Saturday, October 19, 2013

The future of counterterrorism: Fewer drones, more partnerships By Linda Robinson,

Terrorism is not the only threat in the world and the myopic focus on it will make us miss the forest for the trees.  

But it is good of Linda to point out a key fact that there are 33,000 uniformed SOF rather the numbers that the press and pundits typically say that USSOCOM is 60,000 and growing to 71,000 personnel.  But we should recall that the actual number of actual  "operators" e.g., Special Forces (Green Berets) SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen, Rangers, Marine Special Operations Teams, Combat Controllers and Special Tactics Teams, Special Operations Aviators (Army and Air Force) and the National Mission Force are far fewer than those 33,000 uniformed military mentioned below as a large number are so-called enabling capabilities and of course staff.

Today, Special Operations forces are engaged in some level of partnering in more than 70 countries, with an increasing focus on joint operations — or even raids conducted mainly by partners with a supporting U.S. role — to capture or kill terrorists. The bulk of America’s 33,000 uniformed Special Operations forces, including the most elite units, will be engaged in partnering, but need time to develop their partners’ combat skills and intelligence capacity.

I reviewed a report recently that was all about "partnering."  (which of course Merriam Webster does not even define as a word but it is just another example of our penchant for buzzwords and making up new terms.)  I reviewed JP 1-02 (DoD Dictionary) and JP 3-22 (Foreign Internal Defense) and found that the only definition of partner is "partner nation:'A nation that the United States works with in a specific situation or operation. Also called PN.”  I mention this because there are so many different uses of partner; from the official definition as stated to the idea that partnering includes force ratios between US and partner units (e.g. some define "partnering" as a 1 for 1 ration of US to host nation unit while others say that an infantry unit must be partnered with an infantry unit and SOF unit partnered with only SOF units and many more).  The use of partner is open to myriad interpretations.

Lastly, I have to continue to call attention to this:

Most significant, after years of focusing on unilateral drone strikes and raids, U.S. Special Operations forces have regained a critical skill set of working with local populations, as they did in Vietnam, where they raised thousands of civil defenders in the central highlands. This is a highly transferable tool; many troubled countries have vast rural areas where terrorists find ready sanctuary, and lending a helping hand to those who find the courage to fend off attackers is one of the most productive uses of our Special Operations forces. It relieves the United States of the burden of doing so or intervening abruptly in a crisis.

First, major parts of SOF, to include Special Forces have not solely focused on unilateral strikes and raids  since 9-11 and have not had to "regain" this critical skill.  That is a misrepresentation of major parts of SOF (to include Special Forces, Civll Affairs, and Psychological Operations forces both in Afghanistan and Iraq and around the world).  Furthermore, although Linda does not specifically state this (though it is implied by the "highly transferable tool" comment) one of the explanatory comments in recent months about the Global SOF Network has been that we can establish Village Stability Platforms such as we have in Afghanistan in other countries around the world.  I agree that the skills are transferable but it is a poor strategic communications message to say that we are going to do in other countries in Asia or Africa or Latin America as we are doing in Afghanistan.  Many countries will be put off by and even very resistant to such proposals and it is not necessary because the regional SOF experts from the Theater Special Operations Commands already know what are the appropriate missions for US SOF in each unique country based on on the ground assessments of the situation and long time relationships.  The idea that we will take what we have done in Afghanistan and simply transplant it to another country illustrates our "Jominian tendencies" that reside in some SOF HQ and organizations of trying to apply templates and checklists and the belief that the same principles apply universally in every situation.  But I digress.
V/R
Dave

The future of counterterrorism: Fewer drones, more partnerships

By Linda Robinson, Published: October 18


Linda Robinson is a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp. and the author of “One Hundred Victories: Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare.”

The use of drone strikes against terrorist targets has become one of the most controversial aspects of President Obama’s national security efforts. Critics on the left have called Obama the “drone president,” and even the celebrated 16-year-old Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai, chided him in the White House recently, telling him that “drone attacks are fueling terrorism.”

Yet drones are just one of three principal U.S. counterterrorism tools, and not necessarily the most important. Special Operations forces are now relying on a more balanced mix of tactics: Launching raids and developing partner forces offer more versatility than drone strikes and will probably become the wave of the future as America’s big wars wind down.

The outlines of Obama’s new approach, which he sketched in his May speech at the National Defense University, have become clearer in recent months, especially in the twin raids in Libya and Somalia on Oct. 5. The first raid snatched up Anas al-Libi , an al-Qaeda member indicted in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The second was an unsuccessful attempt to capture Ikrima , a member of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab group who is reputedly responsible for plotting attacks around East Africa.

Raids have several advantages over drones. The targets can be interrogated for further intelligence, laptops and other physical evidence can be scooped up, and perhaps most important, the capture can result in what operators call a “judicial finish,” with the terrorist tried and convicted in a court of law.
Of course, Special Operations forces, along with the CIA, will still use drones when a threat is deemed so imminent that taking out a suspect is the best way to stop an attack on vital U.S. interests. That was the case in August when a barrage of drone strikes pummeled the nether provinces of Yemen to foil a reported plot on oil terminals and ports by the most active terrorist group today, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula .

But the drone’s disadvantages, primarily political and diplomatic, are now widely recognized. Even if a strike takes out a target, the apparent unilateralism of the attack (local leaders often give tacit support) can lead to popular resentment against the United States. In Yemen, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has publicly endorsed drone strikes, but such a stance can undermine a leader’s legitimacy at home. Finally, even if civilian casualties are minimal, just a few deaths can tarnish America’s image — and fuel terrorist recruitment.

The third tool in the anti-terrorism toolkit is the use of partnered forces. Somalia is a good example: Special Operations troops have worked with a variety of partners to retake the country from al-Shabab, restoring government there for the first time in two decades and creating a network of allies to push al-Qaeda out of East Africa. Amid a wider peace enforcement operation, U.S. troops have helped train forces from Ethi­o­pia, Uganda, Kenya and Djibouti. High-end Ugandan units played a key role in pushing al-Shabab out of Mogadishu, and SEAL-trained Kenyan boat units and infantry conducted a joint operation to retake the port city of Kismayo from al-Shabab, thus denying the terrorist group a key revenue source. Partner forces also reportedly played a role in the raid two weekends ago.

Today, Special Operations forces are engaged in some level of partnering in more than 70 countries, with an increasing focus on joint operations — or even raids conducted mainly by partners with a supporting U.S. role — to capture or kill terrorists. The bulk of America’s 33,000 uniformed Special Operations forces, including the most elite units, will be engaged in partnering, but need time to develop their partners’ combat skills and intelligence capacity.

This quiet partnering gets less attention than drone attacks, but it is the long game that will ensure that U.S. troops can go home and leave behind forces capable of keeping the peace in bad neighborhoods. In Somalia, the training, advising and assisting of partner forces has helped bring some order to one of the most famous ungoverned spaces on the planet.
(Continued at the link below)

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