Wednesday, August 19, 2015

FOLLOW-UP COMMENTS Why the New Syrian Army Failed: Washington and Unconventional Warfare

I received the message below from a newly qualified Special Forces soldier.  In writing this article I did not mean to harm the morale of our incoming SF soldiers.  But I think from a Napoleon’s Corporal perspective he provides us  a very important viewpoint.  First there is a strong desire among our young soldiers to conduct UW.  We have worried in recent years that too many want to come into SF and focus on the counterterrorism/direct action missions and not on the FID/UW missions.  But if this soldier is any indication (and since he mentions his peers I am optimistic that there are more) then our SF selection process is working and we are selecting the right people for SF.  But the concerns and frustrations he articulates (though as I mention in my response they are shared by all SF soldiers throughout SF history) should give us pause and ask whether we are moving forward to ensure that this strategic tool in our national security tool kit is well understood by our senior political leaders and policy makers and strategists and if not how to we ensure they are.  And just as important we need to instill confidence in our young SF soldiers that they are going to be properly and effectively employed in support of our national security strategy.


As a very recent graduate of Robin Sage, your article "Why the New Syrian Army Failed: Washington and Unconventional Warfare" resonated with me. My peers and I frequently discuss what we perceive as a lack of political will for the US to fully embrace Unconventional Warfare as a viable approach to foreign policy dilemmas. I assume there is a lot I don't know about US strategy, and I hope this message doesn't come across as presumptive -- but it is discouraging because I feel like US policy is overlooking a major tool by not employing SF to its full potential. It is doubly frustrating when other states like Russia are employing UW, arguably with success. Syria specifically seems like the model scenario for a full UW strategy to be implemented, and yet it has not been.

The current state has lowered my expectations of how the nation will employ me and my peers in the near future.

Again, thank you for writing this article. You have captured both my and many of my peers concerns.


Here was my response:


I have good news and bad news for you.  First you have just passed the final test to prove you are a Special Forces Soldier.

However, the bad news is that the reason you have proven yourself is because you feel the same way as every Special Forces Soldier who is a true believer in UW has felt since the Vietnam War.  

We have all felt the same way about the senior political leadership throughout our careers.  That is the nature of democracy and the way our Republic is organized and run.   That is the nature of Special Forces and soldiering in general.  We would all like to fully employ the capabilities for which we have been organized, equipped, trained, educated and optimized.

While the vast majority of us will never participate in the ideal classic UW mission (unless we do another Afghanistan from October 2001 to December 2001) the truth is you will employ your UW training and education in myriad important ways throughout the rest of your career. And some day the conditions will be right and some of you will conduct a high payoff strategic UW mission.  But you should take heart that all of you who just graduated from Robin Sage will contribute to national security in some form or fashion often throughout your career and you will do it well because of your UW training and education.

Your education and training will not go to waste.  Here is an article I wrote about 5 years ago on why we train and educate for UW.  And please feel free to share this with your peers.  Please download the PDF and read the whole thing.

And one last request.  Would you give me permission to use your email message (sanitized of course so your fingerprints are not on it)?  I would like to send it out with this response to my national security listserv and to our senior leadership as well as post this on my blog.

Best of luck to you in the future.  In 20 or so years please hunt me down and let me know if I was right or wrong.


Why the New Syrian Army Failed: Washington and Unconventional Warfare

  • by David Maxwell 
  •  Aug. 17, 2015 
  •  5 min read 
  •  original
All public signs point to failure in a key U.S. effort to turn the tide of the brutal Syrian civil war — the training and fielding of a vetted and politically palatable Syrian force to fight the Islamic State. As Nancy Youssef reveals in The Daily Beast, exasperated U.S. officials are trying to adapt in the wake of disastrous setbacks for the Syrian forces back by the United States, including the New Syrian Army and Division 30.  An initial contingent was beaten up badly by rival groups, including al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, not long after it was introduced back into the wild. Washington’s favored Syrians are now in disarray and in a public spat with the Pentagon over its mission.
This should lead us to ask, why can’t the United States conduct effective unconventional warfare any longer?
What is unconventional warfare? The Department of Defense defines it as “activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power through and with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.”
Recent examples of successful UW campaigns and supporting operations include Afghanistan in 2001 and Northern Iraq in 2003, in which the 5th and 10th Special Forces Groups conducted operations built on a foundation of long established relationships either through the intelligence community (Afghanistan) or directly between Special Forces and indigenous Kurdish elements (in Iraq dating back to 1991 and Operation Provide Comfort).
(Continued at the link below)

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