Warfare and special forces

Michael Fumento:

It was one bullet point in the plan for the Pelosi Congress's "first 100 hours," two sentences in the Democrats' 31-page "New Direction for America" document released last June: In order to "Defeat terrorists and stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, we will . . . . Double the size of our Special Forces" (emphasis added).

Sounds nifty, doesn't it, like a bumper sticker reading "Outlaw War Now!"? And, indeed, top-notch warriors play an invaluable role in any war but are most useful in the sorts of guerrilla actions and antiterrorist activity that will probably dominate the military's missions for the next generation. There are just two problems. First, doubling can only be accomplished by going a disastrous route--making special ops no longer special. Second, false solutions crowd out real ones. Much can be done to improve the quality of our armed forces, but this Democratic proposal doesn't make the grade.

Just as it's disturbing that in 31 pages the Democrats couldn't devote a single line to how they plan to achieve their lofty goal, it's unsettling that they can't get their definitions right. "Special Forces," properly speaking, refers to U.S. Army Special Forces, the Green Berets. But, as Drew Hammill in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office confirmed to me, what the Democrats want to double is the much broader group of "Special Operations Forces"--SOF in military shorthand, or just "special ops."


First, a definition--a proper one. Special Operations Forces are defined by how they are trained, not by how they happen to be employed. In the U.S. military, virtually all SOF are three-time volunteers. They volunteer to enter one of the four branches of the armed forces and undergo basic training, followed by advanced training in their military occupational specialty such as the infantry or combat engineers. They volunteer for airborne school, which is usually the second phase of their training, although Navy SEALs actually undergo their Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs (BUD/S) course before going to jump school. Then they volunteer for the SOF school itself, such as the Army's Special Forces Q Course or Ranger school.

Nor is that the end. Even once the volunteer is officially SOF, with that jaunty green beret or Ranger tab, he cross-trains in other special schools, such as a Special Forces soldier taking an intensive language course or going through HALO (high altitude-low opening) training, in which he learns to jump at very high altitudes using oxygen tanks and then deploy his parachute at the very last second. SOF members also train with special ops troops from other countries. Being SOF means constantly improving your skills.

All special ops are elite, but not all elite soldiers are special ops. For example, all paratroopers are considered elite as well as some non-airborne units like the 10th Mountain Division. But they are not special operations forces; hence they are not part of the Democrats' formula.

Of course it goes without saying that Marines are the elite force in the US military. This special ops fetish started with John Kennedy as a magic bullet for dealing with an enemy who uses a raiding strategy such as insurgencies and terrorism. But it overlooks the fact that these troops are just a part of a combined arms approached needed to defeat any enemy. They have a specific role, but they could no more win a war by themselves than the Navy or Air Force can. Wars are won by military units coordinating all their "special" talents into orchestrated movement and violence against the enemy. The Democrat solution would be like an orchestra with only one instrument.


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