Saturday, August 17, 2013

Follow-up comments on essay: Unconventional Warfare Does not Belong to Special Forces

I have received a lot of comments on my original essay (  I wanted to provide some follow up comments to one critical message I received that I hope will answer some of the criticism I have received and provide some clarifying information (just "some" as there is so much more to be written and I am working on some longer papers):

O.K. I want to respond to this because… something is wrong here… 
The article contends-- without very good warrants-- other than //UW missions are strategic in nature, and SF operate at the tactical and operational levels; therefore, UW doesn't belong to SF exclusively because SF don't span to the strategic level of war.//  
UW does BELONG to SF in a very important way-- the way that amphibious landings to establish a beachhead from the sea BELONGS to the Marines, or keeping the sea lanes free for international trade BELONGS to the Navy, or seizing and holding ground belongs to the Army. 
As the author mentions, the special role and SF plays in UW is even codified in US Title 10. 
He also suggests that UW can belong to an enemy as well as a friendly force, and that perhaps we've been using the term insurgency where we should be using the term UW?
I don't think so. Here's why, and it may also explain why we don't teach and preach UW more widely. 
First, UW is essentially a synonym for revolution with the qualification that it entails external support or even the fomenting of a revolution. 
UW, as an activity to usurp another's government, suggests illegitimacy on its face. Usurping or overthrowing a government outside one's own is essentially establishing a policy of regime change. 
UW and regime change are not traditionally legitimate causes for war such as self defense, mutual defense and the redress of past violence. UW actions are agitations to peace in general and specifically violations of the UN Charter-- in which aggression toward other countries is not in the common interest.  
Nor does UW reflect our national principles. UW is the stuff of the Bay of Pigs, and the usurpation of Mosaddegh. UW is dangerous art-- stuff that we shouldn't break the glass on very readily.

My response to him: 

Well, you do seem to prove my point if you think something is wrong here.  We do need more focus on UW because not enough policymakers, strategists, and planners have a good grasp of the mission or concepts involved.  What is wrong here is that people do not think about UW and either just write it off or belittle its importance or insult those of us who believe in it with such statements as it does not reflect our national principles .  I am reminded of the old adage (adapted from Trotsky) you may not be interested in unconventional warfare but unconventional warfare is interested in you (or at least it is interested in coercing and disrupting the United States)

Let me just address a couple of points.

SF does own part of the UW mission (the mostly tactical and operational part).  It is the only DOD  force that is organized, trained, educated, equipped, and optimized to work through and with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area.  No other DOD force does this.   I regret not making that perfectly clear in my essay.  But the overall mission is a strategic one and goes beyond SF.  And in the most extreme application (enabling a resistance or insurgency to overthrow a government or occupying power) it will be national level strategic decision.  But even in the lesser forms (and it is not a synonym solely for revolution or regime change) of "coerce" and "disrupt" it will still be a national level strategic  decision.  The point I would make is that SF, SOF in general, USSOCOM and even the GCCs do not think up these missions and conduct them on their own.  It can be considered a break glass mission but it is also a very real part of political warfare and there are a lot of adversaries out there conducting political warfare and as Michael Noonan wrote in his US News article on Friday (about Nadia Schadlow's forthcoming Orbis essay) at this link: have a long history of conducting political warfare going back at least to George Kennan.  I have explained  in previous articles such as this one on Small Wars Journal as to why Special Forces trains and educates for the UW mission and how the mission breaks down and the importance of not just UW but of UW related activities, but I now believe that more than just Special Forces needs to do so, thus my intentionally provocative article. (also attached the full PDF can be downloaded at this link because the entire paper no longer can be accessed at Small Wars Journal:

As I have also argued previously in Small Wars Journal ( also the full PDF can be downloaded at this link: our enemies are conducting Unconventional Warfare - particularly to coerce and disrupt the US and the west and even overthrow governments (from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia to Yemen to name a few).  Al Qaeda is an organization that makes very effective use of undergrounds and auxiliaries in these operations.  While we may not often conduct UW (and perhaps rightly so) we sure better understand when adversaries are conducting it.   And while Foreign Internal Defense is focused on helping our friends, partners, and allies in there internal defense and development programs to defend themselves against lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism, we really need to also understand how to counter the unconventional warfare that is being conducted by adversaries who are using subversion and insurgency to achieve their goals.   If we spent more time educating policy makers, strategists, and planners outside of the SF community we might be able to create some more options either through UW or counter-UW to achieve our national security objectives.  But before UW can be discounted as an option it would be better if those doing the discounting had some education in such warfare.

Perhaps you do not think it represents our national character but I would submit that people from Robert McClure to  MG Jack Singlaub to Wendell Fertig and Russell Volckmann to the 5th  Special Forces Group and CIA in Afghanistan in 2001 and 10th Special Forces Group and the CIA in Northern Iraq with the Kurds from 1991-2003 and many others all think that their conduct of unconventional warfare was very much in the US tradition and reflected national principles. 

I am sorry you find so much wrong with Unconventional Warfare.

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