Friday, June 4, 2010

A secret war: Increasing reliance on Special Ops.

Very interesting article from the WAPO.

Some excerpts:

The clearest public description of the secret-war aspects of the doctrine came from White House counterterrorism director John O. Brennan. He said last week that the United States "will not merely respond after the fact" of a terrorist attack but will "take the fight to al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates whether they plot and train in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond."

That rhetoric is not much different than Bush's pledge to "take the battle to the enemy . . . and confront the worst threats before they emerge." The elite Special Operations units, drawn from all four branches of the armed forces, became a frontline counterterrorism weapon for the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But Obama has made such forces a far more integrated part of his global security strategy. He has asked for a 5.7 percent increase in the Special Operations budget for fiscal 2011, for a total of $6.3 billion, plus an additional $3.5 billion in 2010 contingency funding.

Bush-era clashes between the Defense and State departments over Special Operations deployments have all but ceased. Former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saw them as an independent force, approving in some countries Special Operations intelligence-gathering missions that were so secret that the U.S. ambassador was not told they were underway. But the close relationship between Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is said to have smoothed out the process.

"In some places, we are quite obvious in our presence," Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of the Special Operations Command, said in a speech. "In some places, in deference to host-country sensitivities, we are lower in profile. In every place, Special Operations forces activities are coordinated with the U.S. ambassador and are under the operational control of the four-star regional commander."

So, while there is increased reliance on special forces, there are less operations undertaken without the knowledge of the local ambassador. This, in 'deference' to the countries in question.

What do these forces do?

The Special Operations capabilities requested by the White House go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them. In Yemen, for example, "we are doing all three," the official said. Officials who spoke about the increased operations were not authorized to discuss them on the record.

The forces are under the direction of CENTCOM, and are tasked with intelligence gathering as well. Are they in Iran? They certainly should be. Here's the extent of the article's answer to that question:

Gen. David H. Petraeus at the Central Command and others were ordered by the Joint Staff under Bush to develop plans to use Special Operations forces for intelligence collection and other counterterrorism efforts, and were given the authority to issue direct orders to them. But those orders were formalized only last year, including in a CENTCOM directive outlining operations throughout South Asia, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

The order, whose existence was first reported by the New York Times, includes intelligence collection in Iran, although it is unclear whether Special Operations forces are active there.

Are they inside? Maybe. Are they collecting intel? Maybe. Doing anything else? Who knows? Helping out the Greenies? Engaging in sabotage by bureaucratizing the escheton? Looking for UBL, (my pet theory is that he's holed up in Iran somewhere, honored guest of Official Iranian Salute guy and his little buddy Ahmie) Hmm..

What to make of this story and the fact that it apparently came from well placed unnamed sources? The article suggests there is a political angle in allowing this information out. It allows Obama to argue that he is more aggressive in the GWOT than critics from the right portray. It also allows him to claim that he is not as 'dangerously secretive' and 'extra-legal' and 'extra-constitutional' as President Bush allegedly was, thus placating leftist critics from within his own party and around the globe.

I think there are probably good geo political and national security related reasons for allowing this information out as well, but they may be a bit conflicted. To whit: this information is made public to assure governments like Yemen that we will not undertake special operations in their countries without permission. At the same time, it sends a signal to places with barely functional governments, such as Somalia, that we need not seek permission to act in those areas.

But, and here is where there may be conflicted intentions, we cannot help but note in this article, that special ops folks are less than pleased with Pakistani foot dragging that seems a direct consequence of very public move to be above board in asking permission.

If the promise to 'go through channels' is hard and fast, this also sends clear signals vis-a-vis ambiguously 'friendly' countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, to Al Qaeda and other such non-state enemies, who are already quite familiar with the ambiguities of those regimes. They will note the reticence we have to act secretly, unilaterally and preemptively in those ambiguous states, and naturally want to move to areas of those states that will provide safe haven.

But, by the same token, in expanding our special ops presence globally, and at the same time expressly continuing to uphold President Bush's policy of reserving the right to retaliate or act preemptively, yes, even in ways that legally violate sovereignty of states (ambiguous or not), as this article suggest Obama is in fact leaving wide open as an option, we see that this leak and the WAPO story has the final effect of saying to the world that the U.S. position is, at least with regard to special operations forces and with respect to Al Qaeda and like organizations, not all that changed from the years of Bush. So, in effect, AQ watch your backs. And Pakistan, you too. Even though we in the present admin. may make a show of asking permission, and we may spend more time in asking than the dreaded 'cowboy' predecessor, we can and will enter without permission if we deem it necessary.

And what might be the take away for the Iranian regime in all this? Special ops folks might be in your home. Think about that.

My overall impression after reading this WAPO piece? If it is in fact an accurate portrayal of administration intentions, then, positive as far as it goes. But, if there is too much reliance on special ops to the exclusion of other instruments, that could be interpreted as weak. In any case, I would suggest you don't wring your hands so much about going through channels Mr. President. With the built in advantage of being a democrat and not being the dreaded Bush, you will naturally be given much more of the benefit of the doubt both domestically and internationally than he ever had. Use that implicit permission to keep us safe. Also, be wary of too much 'realistic' compromise with ambiguous regimes who wish to hide their cooperation with us (to the extent that they offer it). Push them. (Think Bush 2002 more than Bush 2006 in that regard.)

If, on the other hand, all of this is more for show so as to gain political traction than it is a reality, then we need to worry.

My gut tells me it is more of the former than the latter. More right than wrong. And, by the way, President Bush should feel at least some vindication.

Sir Paul: Classless dillweed.

NYT editorial: Amb. Michael Oren on the peace "flotilla"

Read the whole thing HERE:

Some interesting information developing:

What the videos don’t show, however, are several curious aspects Israeli authorities are now investigating. First, about 100 of those detained from the boats were carrying immense sums in their pockets — nearly a million euros in total. Second, Israel discovered spent bullet cartridges on the Mavi Marmara that are of a caliber not used by the Israeli commandos, some of whom suffered gunshot wounds. Also found on the boat were propaganda clips showing passengers “injured” by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.

Now that the "Rachel Corrie" is headed toward the blockade, what can we expect?

June 4 -7, 1942. Battle of Midway

Director John Ford was there:

and a more recent documentary from the BBC: