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Approximately two years ago, on January 7, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld elevated the Special Forces to the level of weapon, equating them with the Ground Forces, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines. In those days, we wrote in the Voltaire Network, that the Defense Secretary intended to wage his “war on terrorism”, using units capable of making quick and effective strikes without tying up to the laws of war. Time did not only confirm our analysis and fears but it also showed the emergence of new problems as a result of the rivalry between the Pentagon and the CIA.

Donald Rumsfeld presented the idea of using Special Forces as a weapon in a speech delivered before the National Defense University [1]. In this presentation he seemed excited about the Mazar-e Sharif battle, a paradigm of asymmetric confrontation, in which the arsenal used ranged « from the most advanced laser-guided weapons to antique, 40-year-old B-52s — actually, 40 years old doesn’t sound antique to me — [laughter] — but the B-52s had been updated with modern electronics — and also to the most rudimentary, a man on horseback. And they used them together in unprecedented ways, with devastating effect on enemy positions, on enemy morale, and this time, on the cause of evil in the world.»

This Hollywood-like description has however its reverse side. It has been said that the Mazar-e Sharif battle, far from being glorious, was in fact a massacre perpetrated by the Special Forces and General Dostum troops against several thousands of prisoners. This is proved through the testimonies given in the film “Massacre in Mazar” by the Irish short documentary maker Jamie Doran, and the mass graves found by UN representatives [2].This proves how dangerous the use of units that disrespect the laws of war may be.

However it was, this battle constitutes the pattern that Donald Rumsfeld wants to develop. But, in practice, its application also leads to “frictions” among heterogeneous units that follow different rules [3].

Non-conventional forces

The simultaneous incorporation of non-conventional and conventional units to the war has been a constant desire of political leaders that the militaries do not welcome with pleasure. Over the last 60 years, this method has often been applied but not on steady basis. For instance, during the Second World War the OSS worked both with its British counterpart and with the classic forces (1942-44).

Other forces like the Studies and Observation Group (SOG) in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (1964-72), as well as the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) during the Dessert Storm Operation in 1991 were created later. In an attempt to restructure them, Donald Rumsfeld began to establish permanent Joint Staffs in each region of the world, to guarantee a seamless coordination among the forces.

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Special Operation Group (SOG), Vietnam, 1968.

In the case of the Second World War, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was not a military unit but an espionage service that gave rise to the CIA. However, in the cases of South Asia and Iraq, the Joint Staffs included both Special Military Forces and CIA Special Paramilitary Forces.

This combination of non conventional military and paramilitary units led to awfully excessive actions. Due to that, Harry Rositzke, in 1975, and subsequently Admiral Stanfield Turner, in 1987, considered to reduce the scope of the CIA again to its classic missions and to close its paramilitary branch so that the Special Forces could become an exclusive prerogative of the Pentagon [4].

This could not be achieved because, according to the American administrative system, the difference between what the Department of Defense and CIA do is not based on the nature of the action in itself but on theirs statutes: the President may admit all the Pentagon actions but he can deny those of the CIA. [5].

Therefore, we are today before two special force units with similar functions, something that had been seen in the past. Even worse are the disastrous relations between the Defense Secretary and the CIA director, which makes them have a kind of struggle. When president Bush talks about the need to resort to all possible means to make sure that terrorism is defeated, the excessive costs in means and personal are ignored [6]. There are “frictions” not only within the militaries but also with the CIA.

In the past, the Special Forces’ mission was to pave the way before the battle [7]. Consequently, they were nothing but support forces that were skillful in the use of every weapon. Today, they should also act with a pre-emptive character before the threat has grown. Now, their intervention doesn’t pave the way for the battle but rather it avoids it, if possible. That is what George W. Bush clearly expressed in his speech before the cadets of the West Point Military Academy [8] and what he confirmed in a document that explains his doctrine, entitled “The National Security Strategy” [9].

The special forces are, therefore, projection and intelligence units [10]. The more they are developed like an autonomous weapon, the less they comply with their function of preparing the battlefield; simply because they keep zealously the information obtained with a view to carrying out their own operations [11]. Soon the Ground Forces, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines will want to reestablish their own Special Forces and there will be a repetition of units that will be in a competition using their energy essentially to neutralize each other, following the characteristic bureaucratic scheme of the American empire [12].

Repetition of the militias

The exponential development of Special Forces, with a 35% increase in its budget for this year, may be seen as a symptom of the paralysis to which the enormous American armed forces are exposed. Out of their 47,000 men, they can only dispatch up to 1,500 to combat at the same time, because the other ones have to be in charge of logistic and bureaucratic missions. The classic forces, conceived to beat a Soviet Union that no longer exists, suffer from an incurable disease. They need to deploy 300,000 men to conquer a Third World country like Iraq because the only way of acting they know is through the use of a hammer to kill a fly.

At the same time, the Bush administration strips the Pentagon of its defensive function to turn it into a world militia to serve the interests of the big multinationals that label as “terrorist” any local obstacle to their expansion. Therefore, the Special Forces are units that can be swiftly mobilized in few hours towards any place in the world, to defend the “United States” or to murder whoever gets in its way.

The competition between CIA paramilitaries and the military Special Forces doesn’t have to do with any difference in their missions or means but rather it serves the economic interests of powerful rival clans. However, from a technical point of view, not to say from a cynical viewpoint, the use of murderers’ commands to “fight against the terrorism” is only a temporary solution to the problems and not a future strategy.

Iraq cannot be occupied with commando forces. Once again, this truth constitutes an expression of certain powerlessness [13].

The Pentagon can no longer control the operation of its classic forces, which have a true strategy but they are like mastodons that don’t adjust themselves to the contemporary problems, and neither can it solve those problems with Special Forces that are agile but capable of providing only temporary solutions.

[1] Cf. Secretary Rumsfeld Speaks on “21st Century Transformation” of U.S. Armed Forces, National Defense University, Fort McNair, January 31, 2002

[2] Consult the researches conducted by Physicians for Human Rights to deepen into the coalition’s war crimes in Afghanistan

[3] Transformation of Special Operations: Reducing Joint Friction, by John R. Basehart, USAWC Strategy Research Project, US Army War College, April 7, 2003

[4] Secret Intelligence and Covert Action : Consensus in an Open Society, by John C. Green, Strategy Research Project, US Army War College, March 19, 1993

[5] In France, foreign secret services (DGSE) are an agency Ander the Ministry of Defense

[6] This is obviously an embarrassing topic. Cf. ’All Necessary Means’. Employing CIA Operatives in a War fighting Role Alongside Special Operations Forces, by colonel Kathryn Stone, USAWC Strategy Research paper, US Army War College, April 7, 2003

[7] Honing the Tip of the Spear: Developping an Operational-Level Intelligence Preparation of the Battelfield for Special Operations Forces, by Peter J. Don, Naval War College, February 3, 2003

[8] Cf. Remarks by the President at 2002 Graduation Exercise of the United States Military Academy West Point, June 1, 2002

[9] The National Security Strategy, by George W. Bush, September, 2002

[10] The Army Special Operations Forces Role in Force Projection, by colonel Jack C. Ziegler Jr., USAWC Strategy Research Project, US Army War College, April 7, 2003

[11] How Can the US Army Overcome Intelligence Sharing Challenges Between Conventional and Special Operations Forces? by major Michele H. Bredenkamp, School of Advanced Military Studies, US Army Command and General Staff College, 22 de mayo de 2003

[12] See for example: Should The Marine Corps Expand Its Role in Special Operations? By lieu tenant colonel Mark A. Clark, USAWC Strategy Research Project, US Army War College

[13] “Not a Magic Bullet. In terror war, US relies too heavily on its thinly stretched Special Forces”, by William A. Arkin, in Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2004