I do have to take some exception to this excerpt below from Joe's excellent article. I would add the caveat that most people think that the "focal point" of SOF has been the direct approach. That is the most visible contribution and the one the press and even senior leaders focus on. I think when we look beyond Afghanistan and Iraq that there have been a large amount of US Special Operations (in particular, SF, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations/MISO) around the world focusing less on door-kicking and more on cultural awareness (except where the mission is to get other forces focused on door kicking). But even in Iraq and Afghanistan there has been a lot more focus on training and advising indigenous forces than most people care to think about. It pains me to read that all people think SOF does is direct action, counter-terrorism but of course that is where the action is and that is what sells newspapers and movie tickets. But rather than think that SOF has to do something new or that it has not been doing I think the simple statement is to let SOF do its job.
Fourth, our assessment efforts must take a hard look at special operations forces, who have been the star players in all three campaigns of the war on terrorism. Their achievements are doubly significant when one considers that they represent only 5 percent of defense personnel and no more than 4 percent of the entire DoD budget. In the war on terrorism, their focal point has been the direct approach. In March 2012, Adm. William McRaven, the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, described this counterterrorist effort as a combination of “precision lethality, focused intelligence and interagency cooperation, all integrated on a digitally networked battlefield.” He believes SOCOM must now shift to an indirect approach to help U.S. allies fight their own battles and expand allied capacity to do that work in the future.
This will be a difficult shift. Few organizations easily abandon successful programs, especially when they are so popular with the public. The need for engagement, advice and training, however, will soon exceed the need for kinetic operations. It will require fewer shooters and more language-qualified trainers, less door-kicking and more cultural awareness. The nation’s leaders must also protect special operations forces from being used on missions that could be done by general-purpose forces.
A wide range of common-sense recommendations for the future of SOF can be found in an April Council on Foreign Relations report by Rand expert Linda Robinson. She calls for the United States to “raise the game of special operations forces” by emphasizing the indirect approach of engagement, training and assistance. She concludes the report with this important thought: “The phrase ‘You can’t kill your way to victory,’ coined by a special operator, is a useful signpost on the road to a more comprehensive approach to special operations as part of U.S. national security policy.” Finally, we need to think hard about the evolving terrorist threat. The lonewolf terrorist feeds on psychological discontent and terrorist information operations. The U.S. has killed Osama bin Laden and many of his senior comrades, but his poisonous ideology and other varieties of radical Islamist thought thrive on the Internet. For example, even after his death, the radical sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki motivated the Boston Marathon bombers, just as they had influenced Maj. Nidal Hassan, the lone-wolf terrorist accused of shooting his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. Along with implementing better immigration controls and screening, the United States must take action against al-Qaida websites and propaganda outlets. While dealing with lone-wolf terrorists at home is a police issue, U.S. forces, diplomats and homeland security experts must help out by defeating the poisonous sites and the “magazines,” like Inspire, that train the wannabe lone wolf in how to build bombs.
The End of the War On Terrorism
Mixed Results will Test US Policies for Years to Come
BY JOSEPH J. COLLINS
The war on terrorism as we know it is coming to an end.
For the United States, the big campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are over or winding down.
The campaign against al-Qaida-inspired terrorism has taken a sharp turn toward a better but more complex condition. Pushed by weakened but adaptive enemies, the active theaters are shifting, and the war we know is fading.
With serious changes in all three of the major campaigns of this war, it is time to reassess the authorities that underpin the war and the ways and means that are needed for the future.
The first step in getting the future right is to reassess the past 11½ years with an eye toward trends.
The U.S. war in Iraq — the second Gulf War in as many decades — began 10 years ago. Despite the benefits of not having Saddam Hussein or his evil brood in power, the war has been a net loss. Launched in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that were not there, the war cost 40,000 allied casualties, at least 110,000 dead Iraqis, and a trillion dollars in direct costs. U.S. standing in the Middle East descended to new depths. The U.S presence in Iraq fueled the al-Qaida narrative for nearly a decade and strengthened Iran in the region.
Adding to the harm, the war in Iraq diverted attention and resources from Afghanistan, which turned out to be more enduringly important than our foray into Iraq.
The single bright spot in U.S. policy in Iraq was the Surge, an act of great political courage by President Bush. The skill of the generals and the valor of coalition forces helped change the war for the better, diminished sectarian violence and allowed for a withdrawal with honor. Sadly, the Obama administration was unable to negotiate a follow-on U.S. security assistance force. The once-potent and influential U.S. presence has shriveled.
For our considerable pains, Iraq today is fractious, internally violent and decreasingly democratic. More civilians die every month in Iraq than in Afghanistan. Sectarian violence and al– Qaida terrorism are on the rise. Iran is more powerful in the region and arguably has more influence in Iraq than the United States does. This may all end one day, peace and stability may follow, and people may compare Baghdad to Philadelphia, but we should not hold our breath. For now, U.S. influence on the Iraqi government fades daily, and the internal situation worsens.
The war in Afghanistan — approaching its 12th anniversary for Americans — is in transition. Not only have the Afghan National Security Forces taken the lead in fighting the enemy, but elections in 2014 will bring in a new government, followed in eight months by the departure of the much-diminished allied expeditionary force. Corruption and inefficiency are still widespread, and despite considerable progress, Afghanistan still has most of the hallmarks of a state that has been at war for 35 years.
The armed struggle in the Hindu Kush is at a stalemate. The hard-pressed Taliban factions fight on, but the government forces have already proven much more capable than many pessimists expected. The allies have pledged security and economic aid for the next decade. Soon, NATO and the United States will announce the “force-after-ISAF,” likely an advisory and assistance force of 9,000 to 15,000 people. Relations with Pakistan are improving, and Islamabad is also looking forward to a first: an orderly transition from one democratic government to another. In Afghanistan, much will hinge on the election in April 2014, the skill and tenacity of the Afghan government forces and the unflagging will of the allies.
The final campaign, the war against al-Qaida terrorism — the most important of the campaigns — has met with great success. The U.S. homeland has not had any large-scale attacks. Al-Qaida Central is in tatters. Decimation does not begin to describe the toll exacted on its leadership. Some of its franchises, especially in Yemen and the Maghreb, are showing more life, but they are all under the gun and seem less interested in attacking the West than in fighting our local allies in the region.
In Libya and Mali, U.S. allies have stepped up their efforts, allowing the U.S. to limit its contributions to advice and support. Some have called this “leading from behind.” That unfortunate expression will never make a popular bumper sticker or an inspiring campaign slogan, but the policy behind it is reenergizing the regional balance of power and encouraging allied efforts to do more for the common defense. It is hard to criticize that.
Along with but apart from al-Qaida’s regional franchises, lone-wolf terrorists have moved to the forefront. These lone wolves — technically, a police and not a military problem — are more vexing but less dangerous than the centrally directed al-Qaida terrorism that dominated the last two decades. Twice in New York City, once at Fort Hood, Texas, and most recently at the Boston Marathon, lone-wolf terrorists — citizens or permanent U.S. residents — have attacked or tried to attack their neighbors with firearms or bombs.
Al-Qaida is on the run in many places, but its poisonous ideology lives on in cyberspace, stalking the humiliated, the alienated and the misfits. American culture is uncomfortable for many immigrants. For others, the American dream has never produced a decent reality. High expectations fall with devastating psychological effects. Waiting in the wings are the radical chat rooms, videos and websites. You can learn anything on the Internet, including how to make a bomb. You can rediscover religious fervor or find friends who share your radical views, even if you are in Missouri and they are physically or virtually in Waziristan.
In the fight against al-Qaida and its associates, armed drones — or more accurately, remotely piloted aircraft — have come into their own. Since 2004, according to the New America Foundation, more than 400 RPA strikes have killed between 2,000 and 3,300 militants in Yemen and Pakistan.
While enormously successful, the use of RPAs now faces many critics, who point out that these remotely piloted aircraft often violate the sovereignty of friendly nations, engage in opaque targeted killing, kill U.S. citizens abroad without due process, create new enemies for the United States, and cause collateral damage and unwanted casualties.
When George W. Bush was president, capturing terrorists and detaining them made for problems that still exist at the Guantanamo detention facility. President Obama’s expansion of the use of RPAs, in part to obviate those sorts of complications, has caused a whole new set of problems. The changing nature of the war today has left the Authorization for Use of Military Force Law looking like a blank check few want to honor.
(Continued at the link below)