army.mil

U.S. Special Forces – In Syria & Elsewhere

A major issue has been made over the order to remove U.S. troops from Northern Syria. The fact is that these are not just regular American forces. These are in name and character Special Forces (SF). Their actual number in Syria has been estimated by various “dependable sources” to be anywhere from 50 to 1000. There even have been “reliable” reports doubling the top number to 2,000 and reducing the bottom one to 25. Hogan Gidley, the White House Deputy Press Secretary stated, “only 28 people there.” Sometimes the brass screws up things so badly it actually works to confuse the enemy. Certainly, it has totally confused the American public. From a SF standpoint, the result couldn’t have been better.

The fact is that elements of the SF have been working with Syrian Kurds for many years to control ISIS-targeted territory and the radical Islamist forces’ ambition to enlarge their role in Syria and elsewhere. It was all covered under the rubric of “limited military action.” And the same term was initially used by Turkey to justify their own desire to create a “cordon sanitaire” along their border with Northern Syria. The truth is that the term “limited” military action is so ambiguous it is impossible to define accurately. There never was a possibility that the Turkish Army would be able to (or even want to) limit their action to a strictly demarcated area, but it sounded good. What’s really crucial here is the preservation of the capability of American Army SF units to operate in the Middle East and around the world dealing with often complicated and potentially dangerous larger conflict situations.

Hollywood has done its best to focus on the extravagant instances of real and possible SF action. But the truth about this elite very special force and its support units is well beyond the relatively simplistic characterization of popular film. To begin with it must be understood that these particular units operate in small groups, highly disciplined and extraordinarily capable. They are among the best that the United States Armed Forces produce. Their heritage reaches all the way back to the Revolutionary War and includes Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” who became the first contingent of “rangers” in Washington’s army. Their spirit draws from those who fought at Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill) who never retreated until they were out of ammunition in face of an overwhelming British assault. There have been many other small American units that have created the ethos of the ultimate American soldier. They do not leave their post nor abandon allies. Political issues aside, they never should have been ordered to abandon their positions and friends. This woeful order has been operationally amended – as it should have been.

Specialized U.S. forces serve around the world. The Navy, Marines, Air Force and even the Coast Guard have special units that do extraordinary things. These small contingents, such as in Syria and elsewhere worldwide, is why the rest of us live free today. America and its heroes do indeed protect the world though such a statement annoys even our allies. Ultimately, it is our destiny and honor.

What is not well understood by most U.S. citizens is that these forces have vowed to protect them, along with the American Constitution, wherever they are sent.  And they will and do die for that commitment. They are America’s forward defense and are inheritors of all the heroes who have gone on before. It is not a Hollywood theatrical presentation emphasizing their uniqueness. The fact is that these men – and now some women – are organized into particular units extremely adaptable to the myriad of conflict situations. Their talents are exquisite, and their determination exceeds all measures. They truly are special forces. They can act as a true “force multiplier” especially when coordinated with close-in air support.

While SF are excellent when utilized in the fashion they were created and structured, these troopers are wasted when their presence in a combat zone is for domestic political exploitation. Similarly, while political ramifications may affect their operations, SF units are weakened when they are forced to place the political ambitions of others ahead of their unit’s true military objectives. This is a danger that all military action faces, but in the use of these specialized troops the negative results can be substantially increased. The best guide an old Green Beret once offered was, “Go slow, go careful, then strike hard and fast.” He called it the “Cobra Technique.” It’s an excellent guide useful to many fields.