Plan Of Attack
The Pentagon has a secret new strategy for taking on terrorists--and taking them down
Traditionally, the geographic commands have been reluctant to yield to SOCOM on counterterrorism issues, but that's no longer an option. While Brown's command is now in charge of the planning effort in the war on terrorism, it will lead actual operations only when directed to do so by the president or Rumsfeld. Which is certainly a distinct possibility--Rumsfeld has expanded the authority of SOCOM in a number of key areas since Brown took command last year. "Most of them were in his purview," Brown said of the new areas of authority, "and we got them quickly."
One such authority granted in the new strategy is for special operations forces to conduct "operational preparation of the environment" --more Pentagon-speak for gathering information in trouble spots around the world to prepare for possible missions. "It's becoming familiar with the area in which you might have to work," explains Thomas O'Connell, the Pentagon's assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict. "It's nonhostile recon. It's not intrusive. Others without a military background may view it as saber rattling, but it's as far from that as you can get." In the 1980s, O'Connell said, special operations forces spent lots of time preparing to respond to hijackings, kidnappings, and takeovers of embassies. To do that, they visited embassies and airports and examined possible helicopter landing zones and assault routes. In 1991, O'Connell said, the preparations paid off in the rescue of U.S. Embassy personnel in Somalia: "If one marine in that contingent hadn't just been in [as part of a survey team] and known that the embassy had switched, they would have assaulted the wrong compound."
Taking charge. While the new Pentagon strategy may have resolved some internal turf battles, other issues must await the conclusion of the National Security Council's review of counterterrorism policy. The Pentagon is floating one proposal that is sure to cause a stir in Congress and, probably, the State Department. Feith says there are good reasons to consider remaking the entire apparatus for aid and training for foreign troops, police, and other security forces. It was set up during the Cold War, he says, "more for building relationships and less for developing capabilities for partners to contribute to our military purposes." He cites the headache encountered when the Pentagon proposed to train and equip the Georgian Army in Central Asia after 9/11. "We had to tap five or six different pots of money," Feith says, "and it took over half a year."
Changing the system won't be easy. Congress has a long history of attaching all kinds of conditions to foreign aid. While the State Department administers most foreign security programs, its capability is small, and the Pentagon is restricted in training police forces abroad. A senior administration official declined to comment on the substance of the Pentagon strategy because it is still classified but said that it had been "invaluable to our governmentwide strategic thinking." At the White House, the official said, the National Security Council has focused its approach on "an ever growing number of willing partners . . . to address violent extremists operating within their borders."