s landing craft and their unloading ramps. Spending the next week picking pebbles out of your flesh from the bird’s two powerful tandem rotors was a minor inconvenience compared to that daymare. On the other hand, the bird was a lot faster than it looked and usually packed some interesting firepower.
    But my heart will always belong to the first Huey that shows up, especially if its doors are off and I can hang my legs out.

    Another aspect about that incident that bothered me was the hierarchical segregation of our military assets, to wit, should the SEALs be used to help the Rangers out of a jam. I spent my time in a straight-leg infantry company and the few time we went to help the Green Beanies out of their jams, they didn’t seem upset ay all by our arrival. Just as the warrior uses what is at hand, so too must the planner. Something is almost always better than nothing in the wonderful world of combat.

    • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

      I’d love to add something useful to this interesting discussion, but I can’t. I do know, though, that even the best bureaucracies — and the military, although one of the more exemplary institutions around is still a bureaucracy — are always going to be run inefficiently, and that there will be people at the top keeping their eyes on personal/political advancement, rather than the well-being of the people in their care.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    This is just icing on top. If Obama can waste America’s SF community and pare it down to some manageable number for his JIhadi allies to exploit, he’s going to get a big fat arse grin on his face.