Now that you can pick up Season One of the Global War on Terror on DVD at Best Buy, we are rolling into Season Two, live and in HD, in dozens of countries around the world. Season One closed out the Mega-FOB and MRAP portion of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. With it, the old arguments between Counter-Insurgency and Counter-Terrorism will also be largely a thing of the past with COIN being discredited for at least a generation.
GWOT Season Two will take us from Nigeria to Mali, from the Spratly Islands to emerging arctic maritime trade routes, from Dagestan to Baluchistan as we interact with non-state actors and power players alike. Strategies and tactics will change in Season Two. Many in the Special Operations community are actually in denial as to how deep an impact that GWOT Season One had on the US Military, and on Special Operations in particular.
Many are engaged in wishful thinking, believing that the various SOF units will go back to their pre-9/11 dispositions, back to the way things were for the pilot episodes in Somalia and Colombia. Delta will have the hostage rescue and counter-terrorist mission. Rangers will capture airfields. SEALs will take down ships and oil platforms. But the past is in the past, things are different now.
The emerging conflict within Special Operations is a conflict between shooters and enablers. Most people understand what shooters do. Explosively breach doors, enter and clear rooms, kill bad guys as needed. There is much more to it, of course, but you get the idea. Enablers are those other positions on a Task Force or within a unit which provide specializations that enable the shooters to do their jobs. They are the guys who gather intelligence, they handle the K9s, they operate electronic warfare equipment, they interrogate detainees, they gather evidence on the objective, and so much more. In the Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, Disseminate methodology, it is the shooters who Finish. The enablers do pretty much everything else.
Season One disenfranchised many of us to the idea of going to war, something which has stymied the US government’s ability to use military threats and coercion against other nations, such as Syria. Much more plausible and politically realistic scenarios are those like Libya, where the West provides air support and works by, with, and through indigenous movements and Third Country Nationals, with a light foot print of OGA para-military and JSOC operators on the ground.
This is where the intra-politics of Special Operations comes in. If we are to use a light footprint, subtle approach, then it threatens to invalidate the shooters who draw their legitimacy and reason for existing from mostly kinetic non-deniable operations. For sure, JSOC has operated in the shadows and conducted low-visibility operations for decades, but after 12 years of overt war this may be a tough pill to swallow.
The infrastructure for unconventional, low-visibility operations has been and is being constructed. The proof of concept has been demonstrated in Libya and several other countries, using TTPs which were developed during counter-terrorist operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In this new paradigm, where the operationalized aspect of counter-terrorism will consist of two operators disguised as Arabs in order to put a bullet in the back of someone’s head, the question becomes, “Why do we need platoons of Rangers or SEALs?” Why do we need squadrons of badasses, when the enablers who Find and Fix can also Finish? The main effort of CT operations may very well shift from the shooters to the technical surveillance experts of ISA, along with Delta’s Recce Troop and SEAL Team Six’s Black Squadron, not to mention certain OGA elements as required to exploit the Title 10/Title 50 loophole.
This change in paradigm has very real tactical as well as bureaucratic and institutional consequences that will ignite stark disagreements between different factions within Special Operations. The future of Special Operations and Counter-Terrorism will look more like the activities of intelligence agencies, and a whole lot less like those of the military.