I’ve decided to start a new series on SOFREP about foreign internal defense (FID)—a topic that touches upon subjects such as unconventional warfare (UW) and espionage as it is related to source handling and eliciting information. To make a long story short, FID is a mission in which Special Forces teams deploy to an allied nation, or at least one that doesn’t completely hate us, and then begin training their military and police units. Usually this consists of basic infantry training, but depending on how close we our with the host nation, we may train on more advanced subjects, such as sniper operations.
While conducting FID, the relationship you build with your host-nation counterparts is critical. In fact, some would argue that this relationship is the real goal of the entire mission, more so than training third-world soldiers how to fire an M16. That relationship is what allows you to work together, not just on this mission, but in the war none of us expect to happen five years from now. Sometimes I think Special Forces neglects the importance of these relationships and takes a rather short view, but the importance of rapport-building cannot be overemphasized. This is what really makes Special Forces a force multiplier for the U.S. Army.
Today, it isn’t just Special Forces that has a lot of experience with FID. As the mission in Afghanistan and Iraq turned from outright combat to nation building (let us not mince words here), more and more conventional Army units were called upon to conduct what would have been exclusively a Special Forces mission in the past. It wasn’t the job that the Army necessarily wanted or was trained for, but they manned up and did the job in a very difficult wartime environment. I think that passing on some of these hard-won FID experiences could prove invaluable to other soldiers, in order to prevent them from falling into the same traps and making the same mistakes that many of us did.
This first FID tip is about how your rapport is your security. This is never more true than when you are part of a small SOF team working with a large indigenous force. In military terms, security means a soldier and/or weapons system that is guarding your flanks and rear areas. The guards on perimeter security, scanning the night with their rifles so that the Taliban don’t cruise up into your position and kill your men? That is your security element. However, in Special Forces, you may not have the luxury of having hardcore, motivated, well-trained American soldiers and Marines to pull security for you.
Instead, the relationship you have built with your partner force is your security. The indig soldiers or guerrilla fighters are the ones watching your back because they like you, because you’ve integrated with their force, and because you’ve demonstrated your competency. This notion is largely antithetical to common U.S. military thought, but that’s why Special Forces wear the green beret, because they are tasked with walking right through very ambitious and uncertain situations.
But it goes beyond just having your host-nation partners pulling security for you while you sleep, or watching your back on a combat mission. After a time, I had built such strong rapport with my Iraqi SWAT team members that they would often tell me things. They would give me the insider baseball when it came to unit politics; they would tell me who they suspected of being a terrorist mole inside the unit; they even told me things about what American forces were doing—things I wasn’t even supposed to know. But as they say, knowledge is power. Especially in that part of the world.
If I haven’t convinced you yet that rapport is your security, then I’d like to relate an anecdote from the memoir of former Rhodesian Selous Scout Tim Bax. After the conclusion of the Rhodesian Bush War, Tim Bax was brought on by his former commander in the Selous Scouts, Ron-Reid Daly, to run training for soldiers in the independent black homeland of Transkei. Transkei was notionally an independent black nation within South Africa. It was to be an ill-fated attempt by the South African government to delay the inevitable—the end of apartheid.
Tim Bax and his men trained the Transkeian troops for four years and eventually got them to the point where they were at least somewhat functional as soldiers. But the political situation was tense, and one day the Transkeian soldiers surrounded the suburb in which their Rhodesian trainers and advisors lived, placing them all under arrest while their families were given two days to pack their possessions and exit the country.
Thrown into the local prison, Tim writes that, “Not so pleasant was being prodded by the business end of a loaded rifle by a soldier who was shaking so badly from nerves I worried that he might inadvertently discharge his weapon” (Three Sips of Gin, 391). Luckily, Tim and his friend Andy Samuels were soon escorted from their cell to meet a Transkeian captain they knew. He offered them both a drink and said that they would both be released while the others were kept in jail, since the captain felt that they were “jolly good fellows.”
Andy requested one additional drink and then both men were on their way. It’s nice to have friends out there. Sometimes, it can even save your life.