LOW-INTENSITY CONFLICT IN THE SHADOWS

Washington Times on October 20, 2016, published a presentation by the author of a new book on US Special Operations Forces, Thomas H. Henriksen. For excerpts see below:

As the Obama administration has retreated, or openly flirted with retrenchment, from Middle Eastern wars during its tenure, America has been spared the full onslaught of jihadi terrorism because of the exertions of nation’s special military forces and the intelligence communities working in concert.

Not widely known is the fact this team of special military units and intelligence personnel constituted one of the three counteroffensives that broke the back of the Iraq insurgency fueled by the Al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network after the 2003 invasion of the Persian Gulf country.

This “thin red line of heroes” made up of U.S. counterterrorism operators has filled the breach left by Washington’s disengagement.

Barack Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, tepid response to Libya’s plunge into chaos, blase reaction to the widening conflict in Syria (not to mention Damascus’ crossing the president’s red line on chemical weapons), and nearly complete withdrawal of all U.S. ground forces from Afghanistan created political vacuums for terrorist nests.

Washington’s disassociation has fortunately been partly offset by SEAL, Delta, Ranger and other classified forces operating against the world’s festering terrorist hives from Pakistan to the Philippines. Started during the George W. Bush administration, which was widely criticized for its global-war-on-terrorism approach, America’s special operators and intelligence officers now deploy to countries not-at-war with the United States to disrupt terrorist plans, such as Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

This warrior-spy counterterrorism war fought in the shadows gets only intermittent news media coverage, usually when a high-valued terrorist is dispatched by a raid force or drone missile.

To deal with elusive terrorists demands arduous training and skills different from those used to ward off conventional threats emanating from nation states with planes, tanks, and troops. Killing or capturing bomb planters and assassins also requires pinpoint intelligence obtained from aerial surveillance or from sources enlisted by intelligence operatives working in the field. Recruiting informants in outstations far from the usual spy venues at embassy cocktail circuits, intelligence officers obtain information on terrorists from local tipsters or from aerial surveillance and pass it quickly to lethal drone pilots or special warfighters.

These tactics are offensive in nature but Washington’s overall strategy is hesitant and disengaged, incrementally transferring small numbers of ground forces to Iraq over the past year. Yes, U.S. undercover forces initiate deadly actions against militants but the White House holds back on a more muscular, broader approach to destroy Islamic State pockets in Syria and Iraq. It fears that the destruction of the jihadi redoubts will entangle the U.S. in stabilization campaigns to foster governance, economic development, and peace-preserving duties.

Thomas H. Henriksen is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the author of “Eyes, Ears & Daggers: Special Operations Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency in America’s Evolving Struggle against Terrorism” (Hoover Institution Press, 2016).

Comment: No doubt low-intensity conflict has to a great extent become the face of war in the 21st century. But if the geostrategic and geopolitical insight is failing these brave warriors may sacrifice their lives in vain. The result of eight years of US foreign policy has resulted in chaos in the Middle East. Wars should be quick affairs not long drawn out battles. The defeat of Saddam in the First Gulf War was a model strategy.

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