RELENTLESS STRIKE: U.S. JOINT SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND

Washington Times on April 11, 2016, published a review by Joseph C. Goulden of Relentless Strike: The Secret History of the Joint Special Operations Command by Sean Naylor, St. Martin’s Press, $29.99, 540 pages. Excerpts below:

Unlike Vietnam, no public body counts are made. There are occasional headlines, to be sure — for instance, the killing of the Islamic State’s No. 2 man in late March by covert operatives, and the elimination of Osama bin Laden. But as should be true in shadow warfare, the least said the better. In essence, lethal operations with a small or nonexistent U.S. footprint.

Such is the message delivered by military writer Sean Naylor in a must-read book about the overseer of this secret army, formally the Joint Special Operations Command (jay-sock, in military-speak). The command brings together elements of the Army, Navy and Air Force, augmented by CIA operatives — men and women of exceptional skills who are bold enough to make decisions on their own, and execute them with deadly force.

The meat of the book consists of examples of the ingenuity JSOC fighters employ against the enemy. What is striking is that many of the tricks were developed by field operatives who devised new innovate ways to dispose of enemies.

A prime example: A JSOC unit recruited Iraqis — code-named Mohawks — to conduct intelligence operations which required the ability to blend in with the population. In one operation, a Mohawk would enter an Internet cafe known to be popular with suspect terrorists and upload software on the computer. That employed a keystroke recognition system that enabled monitors to read messages. Some softwear “would covertly activate a webcam if the computer had one, allowing the task force to positively identify a target.”

Psychological tricks varied. Planes flying near Kandahar, Afghanistan, dropped parachutes carrying blocks of ice. Once the ice melted, the chutes would blow around until someone found and reported them, “sowing seeds of paranoia in Taliban minds as they wondered where the paratroopers might be.” The drops “terrorized” the enemy.

One operation tinged with controversy was the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and Islamic cleric who became a major player in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and hence a high-priority target. Given his citizenship, there was debate in the Obama administration about the legality of targeting him.

Relying on human intelligence and signal intercepts, a task force traced Awlaki and saw him leave a small mud hut. The CIA somehow acquired access to his car and installed a video camera that was transmitting live images to a drone.”So the CIA’s watchers actually saw Awlaki getting into the back seat.” The drone did the rest. End of Awlaki.

Joseph C. Goulden is the author of 18 nonfiction books.

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