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Thread: Misusing Special-Warfare Assets

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Misusing Special-Warfare Assets

    31 August National Review commentary - “Burning Up SEALs” by W. Thomas Smith Jr.

    ... But some members of the Naval Special Warfare community are telling me he did not have to die, with one officer contending, “they’re burning up SEALs.”

    The problem lies in the manner in which SEALs and other special operators are being deployed and for what kinds of missions.

    “Special Operations warriors are not dispensable assets,” says Reserve SEAL Commander Mark Divine, who has been to Iraq several times and was tasked with evaluating the performance of a new Marine Corps special operations force during its developmental stages in 2004. “It will take two years to replace Lee with another combat-ready SEAL. The SEAL community is undermanned as it is, and it is the Navy’s number-one recruiting priority.”

    Divine’s concerns are based on the fact that the U.S. Defense Department is looking to boost its numbers of special operators, currently totaling about 40,000, by 15 percent over the next four years. SEALs, less than 2,500 men, must increase by about 20 percent, and without reducing standards.

    The Global War on Terror — with all of its backdoors and shadows and high-tech, asymmetrical, rapidly changing battlespaces — has placed an enormous demand on U.S. special-warfare units. After all, these are the guys tasked with operating in the darkest environs. Consequently, taking a smart, committed young man with an athletic bent (Lee himself was a star soccer player in high school) and transforming him into a Navy SEAL is neither cheap — about $350,000 a copy — nor easy. Most SEAL hopefuls are unable to pass the entry physical fitness test. And most who do pass the PFT simply don’t have what it takes to become a SEAL.

    The attrition rate is extremely high for SEALs: A staggering 80 percent fail to complete the hellish six-months of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S). Those who do survive BUD/S must again prove themselves in an equally demanding post-graduate period with an active SEAL Team before officially becoming SEALs.

    Special-operations teams like SEALs — including the super-secret Naval Special Warfare Development Group (formerly SEAL Team Six) — the Army’s special-operations forces (from Rangers to Green Berets to Delta), Air Force special-tactics teams, and the Marine Corps’ Force Recon and the brand-new Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) teams, are responsible for conducting special missions, including counterterrorism, hostage rescues, prisoner snatches, foreign military training, special reconnaissance, sabotage, direct action, and the targeting of enemy leaders, among other highly sensitive operations. And many of those operations — though unknown thus never reported — have tremendous strategic relevance.

    “In the context of Iraq, SEALs, who comprise a fraction of the Navy’s total force, are trained to handle those kinds of missions,” Divine tells National Review Online. “Every man is a critical asset in the war on terror. So to squander a life in support of a general cordon and search operation is just wrong.”...

    Former SEAL John Chalus, who had one combat tour in Vietnam and whose two sons would later serve in the Navy (one of whom was a SEAL), tells NRO, “SEALs should not be combined with regular units unless the regular unit is used to support the special operation.”

    Conventional units often provide security for special operators, setting up a perimeter around the operation and “keeping the bad guys at bay,” says Chalus. And of course, special operators often conduct reconnaissance and gather intelligence for conventional operations...

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Read Naylor's Operation Anaconda for a good look at how SpecOps forces may be being misued in a different context. He writes of forces being committed in areas they may not be suited for as a form of "jointness."

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    Council Member pcmfr's Avatar
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    I would ask the contributors to this piece what they envision a "good" use of NSW assets to be. Should we hold our SEALs in reserve sitting out of the GWOT until we need to do a hydro recon for an amphibious landing or blow up a ship in port?

    It is a tragedy and unfortunate whenever we lose a SEAL or any soldier in combat, but the casualty rates in this community are not high enough to say that we are "wasting" them on unecessary missions. The JSOTFs are fully competent to employ their SOF in the correct manner.
    Last edited by pcmfr; 09-19-2006 at 04:12 PM.

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    Council Member Ender's Avatar
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    There was a similar argument among 0321's and while there is a higher level investment that is placed in the Marine (the schools are not cheap) at the end of the day there just weren't enough high level raids to go around. Everyone was chomping at the bit and if there was actionable anything I am sure it was the TF's and Tier One+ assets whose phones were ringing. I say don't knock them, join em or if you can beat them for the mission then join them!

    In my second deployment we ended up doing what would be considered by some as a traditional infantryman's job. We were involved heavily in presence patrols, IED sweeps, cache sweeps, VCP's and many other "menial" jobs. I would get so pissed when early on my guys would complain about having to get their hands dirty with grunt work. They had this concept that SF stuff is always sexy. They didn't know what its like to be deployed and unemployed, and to appreciate being given a mission at all, but more importantly they didn't realize that it is about being a MARINE first. All of the caveats and designators are nice and everyone loves a dual cool Marine for example but the pins mean nothing without the uniform to pin them on.

    I am sorry you weren't employed. We took what they gave us and turned it into gold and I found that by us doing the little things right the "big" things eventually came too. (My platoon had front row, north facing seats for Al Fajr and when the elections hit we were hip deep in the affairs-all strategic stuff) The ratios are going to be off because unfortunately for us and fortunately for the world there just aren't enough AMZ's and UBL's.

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    Yes, there are certainly occasions when SOF is misused when they are working with conventional units. But there is also a broad spectrum of operational scenarios in which it is a legitimate use of resources and a significant combat multiplier - for each side of the equation - when different SOF assets join the fight with conventional forces. The author of the linked piece seems to believe that is not true, and anything to the contrary is a waste of valuable resources. I disagree.

    In any case, this is probably a good place to re-reference the (previously posted) testimony of RADM Joseph Maguire, USN Special Warfare Command back this past Jan:

    ...Our inability to meet end-strength requirements in the near term is due to these increased demands outpacing our ability to effectively recruit the quality candidates who can meet the rigorous training standards set. The challenge in meeting these current and future end strength requirements is ensuring that we have absolutely, positively, unequivocally the right individual filling every Special Operations Forces (SOF) billet on the battlefield – and that the warfighter is fully trained to meet every mission that he may face. I would be remiss as the leader of this community if in any way I proposed lowering training standards in order to rectify manning shortfalls. The relatively low casualty rate and battlefield successes experienced by our warfighters in the present conflict speaks loudly to our selection process, our ethos and most importantly the quality of the training SEAL and SWCC operators receive to prepare them to be the fighting force on which the nation depends.

    I think it important to note that we are aggressively scrubbing our manpower base to ensure that we are placing SEALs and SWCCs in only those billets that require their specific warfighting skills, and that to the maximum extent we can, are augmenting our force with critical enablers of combat support and combat service support personnel – organizing them into Support Activity Teams – one per coast - which will go a long way to meet QDR directed growth but not overly stress the SEAL/ SWCC skill sets....

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    Council Member Ender's Avatar
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    I just don't see it... I don't know how I would communicate this but I guess I just personally feel that you start with the base line, the foundation, the sailor in this instance. From there you add a combination of tools to that sailor's toolbox (one of that very well may be BUDs and beyond) which gives him an additional resource he, but more importantly, the Navy didn't have before. At the end it is another method that supplements the basic sailor skills. Look at it like this, if every SOF unit were (truly) successful in their missions they would put themselves out of work and end up doing the very things they complain about anyways. One of the things about being high speed, low drag is sometimes you have to come back down to earth and deal with the rest of the branch.

    Now if there are missions for these guys and they aren't being employed because some commander would rather sweep berms for mortar rounds than raid the house of the #3 guy on your list (and "risk" assets unnecessarily) THEN I HAVE A BEEF. There is no sense training these guys if you are not going to use them when the time comes and to be perfectly candid if you aren't sure how to employ your new SOF unit... ask them. I am sure the breed comes standard. They will tell, at great length and in great detail everything they can do for you.

    There is a very real danger IMHO to having any troops anywhere who are "too good" for something. Do we want SEALs or Force guys picking up trash or manning VCPs? No. But if all of the other (thousands) of boxes are checked off, (From DA all the way down to meet and greets) then that is what you do... period.

    Having said all of that, in today's reality I find it very hard to believe that anyone, in any capacity of SOCOM, will be out of work for long so... here's to work!
    Last edited by Ender; 04-07-2007 at 04:49 AM.

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    Default Employment of SOF

    The other danger is having your SOF units sign up for something not normally suited to their mission set, such as the SEAL assault Paitilla Airfield during the opening hours of Operation JUST CAUSE. I was part of SEAL Team FOUR at the time and I was NOT on the operation. Although it was rehearsed over and over prior to execution, this was (in hindsight) not within our METLs at the time.

    With this said I didn't hear anyone saying no (myself included) during the mission planning phase. A never quit/nothing is impossible attitude taken to extreme may cause us to volunteer or sign up for things just to get in the fight. Just an occupational hazard.

    Back to lurking and learning....

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    I heard the exact opposite griping from Army SF. They griped that there were too many cool guy TF's doing the cool guy missions that the ODA's could have done.

    I wonder if the author is simply starting from the concern about standards being lowered to expand the ranks, and then haphazardly grasping for any evidence that may bolster this.

    I agree with pcmfr.

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    Default Weak Article

    This article was pretty lame, and it did not have any supporting facts, it simply aired a few gripes, and most of the gripes are from guys on the sidelines, like a former SEAL who couldn't tell blank from live ammo during a training mission (I'm sorry, but I couldn't finish Marsinko's book after that).
    The issue isn't misuse (although it will happen on occassion), it is operations tempo, so the author missed the main point. Once deployed you're deployed and guys want to do worthwhile work while they're deployed. In some locations guys had to search for missions, while in others they were begging for a break. I don't think it was different in past wars.

    Back to the issue, unlike Afghanistan in 2001/2002 when SOF and conventional forces were still feeling each out, they now work together much better, with some hiccups in places based on personalties, so comments like SOF should never support conventional forces are way off the mark.

    What is really nice about our relationship with conventional forces is when the crap hits the fan, and there is a fellow American fighting man outside the wire, everyone will come running to help. SOF helps conventional forces and vice versa, so if they ask for help, we generally try to support them in a SOF appropriate manner. pmcr hit the nail on the head with his comments.

  10. #10
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    This article was pretty lame, and it did not have any supporting facts, it simply aired a few gripes, and most of the gripes are from guys on the sidelines, like a former SEAL who couldn't tell blank from live ammo during a training mission (I'm sorry, but I couldn't finish Marsinko's book after that).
    The issue isn't misuse (although it will happen on occassion), it is operations tempo, so the author missed the main point. Once deployed you're deployed and guys want to do worthwhile work while they're deployed. In some locations guys had to search for missions, while in others they were begging for a break. I don't think it was different in past wars.
    I yet again find myself in agreement with Mr Moore (mental to note to self to avoid him, and Ken White, in the shower block, lest folks talk! )

    ... but to be serious.

    My personal experience of modern UK and US SF is that they are deeply "Political". The instinct to protect turf, budgets, mission and manpower seem to have taken on a life of their own, and I would suggest that the people who ensure that SF is most misused is the SF themselves.

    The other issue is that SF is a vastly emotional subject, lead on by Special Ops Wannabe's, (writers, journalists, politicians and now bloggers) 99% who seek reflected glory by advocating the SF position, regardless of rhyme of reason.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Sycophantic agreement follows:

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    ...
    The other issue is that SF is a vastly emotional subject, lead on by Special Ops Wannabe's, (writers, journalists, politicians and now bloggers) 99% who seek reflected glory by advocating the SF position, regardless of rhyme of reason.
    Particularly with that and with Bill...

    As for this:
    I yet again find myself in agreement with Mr Moore (mental to note to self to avoid him, and Ken White, in the shower block, lest folks talk! )
    No!, I refuse to admit it's over!!!

    Of course, it could be less sycophancy or just fancy (verb); rather just the knowledge that old age and treachery will outdo youth and skill every time...

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