Shadow Warriors Take the Fight to Taliban, Al Qaeda
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2001 The war against terrorism is a new kind of war requiring different types of tactics, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said.
Special Operations Forces prepare gear before mission in Afghanistan, Oct. 19, 2001. (Still image from DoD video.)
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In this war, U.S. forces do not oppose an opponent's army, navy or air force. Rather they face shadowy bands of Al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban supporters. Left alone, these terrorist groups have all the advantages: They can choose the weapons, the means, and the time and place of attack, Rumsfeld said.
The only defense against terrorism is to take the battle to them.
"How do you do that?" Rumsfeld asked during a Pentagon press briefing. "You don't do it with conventional capabilities, you do it with unconventional capabilities. And therefore, the United States and other countries in the coalition simply have to fashion ways to use the kinds of technologies that we have and the kinds of capabilities that we've developed over years to accomplish the task. And that means it's going to be a variety of different things, as I say, some that are open and some that are less open."
It means that the military portion of the fight against terrorism will be carried by the "Shadow Warriors" of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Special operations forces have been a part of the U.S. military since before the United States was a nation. The Army Ranger Regiment, for example, traces its lineage to Rogers' Rangers of the French and Indian War.
Today's special operations forces come from the Army, Navy and Air Force. While the Marine Corps has special units and capabilities, it is not a part of U.S. Special Operations Command. About 46,000 active duty, reserve and civilian men and women work for the command worldwide, said headquarters officials at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
All special operations forces share general characteristics including specialized equipment, training and tactics. These characteristics also include an understanding of the area of operations and, often, language capabilities. Finally, special operations forces are flexible in size and mission, and the personnel understand the political complexities of their missions.
The Army has the longest history with special operations forces and the greatest number of them.
The 75th Ranger Regiment is a direct action strike force equally skilled in day and night fighting. The Rangers can deploy rapidly at any strength. They're intended to get in, hit hard and get out. Like all special operations forces, the Rangers do not have a large logistical element.
"Rangers Lead the Way" is a saying that grew out of the storming of the Pointe du Hoc, a line of cliffs off Normandy's Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Once again they proved the motto true with their assault in Afghanistan on Oct. 19, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers.
Army Special Forces are known by their distinctive headgear -- the Green Beret. Started in 1952 at Fort Bragg, N.C., SF soldiers receive training across a variety of military skills. Each member can perform the job of every other member. The main mission for these soldiers is to train, advise and assist host-nation military or paramilitary forces in a variety of conventional and unconventional warfare techniques. These soldiers specialize in regions and learn the language and dialects of the people they work with.
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is known as the "Night Stalkers." Based at Fort Campbell, Ky., the regiment employs state-of-the-art equipment to precisely land troops and provide airborne protection.
Psychological operations forces also come under special operations. These units reinforce attitudes and responses in populations that support the United States. These soldiers also specialize in specific geographical areas and are sensitive to linguistic and cultural aspects of those areas.
U.S. Army Reserve soldiers make up more than 97 percent of the civil affairs forces in the military. These forces cement a commander's rapport with civilian populations. They also are a traveling "city management team." Civil affairs personnel specialize in public safety, agriculture, economic issues and support to refugees.
Navy special warfare forces are based around the world to give commanders a rapidly deployable small-unit capability. At the heart of these forces are the SEAL teams. Short for "Sea, Air, Land," these 16-man teams primarily deploy from the sea. The units trace their lineage to the "frogmen" of World War II.
Special boat squadrons and units support the SEALs and provide other capabilities such as riverine operations, coastal patrol and support to more conventional Navy actions.
Air Force special operations forces provide helicopter and fixed-wing capabilities across the special warfare spectrum. These "quiet professionals" provide precise firepower, clandestine infiltration and the ability to extract special forces. In addition, these Air Force teams resupply and refuel other special operations forces.
The Air Force also maintains the airborne radio and television transmitters being used in Afghanistan now. Air Force special tactics teams and combat controllers provide combat control, weather, and pararescue capabilities.
The U.S. Special Operations Command provides the special operations forces to the combatant commanders. "Each theater (commander in chief) has a subordinate command dedicated to special operations," said a command official. At U.S. Central Command, for instance, the element is called Special Operations Command, Central.