- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By "SF Guy"
Best Defense guest columnist
Interesting post by Mr. Russell yesterday and glad to see that people are looking critically at SOF and its role in the future. However, Mr. Russell’s post is not really contributing to the dialogue that much.
Saying that SOF is a unique, niche military capability sounds great — but really means nothing. What particular service, unit, or capability is not a unique, niche military capability? Need overwhelming armored force? Call 3rd ID. Vertical envelopment to capture key terrain? 82nd. Massive rotary wing lift capability? 101st. Submarines a problem? The silent service is here! Each of these forces has a unique role to play in warfare, and SOF simply is no different. It’s a tool in the toolbox for policymakers to wield, nothing more and nothing less. SOF has gotten attention and funding over the past decade because of the unique nature of the wars we’ve been fighting. And policymakers have learned that fighting terrorists and insurgents may require a scalpel rather than a tank division. Of course one wouldn’t attempt to defend Taiwan with SOF only; anyone who says otherwise is a ninny.
Full disclosure: I am an SF guy, with experience in both active and reserve SF units, as well as a background in the conventional infantry. I believe strongly in the ability of SOF, both white and black sides, to affect global conflict. But both the public and the policymakers must understand that we are a tool with specific uses and limitations, and even when we are used correctly things will not always go as envisioned. I think the SOF effort in Africa is going to be largely successful, and is an excellent COA by our national security establishment. Mali, however, shows that things will not always go as planned, and even the best SOF effort may not solve issues in place like Libya. A little humility, or recognition of the limits of power, by our military leaders and elected officials may be in order
At the same time, I believe that what’s going to hurt SOF in the future are these:
- Putting the community in the limelight as part of a funding battle. How about we don’t make that terrible SEAL movie, or allow 60 Minutes to follow an ODA around Afghanistan? It’s not about the public’s right to know, it’s about senior leaders jockeying for funding dollars and glory. Let’s keep it low key; those who live by the news segment die by the news segment, and we can’t afford to lose SOF.
- Growing the force at the expense of quality. This has happened to every SOF component in the last 10 years. Need more people, lower standards and get ‘em tabbed (or badged, or whatever). Mr. Russell, to his credit, recognizes this. We are where we are in terms of perceived effectiveness because of the quality of those who came before us. SOF people need to be held to high standards. Selection needs to be, obviously, selective. Didn’t Charlie Beckwith say he’d rather go up the river with seven studs than a hundred shitheads?
- Senior SOF leaders getting greedy. I get it, you need missions and goals to keep the funding, but overreach for mission sets is going to hurt us. We need to be good at everything but masters of our assigned craft. For us in SF it’s UW and its subcomponents. For other services, they need to know their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s grow slowly, be very good at a few things, and leave non-SOF missions to non-SOF. Yes, I think this is what Mr. Russell was trying to say, but he used a lot of words to say a simple thing — and, looking back at this, so have I.
General Barno, a highly decorated military officer with over 30 years of service, has served in a variety of command and staff positions in the United States and around the world, to include command at every level. He served many of his early years in special operations forces with Army Ranger battalions, to include combat in both the Grenada and Panama invasions. In 2003, he was selected to establish a new three-star operational headquarters in Afghanistan and take command of the 20,000 U.S. and Coalition Forces in Operation Enduring Freedom. For 19 months in this position, he was responsible for the overall military leadership of this complex political-military mission, devising a highly innovative counterinsurgency strategy in close partnership with the U.S. embassy and coalition allies.His responsibilities included regional military efforts with neighboring nations and involved close coordination with the Government of Afghanistan, the United Nations, NATO International Security Assistance Force, the U.S. Department of State and USAID, and the senior military leaders of many surrounding nations and numerous allies.
From 2006-2010, General Barno served as the Director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. Concurrently, he was the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Veterans and Families from 2007-2009. He frequently serves as an expert consultant on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare, professional military education and the changing character of conflict, supporting a wide-range of government and other organizations. General Barno is widely published and has testified before Congress numerous times. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
A 1976 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, General Barno also earned his master’s degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and the U.S. Army War College. General Barno has received numerous awards for his military and public service.| Argument |
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |