Journalist Nick Turse wrote an article today about how special operations forces (SOF) are not all they are cracked up to be. In general, I agree. Behind the hero worship of the public, gushing of politicians who need SOF to make them look good, and young men who are obsessed with the guns-and-MultiCam aspect of the job, there are some profound problems within the special operations community. While civilian authors such as Kevin Maurer, Sean Naylor, and Linda Robinson have articulated many of these deficiencies, Turse offers nothing more than a whiney and ultimately watered-down version of William Lind’s 2012, and far superior critique of American special operations.
Turse tears into American special operations, claiming that they are not nearly as successful as people think they are at accomplishing their missions. However, Turse never defines success, whether it is success in his personal opinion or the official policy statements of the U.S. government and special operations command. Sean Naylor, apparently Turse’s sole source for the article, is another journalist. I interviewed Naylor myself on Sunday about his new book on JSOC. While we discussed the shortcomings of JSOC, I doubt if Naylor would agree with Turse’s viewpoints. Naylor is even quoted in the article saying, “The vast majority of the decisions [about operations and the war in general] were not being made by Army Special Forces soldiers.”
Special operations troops need to own their failures, accept them as fact, conduct appropriate after-action reviews, and always improve their performance. Yes, even SOF bears much of the burden for America recently fighting two failed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they are not the only ones shouldering that burden. The United States government does not have special operations units operating in a vacuum. Everyone gets a say in SOF operations, from the CIA to the State Department to the enemy themselves. Turse seems to think that SOF works in a unilateral environment, but even then, he can’t put his finger on exactly what SOF is doing wrong.
I would agree that the United States military, to include special operations forces, generally does a poor job of training foreign militaries. The reason for this is primarily that American soldiers attempt to graph U.S. military doctrine right on top of foreign cultures and societies. This cookie-cutter approach is uncreative and is devoid of any serious cultural study. Former Rhodesian Selous Scout Tim Bax and I talked about this at length in a podcast a few months ago.