The Men In The Shadows
Why Special Forces are providing the model for a new kind of war
"NO DECISION TO KILL US, NOW"
With most of the fighting over in Iraq, Special Forces' A-Teams have begun providing what the Pentagon calls "situational awareness," a ground-level view of things as Iraqis set about rebuilding after decades of oppression. It may not be as exciting as the commando raids they staged at the start of the war, but there's a reason the Pentagon brass deploy Special Forces for what they call "gray-area conflicts" that are neither peace nor all-out combat. SF operators have the ability to go into high-risk environments to sleuth out the truth, figure out a course of action, and carry it out if their commanders approve. One of their first, simple acts is to start building rapport with the population. Unlike conventional forces, they go out in small groups without a lot of heavy artillery overhead, like the Cobra gunships that the marines frequently sent over Kut. It's not that the Green Berets are naive; they can do their job properly, they believe, only if they get out and take some risks. "We have been told that there is no decision to kill us, for now," says one A-Team member who cultivated Shiite fundamentalists. "We know how to watch our backs."
The Iraq campaign will be remembered as a war fought with unprecedented speed, precision, and flexibility. Although it was a conventional war, it could be fought this way thanks to the incorporation of special ops forces. Their use in Iraq has been more strategic than tactical, as it was in Desert Storm. Many special operators credit Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. Central Command boss who directed all combat operations in Iraq, for expanding the use of elite troops after he saw their performance in Afghanistan. He solicited contributions for every operation from Brig. Gen. Gary Harrell, the special operations commander for CentCom. Frictions and rivalries still abound, but deputy Navy SEAL commander Capt. Walt Pullar believes that special ops forces will become the pre-eminent tools for waging the continuing war on terrorism and the high-tech battles of the 21st century. In Kut, a terse Special Forces major concedes that special operators have finally gained acceptance. "A few years ago," he says, "the conventional forces wanted nothing to do with us, and now they are screaming for us. They say, `Hey, these guys are rough around the edges, but they produce results.' "