Men on a Mission
U.S. Special Forces are retooling for the war on terror. Here's their plan
The same thing happened in Afghanistan. "The war on terror is more like the Cold War," said Col. Pat Higgins, who commanded special operations forces during two tours of duty there, "in that it is focused on preventing things from happening." Higgins sent a team of his men to help border police stop the flow of rockets through the Khyber Pass-then focused on getting local Afghans to send their sons and daughters to a school they built.
Self-interest. That kind of outreach is also happening on a higher level. Last fall, Dailey began the program "Sovereign Challenge," inviting 82 foreign military attachÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ©s from embassies in Washington to an off-the-record free-for-all at which they were encouraged to air views on terrorism. The brainchild of retired diplomat Stanley Schrager, an adviser to Dailey, it was a way of reframing the debate, he says, "to encourage countries to act in their own self-interest, with or without the help of the United States." Even nations that haven't been attacked have an incentive, he adds, because terrorists routinely violate their sovereignty, by transferring funds through their banks or using countries for training or recruiting purposes.
Other counterterrorism initiatives are proceeding below the radar. In Asia, special operations forces conduct some 70 training exercises a year. SOCOM has also set up a 70-man Joint Psychological Operation Support Element to assist commanders around the globe and other U.S. agencies with in-depth analyses of Arab audiences and Islamic sects while producing radio and television spots for their use. The program's deputy director, Mike Furlong, says its efforts are "akin to a marketing or PR firm. We try to get our message out for the population to see."
In addition, SOCOM is sending military liaison elements to countries where the U.S. military may someday be called on to deal with terrorists. Past operations in Somalia, Grenada, and Iran all ran into trouble because U.S. forces lacked basic information, like accurate road maps. Some U.S. ambassadors have complained about the work of these teams, but SOCOM says objections are dealt with before anyone is deployed. "Special operations forces do not go into other countries without a country clearance," Brown said. "We brief each new ambassador and inform them that we won't deploy SOF personnel without the appropriate country clearance."
If such programs are indeed the priority, today many in the white SOF community say they don't see it. When it comes to equipment, aircraft, intelligence, and other support, they say, they don't get their fair share. As one senior Special Forces officer put it: "We have a world-class capability for direct action. We need the same world-class, well-resourced capability to do unconventional warfare," working with local partners. The manhunters of black SOF have their own air fleet, the 160th Special Operations Regiment-which both Dailey and Brown once commanded-while the white Special Forces have not had dedicated aircraft since Vietnam.
Brown rejects assertions that there's favoritism at work. "We look at all resources," he said, "and balance them based on the priority of missions at hand. White SOF is better trained, equipped, and supported than ever in history, and they continue to perform all of their missions marvelously."