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06 September 2008


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Dave of Maryland

So I read up on Praetorian Guards. What is the command structure of the various SOF groups? To whom do they report? Is it a hodge-podge, or could it be something very tight & not easily open to inspection?

Green Zone Cafe

Agreed, except that SOF are not just doing capture or kill missions. They are also doing unconventional warfare/internal defense mission. They are paired up with Iraqi SOF units.

Since the SOF are stovepiped and not integrated into the local BCT command, they only "liaise" with conventional forces.

Sometimes the coordination is quite poor.

I saw instances where there were clashes over the "BCT's Iraqis" and the "SOF's Iraqis." You could throw in "the State Department's Iraqis" or I suppose "OGA's Iraqis."

You have Iraqi local government authorities with long relationships with State Department and conventional Army commanders, "Sons of Iraq" former insurgents, political opposition groups, and Iraqi SOF reporting only to their ministries in Baghdad, if anyone. They could all be fighting each other, and fighting AQI and JAM, too.

You might have SOF working with more than one group in that struggle, paired up with an Iraqi SOF unit following its own agenda.

SOF rotations in Iraq are much shorter than the 12-15 months the conventional forces have. They rotate in for six or so months.

The problem is that with the stovepiping and short rotations, you have SF teams headed by a major or captain coming in, making snap judgments based on what "their Iraqis" tell them, and then the teams start breaking china along with their Iraqi SOF. This can raise an uproar within the local community, as homes are raided, people killed, arrested, etc.

Then you have the BCT commander or State Department PRT leader having to apologize and make amends for the mess that is made.

To their credit, the SOF can get things done - they have money for all sorts of small civic action projects, and can move on a bad guy quicker than anyone else.

Lots of moving parts - it would work better if the SOF guys didn't make those hasty judgments about what is going on.


The CIA cannot, by law, do assassinations of political or any other type of target. Hence, the SOF is given that task, with control (?) from the suits, perhaps? Are they now the extension of the White House in the field?

William R. Cumming

I have tried to follow the formal delegations to the CINCs (now renamed) and organizations such as SOLIC (now renamed) over the years. These are the formal charters of the organizations and theoretically would tell the outside world exactly why the organizations were created, why their seperate administrative overhead, logistics systems, personnel etc. Basically no one is in charge at DOD. Because of secrecy and compartmentalization it is very clear that organizations stood up under Secretary Rumsfeld such as NORTHCOM and the Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security and the Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and of course the SFOC are really entirely seperate organizations that really don't care for what other orgs in DOD are trying to accomplish and whether they conflict in the CONOPS. Clearly the civilian control of these organizations is quite thin and unlikely to be improved whomever wins the elections. The real test becomes who is promoted and who obtains flag rank and for what achievements. Excluding the Post Office and its 800,000 employees, DOD is larger than the rest of the Civil government structure, if you include VA and the intelligence organizations as part of DOD. Recently I had a brief conversation with a retired E-9 linguist and his comment seems apt, just "too many people." What is the threat and what do we need to address it? Apparently, everything that threatens DOD and its organizations is the real "Threat." Do we really need 1400 flag rank officers? Do we really need all those Assistant Secretaries and double deputy Assistant Secretaries? The President is the Commander-In-Chief under the Constitution but this organization seems totally beyond the ken of any individual. Good luck to those on the long long end of system. Tail to Tooth to tail is way too high a ratio. I know its controversial but perhaps even one full level of command in the military (leaving it for large scale events where senior NCO could be commissioned) would be appropriate. My advice would be to commission officers in the rank of Lt and let them go dirctly to Captain after 24 months on active service. Also let men serve until they have completed 30 years unless total combat time is some appropriate amount. We really need to look at the totatlity of DOD and not let it always be in charge of its own reform.


PL: You thought the 101st Airborne Division captured Saddam Hussein? From the beginning the SOF people have whispered that it was they and not the ham-handed "grunts" who did that, and virtually everything else of value in Iraq

Perhaps you would agree that `ham-handed grunts' are exactly what the GOP hopes to continue to have to fight their wars... The GOP needs images like those to inspire the poor and under educated, so that they can become Rambos and Amazons instead of Einsteins and Madame Curries. All part of the Noonian narrative, no?

Some food for thought:

Al Madina, Saudi Arabia
Ex-Soldier Says Story of Saddam's Capture 'a Hoax'

According to Saudi Arabia's Al-Madina newspaper, a former U.S. Army Sergeant of Lebanese origin claims that he was part of the operation that located the former Iraqi dictator, and that the familiar film of his arrest was staged.

March 9, 2005

A former U.S. soldier of Lebanese origin, once part of the force that undertook the capture of Saddam Hussein, says that the official American version of his capture was staged, filmed and photographed by U.S. forces, and that the actual arrest took place a day earlier than has been reported.

According to former Army Sergeant Nadim Abou Rabeh, the film of Saddam's capture at the bottom of a hole, in the suburbs west of Baghdad, was made by a special filmmaking unit of the U.S. military attached to the 4th Infantry Division.

The former soldier, interviewed in a village of the Baabada District in Southern Lebanon, said that Saddam Hussein was detained on Friday, December 12, 2003, and not on Saturday the 13th, as has been reported by the American military in Iraq. "I was among the unit of twenty American soldiers that discovered him," Nadim said.

"Eight of us of eastern origin and who speak Arabic, were assigned to raid and inspection operations with support from helicopter gunships and tanks. The operation took place over three days in houses close to Tikrit, about 15 km [9.3 miles] away. Saddam was arrested in a rural home, and not in a hole, and only after offering fierce resistance. One soldier of Sudanese origin was killed."

Nadim said that Saddam was detained after a large number of forces imposed control over the area. The military filmmaking group worked throughout Friday night and into Saturday preparing to make the movie and arranging the scene, including the hole in the ground.

"Saddam's guards offered little resistance, but Saddam himself shot more than 20 bullets from his gun, from a room on the second floor of the house, and it was I and a colleague of Moroccan origin that entered the house and spoke to him in Arabic," Nadim said.

"We told him to surrender and offer us no resistance, and he answered us: 'If you were Americans I would have fired at you.' He then aimed his gun at us, and when he saw an American officer he became agitated, clung to a concrete post near the second-floor balcony and flung himself off the porch to the ground, where he was caught and had his hands tied."



The 101st cornered and killed Uday and Qusay. 4ID captured Saddam.



given the 'cold war' that the bush-cheney herd are trying to create with russia, a.k.a. get as close to thermonuclear wwiii as they can get without falling over the edge, please give your commentary as to how you think the new 'sof plants' would do in a head to head with the leaner russian vdv and their gru controlled specznacz.


The recent raid by air-mobile SO forces on Pakistani ground resulted in 20 dead Pakistani civilians(?) and no (announced) 'high value' target.

Judging from their spokespersons comments neither NATO/ISAF nor regular U.S. forces seemed to have knowledge of that.

Allies like Germany openly damned that raid:

The consequence of that raid was the closing of the Khyber pass for NATO/U.S. supplies coming to Afghanistan through Pakistan.


How to you run the show with only 30% of the gas needed coming through? Ask von Rundstedt why he lost the Battle of the Bulge.

The people most likely to be responsible for that raid were Special Operation folks - outside of the regular command and control chain - outside of any decent strategic evaluation. They do body counts and nothing else.

When they start to operate on U.S. ground, AS THEY WILL, some people may wake up to this rouge force.

That maybe well be too late.


Col., It would be rather interesting to talk to GEN David Petraeus on this question. What would he say? It is NOT my place to speak for the GEN, or even to attempt to try to do it. The same is true of you, I'm ABSOLUTELY SURE, IF I DID, YOU WOULD HAVE NO PROBLEM SETTING ME STRAIGHT!

My view, We looked at this problem with the GWoT in the same light as the "First Persian Gulf War". We would come in with a minimal force on the ground and win this war in a short time. The problem is our leadership looked at this war as a real estate transaction and not the long term issues of "nation-building". Now, how do we win wars of this type? First, unless you have a full featured Constitutional Declaration of War, don't start! You want to have the whole Nation on board with you, not just the Military. This opens the "Whole Spectrum Approach to Warfare" and it's application in this particular conflict. It helps to learn the difference between "Winning/Victory" and "Conquest". "Winning/Victory" can benefit both sides. "Conquest", both sides are losers. In the latter, you have a "Dominant - Submissive Relationship." In this concept you also have embarrassment, this alone can sew the seeds of the terrorism, that we claim, we are fighting. Let us learn the language and the culture of our adversary. This causes us to fight smarter, not harder.

V/R Grumpy

Patrick Lang


I know there are some Army SF units doing UW and Internal Defense.

I would maintain that they have not yet been drawn into the "stove pipe," but the movement in that direction seems inevitable. pl

Patrick Lang


A glance at my CV would reveal that I was an Army SF officer. pl

Warren Street

Doesn't it start with Rumsfeld, and his infamous decree that SOF command would have a G3 worthy of making plans independent of such players as the theater commander or the uniformed services?

This transformation of what they were intended to do--think of the Rangers and their function during World War II and Korea--to what we have now had a serious detour through Latin America.

What precipitated the counterterrorism mindset was the experience SOF units had during the 1980s and 1990s while performing counter-narcotic operations in Latin America, specifically in Colombia and the adjoining countries. These operations were commonplace in the late 1990s, involving overhead collection, countless recce flights, and the deployment of troops. I have also heard graphic descriptions of the activities of US Army Green Berets in Honduras during the mid-1980s as well. Cannot forget operations in the Phillipines and the killing of Col. Rowe, either.

The narco-terrorists have simply been replaced by the takfiris, who replaced whoever needed replacing.

It all comes down to justifying your existence, and SOF is no different from the field artillery or the medical corps. The pie's only so big, and you've got to fight for your slice by having the best PowerPoint Presentation that celebrates what your branch does. Nothing has transformed the military more than PowerPoint, except for maybe gunpowder or the horse.

That's my take on it--the war on drugs set up the war on terror as the next procurement scheme gone wrong.

Dave of Maryland

Col. Lang,

I did not forget that you yourself are SOF. Green Beret, if memory serves.

Having read the comments, what happens if or when our Praetorian guards "cross the Rubicon" and become rogue elements in America itself? (I am aware the metaphors are mixed.)

Where do "retired" SOF operators go? What is the relationship between SOF & the many independent SWAT teams? Who will be the first executive - local, state or federal - to "personalize" one of these elements & put them to his own use?

Mad Dogs

Pat wrote: "The SOF task forces and their CIA, etc. accretions have done good work in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere? Of course they have. Have they made ALL THE DIFFERENCE in Iraq? No."

Agreed! Perhaps under the COIN roles so bloodily "re-discovered" by Petraeus & Company, that were so bloodily "discovered" by real Green Beanies during the Vietnam conflict, one could say that the "traditional" SF emphasis on "working with friends to defeat enemies" has ultimately been "discovered" to be the "proper" approach to the Iraqi Insurgency.

As to Afghanistan, again Pat your analysis with respect to the SOF "service" evolution devolution is spot on!

Hunter/Killer teams have always been part of SF, but were the "tail", not the "dog".

When the "tail" takes over, the "dog" likely doesn't know where it's going.

Patrick Lang


In my experience Army SF soldiers were chosen with such standards that they could do just about anythin they wanted in retirement.

Such men tend to stay for a full career and are not interested in a police career or some such thing. teaching school would be more likely.

I don't know of an instances in which a Green Beret became involved in criminal activity after leaving the Army.

Someone else would have to speak for the anti-terrorist commando types. pl


As they say on NPR, I'm a long time listener (reader) and a first time caller (poster).

Like Colonel Lang, I was an Army SF officer and never considered myself to be one of the "operators." When I passed through the JFK Center, I and my classmates knew we were training for unconventional warfare (UW) with the additional capability of direct action (DA) missions. Almost all our training was focused on training and advising a U.S. sponsored resistance movement, although we realized that the U.S. was not doing a lot of UW missions at the time. Those of us going to assignments in the 10th SFG(A) met the Group DCO shortly before graduation. One of my classmates asked if there were teams with DA missions rather than UW. He made it clear that he was not interested in UW. My comment was that he should have went to a Ranger battalion where he would get all the DA missions he wanted. That was my first hint that the "operators" were among us.

In the latter half of my tour with 10th Group, I watched Colonel Potter move us towards more DA and special reconnaissance missions. At the same time, the SF branch was born. I chose to stay Infantry and have never regretted that decision. That's the real Army.

I have been around the "operators" in other units for many years. They are magnificent soldiers and fine human beings. However, I am saddened by the atrophy of UW skills which, IMHO, began in the early 1980s. Learning the needed language and people skills to conduct UW is tough and not nearly as exciting as kicking doors. I think we would be better off in today's wars if the UW skills were not neglected at the expense of the DA skills. Winning hearts and minds on the team-village level on a far grander scale than what we've done so far may have been more successful than the countless capture-kill operations that our current SOF service has conducted.

The Twisted Genius



From the top, from 9/11 on, there was not going to be any wussy liberal “winning hearts and minds” that “lost the war in Vietnam”.

"Casey had long concluded that one big problem with the war was the president himself, He later told a colleague in private that he had the impression that Bush reflected the 'radical wing of the Republican Party that kept saying "Kill the bastards! Kill the bastards! And you'll succeed."

Ethnic cleansing, concrete barricaded ghettoes and “fusion cells” ["Fresh tips are channeled to American fast-reaction teams that move aggressively against reported terrorist targets -- often multiple times in a single night"] have kept the lid on Iraq.

Someday, when America is broke and withdrawing troops from the Middle East, the fear and hatred generated by these misbegotten religious wars will blow back.

Warren Street

In my experience Army SF soldiers were chosen with such standards that they could do just about anythin they wanted in retirement.
Such men tend to stay for a full career and are not interested in a police career or some such thing. teaching school would be more likely.
I don't know of an instances in which a Green Beret became involved in criminal activity after leaving the Army.


Are the types that leave the service prior to their retirement to take the money working for Blackwater, Dyncorp, etc.--are they the exceptions rather than the rules?

The mercenary types haven't exactly distinguished themselves in the employ of Mr. Erik Prince. Not all are bad apples of course, but that's a whole other kettle of fish.

Green Zone Cafe

Col., all of the SF units, including those doing both UW and direct action missions, reported to Balad, not the local BCT, if that's what you mean by stovepiping.

There are definitely different units, some with very "high speed" missions.

Last year, while waiting for a checkpoint to open, I had a casual conversation with a guy who said he was SF. He was wearing civilian cargo pants with an M9 holstered and a green t-shirt. He told me and others waiting at the gate some wild tales of kill-or-capture missions directed against people on the "black list."

Another interesting issue is the extent to which contractors are doing direct action missions under the guise of "advising and instructing."

In 2003, I heard that Blackwater was going outside the wire at night. This was just rumor in the palace. I do not believe they are doing that now - State would not allow it, and the more recent BW hires are younger and do not have the lengthy SOF experience that Bremer's bodyguard had.

Last year, I heard a tale from a retired SOF guy who told me about some wild things involving Iraqi SOF and their steroid-pumped ex-US SOF operators conducting kill or capture missions. I've seen some of these specimens that approach the physique and demeanor of professional wrestlers or NFL linesmen. These are employees of your more obscure contractors - not your garden-variety private security contractors. Some of them are in with the OGA guys.

We are creating a cadre of men, superbly trained, many of them chemically enhanced, who have been kicking down doors and shooting people for years now. What are they going to do if the war ends?

Someday, I hope it's all declassified and the history is written - it will be fascinating.

Cold War Zoomie

I don't know dick about Special Ops, so here are some points that popped up for me in the Washington Post article.

Aiding the U.S. effort, the officials say, is the increasing antipathy toward AQI among many ordinary Iraqis, who quickly report new terrorist safe houses as soon as they're established...remaining AQI members, who are now surrounded by foes even in regions once regarded as friendly. While AQI remains capable of staging deadly suicide bombings, its leaders are becoming reviled throughout the country and are hard-pressed to find sanctuary anywhere in Iraq, according to U.S. defense and intelligence officials.

Col Lang and others brought up this point a long time ago. Of course, since The Surge™ started most of the media have been too busy regurgitating sound bites thrown around by partisan hacks rather than actually performing any rudimentary research and analysis. It's good to see the truth seeps through at times, but it's way too little way too late.

Here's proof below that the USAF must have been left out of this show!...

The headquarters bustles...with long-haired computer experts working alongside wizened intelligence agents and crisply clad military officers,...

Take that back, they're probably the long haired computer guys.

And this is exactly how I've always viewed The Surge™:

Last year's troop increase helped stabilize Baghdad and other major cities, freeing combat forces to take on AQI strongholds throughout the country.

It played a part, but wasn't the entire show.


I would add to TTG's comment that not only has the Army SF moved away from UW missions but the scoresheet shows that the UW training they have been involved in has been something less than outstanding. How'd our Georgian "ally" do lately? Afghan National Army been heard from? And the Iraqi Army, while better than it was in 2005, still doesn't look like much.

I'm not saying that the SOF needs a serious overhaul, but IMO the post-9/11 philosophy of "let's just throw money at them and see what happens" needs to be rethought. As you point out, special operations are just that: operations. They should be part of an overall strategy and if they're not, that needs to be rethought, too...


I was just in Iraq working with a team of retired soldiers; some were regular Army and some were SOF NCOs.

The SOF people basically replicated their stovepipe. There were bitter quarrels over whether the regulars did anything useful (imagine!).

I came away with a very negative view of the ex-SOF folks. Not team players, and in their current roles that was required. One retired regular NCO that I know and respect almost came to blows with the SOF folks. He was in charge and they weren't paying any attention.

Bad dynamics.


Green Zone Cafe: "What are they going to do if the war ends?"

History's answer is "Go back home and do exactly the same thing." Which means the US has exactly three options, accept a cadre of well trained heavily armed roid-raging Rambos back on it's home soil, find another war for them to fight or find a way to get them all killed before they can come home.

This kind of dovetails with what Col. Lang was talking about re: SF becoming criminals after the service. If your special forces is comprised of people who have to be able to act simultaneously as liaison/reconnaissance/trainer/soldier you're going to have a different class of people doing the job than if the job consists entirely of "Break things and hurt people".

Vietnam Vet:

"It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!'". Makes for an interesting inversion actually. Washington DC as the heart of Darkness with Bush as it's Kurtz.


The seeds for these "plants" were sown in 1986 - was it not inevitable that they'd eventually grow? I suppose it should not be surprising that 20 years after Goldwater-Nichols and almost seven years of the so-called GWOT that SOCOM grew from a toddler into a linebacker, but I find myself somewhat surprised anyway as well as concerned about the future.

As to how SOF is currently employed, although my experience is a bit dated, let me just say they didn't play well with others; so in that regard they were acting in the long tradition of inter-service rivalry. When I was in Afghanistan in 2005, the SOF component was doing a variety of missions which did include traditional SF tasks. Most of what I saw was reconnaissance, however, but it was hard to tell for sure because of SOF component secrecy and interoperability problems (the major one being classification - all the SOF C2, intel and planning systems were at the TS level while everyone else was at the secret level).

A continuing problem in Afghanistan, and one that I believe existed in Iraq until Gen. Petraeus took over, were almost continual changes in command focus and strategy. One year it's good governance, another year it's killing Taliban leadership, another year it's infrastructure and roadways,etc. While demand for UW/FID seemed to shift like the tide, DA was always in demand and it was something that conventional commanders understood.

Another problem I see is loss of specialization among the various SOF forces. Navy SEALs, for example, used to be a primarily DA force, but in recent years they've sought to take on more core tasks, while it appears SF have become more DA-oriented. It seems to me specialization in the traditional service roles has advantages and should be kept.

Finally, what happens if some of the "COIN mafia" get their wish for a separate advisory corps within the Army? ISTM that would only serve to push SOF more toward the door-kicking side of the equation.

I'm glad you brought this topic to light, Col. Lang, because there appears to me to be a lack of discussion and scholarship on the implications within the military. One of the few articles I found comes from Soldier of Fortune, of all places, written by MGEN Guest.


A gripe I heard from some long term SF types I happened to be working with in Afghanistan is that they were taking anyone who could fog up a mirror when it was placed under their nose.

From what I got from him (not so much pumping him for info - An E4 mortar maggot dosen't "pump" an E8 SpecOps type as much as lets him unload in his general direction) the current thinking was to throw bodies at the problem of manpower. When I went through basic there was a program that had JUST started that was running new recruits on a fast track to be Special Forces. Their MOS was 18X, and they went through Infantry OSUT > Airborne > Intro Course > SOPC > Special Ops Course.

That's probably part of the problem right there with the entire community. When the Rangers were with us in Afghanistan, they were trying to do the entire "nation building" strategy that SF had typically done, but were quick to revert to form when they didn't get what they wanted.

We could never get it through their heads that blowing up someone's wall at two in the morning wasn't going to "Teach them a lesson" after the shit the Russians had pulled in that region.

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