Nick Turse: The Special Ops Fallacy – Throwing Elite Resources at “Winless Wars”

Yves here. Nick Turse paints a compelling picture of how the US military refuses to learn an obvious lesson: deploying its best troops to support various local causes near and dear to our geopolitical interests has again and again failed.

Turse does not tease out why the officialdom doubles down on a losing strategy. This does not appear to be a case where the role of enriching the military-industrial complex would seem to play a major role. The special ops forces are mainly involved in fighting along with, training and supporting local armies and operatives, and do not seem to be manning big ticket war toys.

One is left wondering if the US never learned the fundamental lesson of Vietnam: you can’t prop up a regime opposed by the majority of the population unless it is openly authoritarian and pretty good at crushing the opposition. Our not-very-competent imperialists seem to think that other nations naturally want to side with the US, and it merely takes surgical interventions to bring about what people living in the Beltway-Langley bubble seem to regard as the natural order.

By Nick Turse, the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa received an American Book Award in 2016. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is Originally published at TomDispatch

The tabs on their shoulders read “Special Forces,” “Ranger,” “Airborne.” And soon their guidon — the “colors” of Company B, 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group — would be adorned with the “Bandera de Guerra,” a Colombian combat decoration.

“Today we commemorate sixteen years of a permanent fight against drugs in a ceremony where all Colombians can recognize the special counternarcotic brigade’s hard work against drug trafficking,” said Army Colonel Walther Jimenez, the commander of the Colombian military’s Special Anti-Drug Brigade, last December.  America’s most elite troops, the Special Operations forces (SOF), have worked with that Colombian unit since its creation in December 2000.  Since 2014, four teams of Special Forces soldiers have intensely monitored the brigade.  Now, they were being honored for it.

Part of a $10 billion counter-narcotics and counterterrorism program, conceived in the 1990s, special ops efforts in Colombia are a much ballyhooed American success story.  A 2015 RAND Corporation study found that the program “represents an enduring SOF partnership effort that managed to help foster a relatively professional and capable special operations force.”  And for a time, coca production in that country plummeted.  Indeed, this was the ultimate promise of America’s “Plan Colombia” and efforts that followed from it.  “Over the longer haul, we can expect to see more effective drug eradication and increased interdiction of illicit drug shipments,” President Bill Clinton predicted in January 2000.

Today, however, more than 460,000 acres of the Colombian countryside are blanketed with coca plants, more than during the 1980s heyday of the infamous cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.  U.S. cocaine overdose deaths are also at a 10-year high and first-time cocaine use among young adults has spiked 61% since 2013.  “Recent findings suggest that cocaine use may be reemerging as a public health concern in the United States,” wrote researchers from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in a study published in December 2016 — just after the Green Berets attended that ceremony in Colombia.  Cocaine, the study’s authors write, “may be making a comeback.”

Colombia is hardly an anomaly when it comes to U.S. special ops deployments — or the results that flow from them.  For all their abilities, tactical skills, training prowess, and battlefield accomplishments, the capacity of U.S. Special Operations forces to achieve decisive and enduring successes — strategic victories that serve U.S. national interests — have proved to be exceptionally limited, a reality laid bare from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to the Philippines. 

The fault for this lies not with the troops themselves, but with a political and military establishment that often appears bereft of strategic vision and hasn’t won a major war since the 1940s.  Into this breach, elite U.S. forces are deployed again and again. While special ops commanders may raise concerns about the tempo of operations and strains on the force, they have failed to grapple with larger questions about the raison d’être of SOF, while Washington’s oversight establishment, notably the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, have consistently failed to so much as ask hard questions about the strategic utility of America’s Special Operations forces.

Special Ops at War

“We operate and fight in every corner of the world,” boasts General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM).  “On a daily basis, we sustain a deployed or forward stationed force of approximately 8,000 across 80-plus countries.  They are conducting the entire range of SOF missions in both combat and non-combat situations.”  Those numbers, however, only hint at the true size and scope of this global special ops effort.  Last year, America’s most elite forces conducted missions in 138 countries — roughly 70% of the nations on the planet, according to figures supplied to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command.  Halfway through 2017, U.S. commandos have already been deployed to an astonishing 137 countries, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw. 

Special Operations Command is tasked with carrying out 12 core missions, ranging from counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare to hostage rescue and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Counterterrorism — fighting what the command calls violent extremist organizations (VEOs) — may, however, be what America’s elite forces have become best known for in the post-9/11 era.  “The threat posed by VEOs remains the highest priority for USSOCOM in both focus and effort,” says Thomas.

“Special Operations Forces are the main effort, or major supporting effort for U.S. VEO-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America — essentially, everywhere Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are to be found…”

More special operators are deployed to the Middle East than to any other region.  Significant numbers of them are advising Iraqi government forces and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers as well as Kurdish YPG (Popular Protection Unit) fighters and various ethnic Arab forces in Syria, according to Linda Robinson, a senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who spent seven weeks in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries earlier this year. 

During a visit to Qayyarah, Iraq — a staging area for the campaign to free Mosul, formerly Iraq’s second largest city, from the control of Islamic State fighters — Robinson “saw a recently installed U.S. military medical unit and its ICU set up in tents on the base.”  In a type of mission seldom reported on, special ops surgeons, nurses, and other specialists put their skills to work on far-flung battlefields not only to save American lives, but to prop up allied proxy forces that have limited medical capabilities.  For example, an Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team recently spent eight weeks deployed at an undisclosed location in the Iraq-Syria theater, treating 750 war-injured patients.  Operating out of an abandoned one-story home within earshot of a battlefield, the specially trained airmen worked through a total of 19 mass casualty incidents and more than 400 individual gunshot or blast injuries.

When not saving lives in Iraq and Syria, elite U.S. forces are frequently involved in efforts to take them.  “U.S. SOF are… being thrust into a new role of coordinating fire support,” wrote Robinson. “This fire support is even more important to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a far more lightly armed irregular force which constitutes the major ground force fighting ISIS in Syria.”  In fact, a video shot earlier this year, analyzed by the Washington Post, shows special operators “acting as an observation element for what appears to be U.S. airstrikes carried out by A-10 ground attack aircraft” to support Syrian Democratic Forces fighting for the town of Shadadi.

Africa now ranks second when it comes to the deployment of special operators thanks to the exponential growth in missions there in recent years.  Just 3% of U.S. commandos deployed overseas were sent to Africa in 2010.  Now that number stands at more than 17%, according to SOCOM data.  Last year, U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed to 32 African nations, about 60% of the countries on the continent.  As I recently reported at VICE News, at any given time, Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and other special operators are now conducting nearly 100 missions across 20 African countries.

In May, for instance, Navy SEALs were engaged in an “advise and assist operation” alongside members of Somalia’s army and came under attack.  SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two other U.S. personnel were injured during a firefight that also, according to AFRICOM spokesperson Robyn Mack, left three al-Shabaab militants dead.  U.S. forces are also deployed in Libya to gather intelligence in order to carry out strikes of opportunity against Islamic State forces there.  While operations in Central Africa against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia that has terrorized the region for decades, wound down recently, a U.S. commando reportedly killed a member of the LRA as recently as April. 

Spring Training

What General Thomas calls “building partner nations’ capacity” forms the backbone of the global activities of his command.  Day in, day out, America’s most elite troops carry out such training missions to sharpen their skills and those of their allies and of proxy forces across the planet. 

This January, for example, Green Berets and Japanese paratroopers carried out airborne training near Chiba, Japan.  February saw Green Berets at Sanaa Training Center in northwest Syria advising recruits for the Manbij Military Council, a female fighting force of Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen, and Yazidis.  In March, snowmobiling Green Berets joined local forces for cold-weather military drills in Lapland, Finland.  That same month, special operators and more than 3,000 troops from Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom took part in tactical training in Germany.

In the waters off Kuwait, special operators joined elite forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations in conducting drills simulating a rapid response to the hijacking of an oil tanker.  In April, special ops troops traveled to Serbia to train alongside a local special anti-terrorist unit.  In May, members of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Iraq carried out training exercises with Iraqi special operations forces near Baghdad. That same month, 7,200 military personnel, including U.S. Air Force Special Tactics airmen, Italian special operations forces, members of host nation Jordan’s Special Task Force, and troops from more than a dozen other nations took part in Exercise Eager Lion, practicing everything from assaulting compounds to cyber-defense.  For their part, a group of SEALs conducted dive training alongside Greek special operations forces in Souda Bay, Greece, while others joined NATO troops in Germany as part of Exercise Saber Junction 17 for training in land operations, including mock “behind enemy lines missions” in a “simulated European village.” 


“We have been at the forefront of national security operations for the past three decades, to include continuous combat over the past 15-and-a-half years,” SOCOM’s Thomas told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities last month.  “This historic period has been the backdrop for some of our greatest successes, as well as the source of our greatest challenge, which is the sustained readiness of this magnificent force.”  Yet, for all their magnificence and all those successes, for all the celebratory ceremonies they’ve attended, the wars, interventions, and other actions for which they’ve served as the tip of the American spear have largely foundered, floundered, or failed. 

After their initial tactical successes in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, America’s elite operators became victims of Washington’s failure to declare victory and go home.  As a result, for the last 15 years, U.S. commandos have been raiding homes, calling in air strikes, training local forces, and waging a relentless battle against a growing list of terror groups in that country.  For all their efforts, as well as those of their conventional military brethren and local Afghan allies, the war is now, according to the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, a “stalemate.”  That’s a polite way of saying what a recent report to Congress by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found: districts that are contested or under “insurgent control or influence” have risen from an already remarkable 28% in 2015 to 40%.

The war in Afghanistan began with efforts to capture or kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.  Having failed in this post-9/11 mission, America’s elite forces spun their wheels for the next decade when it came to his fate.  Finally, in 2011, Navy SEALs cornered him in his long-time home in Pakistan and gunned him down.  Ever since, special operators who carried out the mission and Washington power-players (not to mention Hollywood) have been touting this single tactical success.

In an Esquire interview, Robert O’Neill, the SEAL who put two bullets in bin Laden’s head, confessed that he joined the Navy due to frustration over an early crush, a puppy-love pique.  “That’s the reason al-Qaeda has been decimated,” he joked, “because she broke my fucking heart.”  But al-Qaeda was not decimated — far from it according to Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. special agent and the author of Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State.  As he recently observed, “Whereas on 9/11 al-Qaeda had a few hundred members, almost all of them based in a single country, today it enjoys multiple safe havens across the world.”  In fact, he points out, the terror group has gained strength since bin Laden’s death.

Year after year, U.S. special operators find themselves fighting new waves of militants across multiple continents, including entire terror groups that didn’t exist on 9/11.  All U.S. forces killed in Afghanistan in 2017 have reportedly died battling an Islamic State franchise, which began operations there just two years ago. 

The U.S. invasion of Iraq, to take another example, led to the meteoric rise of an al-Qaeda affiliate which, in turn, led the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — the elite of America’s special ops elite — to create a veritable manhunting machine designed to kill its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and take down the organization.  As with bin Laden, special operators finally did find and eliminate Zarqawi, battering his organization in the process, but it was never wiped out.  Left behind were battle-hardened elements that later formed the Islamic State and did what al-Qaeda never could: take and hold huge swaths of territory in two nations.  Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch grew into a separate force of more than 20,000. 

In Yemen, after more than a decade of low-profile special ops engagement, that country teeters on the brink of collapse in the face of a U.S.-backed Saudi war there.  Continued U.S. special ops missions in that country, recently on the rise, have seemingly done nothing to alter the situation.  Similarly, in Somalia in the Horn of Africa, America’s elite forces remain embroiled in an endless war against militants. 

In 2011, President Obama launched Operation Observant Compass, sending Special Operations forces to aid Central African proxies in an effort to capture or kill Joseph Kony and decimate his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), then estimated to number 150 to 300 armed fighters.  After the better part of a decade and nearly $800 million spent, 150 U.S. commandos were withdrawn this spring and U.S. officials attended a ceremony to commemorate the end of the mission.  Kony was, however, never captured or killed and the LRA is now estimated to number about 150 to 250 fighters, essentially the same size as when the operation began.

This string of futility extends to Asia as well.  “U.S. Special Forces have been providing support and assistance in the southern Philippines for many years, at the request of several different Filipino administrations,” Emma Nagy, a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Manilla, pointed out earlier this month.  Indeed, a decade-plus-long special ops effort there has been hailed as a major success.  Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, wrote RAND analyst Linda Robinson late last year in the Pentagon journal Prism, “was aimed at enabling the Philippine security forces to combat transnational terrorist groups in the restive southern region of Mindanao.” 

A 2016 RAND report co-authored by Robinson concluded that “the activities of the U.S. SOF enabled the Philippine government to substantially reduce the transnational terrorist threat in the southern Philippines.” This May, however, Islamist militants overran Marawi City, a major urban center on Mindanao.  They have been holding on to parts of it for weeks despite a determined assault by Filipino troops backed by U.S. Special Operations forces.  In the process, large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble.

Running on Empty

America’s elite forces, General Thomas told members of Congress last month, “are fully committed to winning the current and future fights.”  In reality, though, from war to war, intervention to intervention, from the Anti-Drug Brigade ceremony in Florencia, Colombia, to the end-of-the-Kony-hunt observance in Obo in the Central African Republic, there is remarkably little evidence that even enduring efforts by Special Operations forces result in strategic victories or improved national security outcomes.  And yet, despite such boots-on-the-ground realities, America’s special ops forces and their missions only grow.

“We are… grateful for the support of Congress for the required resourcing that, in turn, has produced a SOCOM which is relevant to all the current and enduring threats facing the nation,” Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May.  Resourcing has, indeed, been readily available.  SOCOM’s annual budget has jumped from $3 billion in 2001 to more than $10 billion today.  Oversight, however, has been seriously lacking.  Not a single member of the House or Senate Armed Services Committees has questioned why, after more than 15 years of constant warfare, winning the “current fight” has proven so elusive.  None of them has suggested that “support” from Congress ought to be reconsidered in the face of setbacks from Afghanistan to Iraq, Colombia to Central Africa, Yemen to the southern Philippines.  

In the waning days of George W. Bush’s administration, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed to about 60 nations around the world.  By 2011, under President Barack Obama, that number had swelled to 120.  During this first half-year of the Trump administration, U.S. commandos have already been sent to 137 countries, with elite troops now enmeshed in conflicts from Africa to Asia.  “Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit,” Thomas told members of the House Armed Services Committee last month.  In fact, current and former members of the command have, for some time, been sounding the alarm about the level of strain on the force. 

These deployment levels and a lack of meaningful strategic results from them have not, however, led Washington to raise fundamental questions about the ways the U.S. employs its elite forces, much less about SOCOM’s raison d’être.  “We are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” SOCOM’s Thomas explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Not one member asked why or to what end. 

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  1. Tim


    It is possible to have a successful intervention.

    Two examples comes to mind
    1) East Timor
    2) Sierra Leone

    However, both used to military intervention as just one part of the full intervention, which was also filled with economic and political actions, and of course both were done under the auspices of UN!

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’m not sure he’s suggesting that all interventions are doomed – quite a few have succeeded – India’s intervention in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and Vietnams in Cambodia are two obvious examples of successful ones – the UK’s intervention in Liberia too, and arguably France’s recent interventions in Mali (although the latter problems were largely caused by Frances intervention in Libya).

      But its striking how few US interventions work out well. This strongly suggests either a deep level of incompetence, or what the US establishment defines as ‘success’ is different from most ordinary peoples definition.

      1. visitor

        The outcome of the French intervention in Mali cannot be considered a success – however arguable.

        1) The initial phase dispersed jihadist units and recovered the territory they occupied, but did not destroy them.

        2) A peace process was launched, but faced serious difficulties to get approved and honored. It did not improve the social and economic situation.

        3) The initial intervention concluded, but the French forces remained (under an operation named Barkhane), and a multinational force entered the fray.

        4) Fighting between jihadists and government/multinational/French forces never stopped and extended slowly to other parts of the country.

        5) With no economic improvement, new insurrections started (notably Peul), which also relied upon an Islamist creed to ally with jihadists. Insecurity grows throughout the country.

        6) Terrorist attacks, especially against Western interests (hotels, abductions), take place in the midst of the supposedly secured territory.

        After about 4.5 years, the outcome is very much comparable to the one of the American intervention in Afghanistan. In other words: a festering failure.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I’m no expert on the Sahel, but I’m not sure I’d agree with your conclusions. Operation Serval had quite a specific aim – preventing the MNLA from taking southern Mali. In this it was very successful, it routed the rebels and forced them into doing a later deal with the French, to the extent that the MNLA have been very reluctant to go into future alliances with Islamacists.

          The terrorist attacks after that were as much a sign of the weakness of the Islamacists as anything else. Instead of having a real chance of taking over Mali, they have been reduced to an occasionally deadly nuisance. Operation Barkhane is primarily aimed at addressing ongoing mini-insurgencies all over the Sahel – these predated the Libyan overthrow and are related to numerous local and national interrelated movements and have little to do with the MNLA attacks on the Malian government.

          I’m no fan of French influence in North Africa, which has often been cynical, malign, and (in the case of Libya), disastrous. However, the French have proven largely adept over the past few decades at building up genuine local alliances and intervening judiciously and often very ruthlessly to shore up what are deemed to be ‘acceptable’ local rulers. By any reasonable measure they have been far more successful at intervening than the US, using a fraction of the resources. The fact that they have managed to maintain a very strong influence for decades after the debacle of Algeria while always avoiding an Afghanistan style situation strongly indicates that the French military/intelligence establishment are very competent at what they do.

          1. visitor

            I believe you are a bit overoptimistic regarding Mali.

            The fact that Serval, with a relatively short duration and limited scope was replaced by an open-ended, “fight every jihadist in sight” operation is not promising. And indeed, fighting between French, multinational and Mali troops on the one hand, and a multiplicity of jihadist and insurgent groups on the other, never ceased.

            Besides, one of the objectives of Serval was to secure the capital of Mali — which has clearly failed, since terrorist attacks occurred after the end of Serval (e.g. Radisson hotel).

            The MLNA is only one of the players. Ansar Dine is a permanent one, others, like Al Mourabitoune have been replaced by Ansarul Islam, and there are the newcomers Jamaat Nosrat and… Daesh. As for regionalist forces like MLNA, the Peuls have taken up arms now.

            The most ominous sign is that fighting, originally taking place in the Tuareg territory, has now spread to the entire country — and is spilling over neighbours.

            Observers agree that the situation in Mali is rotten, that the economic, social and political problems have never been solved, that corruption is still widespread; things do not look good at all. In a related case, the initial French intervention in the Central African Republic was successful for a while — but since then the situation has degraded again, and the country seems to be hurtling towards a renewed period of massacres between populations of different ethnic, religious and political makes.

            Yes, the French have been shrewder than the Americans when it comes to picking and propping up their proxies in Africa, and figuring out how to tie in various local parties in political (and economic) arrangements. One should not forget that the “Françafrique” system was set up after France mercilessly eliminated almost every (pan-)African personality and movement that fought for genuine independence.

            The situation of African countries (at least in the Sahel zone) is now so dire, and the emergence of multi-national islamist ideologies and movements (from Al-Qaeda to Daesh) is so pervasive that the old recipes may well no longer be operative this time. Especially with French military capabilities stretched to the maximum.

    2. sierra7

      “Successful is in the eyes of the one who intervenes!”
      I would try gracefully to strongly disagree on East Timor……….
      A good reference: Chapter 14 “Indonesia, War and Pornography” from: “Killing Hope” “US and CIA Interventions Since WW2”. William Blum. Our “intervention” partially managed by the infamous H. Kissinger resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths of exactly those who opposed the intervention to overthrow a legitimate government. That is not “successful”; that’s outright mass murder. Sukarno, the targeted Indonesian leader tried to maintain a “balanced” position between the US and the Soviet Union……and like Thailand/Laos during the Eisenhower admin, was slowly and quietly made target of intervention; Eisenhower would not tolerate any “neutral” country vis/vis the US/Soviet confrontations. Ergo the “small steps” that contributed to the murderous conflagration in SEA later.
      Generally our “interventions” have been illegal, brutal, murderous, one sided and mostly horribly unsuccessful. Continuing down this path we will inevitably be forced to occupy not only economically, but in reality with “boots on the ground” all over the opposing world. That is not possible and will only end in disaster for the US and the globe.

  2. integer

    US Special Forces sabotage White House policy gone disastrously wrong with covert ops in Syria (09.14.2016)

    “Nobody believes in it. You’re like, ‘Fuck this,’” a former Green Beret says of America’s covert and clandestine programs to train and arm Syrian militias. “Everyone on the ground knows they are jihadis. No one on the ground believes in this mission or this effort, and they know they are just training the next generation of jihadis, so they are sabotaging it by saying, ‘Fuck it, who cares?’”

    “I don’t want to be responsible for Nusra guys saying they were trained by Americans,” the Green Beret added. A second Special Forces soldier commented that one Syrian militia they had trained recently crossed the border from Jordan on what had been pitched as a large-scale shaping operation that would change the course of the war. Watching the battle on a monitor while a drone flew overhead, “We literally watched them, with 30 guys in their force, run away from three or four ISIS guys.”

    I believe the above link is the original source of this info, however unfortunately the rest of the article is only available to SOFREP subscribers. There are some other freely available articles around the web that cover the same info though.

    1. skippy

      Heh… I remember the old Soldier of Fortune (SOF), out of Boulder CO, complete with merc classifieds.

      disheveled…. SSDD….

      1. casino implosion

        Great stuff. I collected pretty much all of them for the first half of the 80s. Along with most of the Heavy Metal magazine issues of that time, something else I wish I’d hung on to.

        Fred Reed still writes some amusing columns about the old anti-communist/post-Nam/SOF/merc days. A fascinating bygone subculture…the best exploration I know of it is James Ellroy’s 60s trilogy, but that ends in the Nixon era.

  3. Tomonthebeach

    Maybe the zeitgeist is a holdover from the “domino theory.” If we can just cut off the head of this warlord, or disrupt this one guerrilla mission, the insurgency will crumble. Good grief, look at Obama’s drone war taking out kingpin after kingpin. It achieved little more than career upward mobility among ISIS and other annoying groups.

    Of course, the larger confusion seems to be that the WH confuses tactics with strategy. It is not the fault of the special operations commanders. Theirs is a tactical world.

    The only time I have observe spec ops being helpful is to soften up the bad guys with distracting chaos while conventional troop advance on the scene. That still seems to be of tactical advantage.

    1. tempestteacup

      One of the advantages of choosing a career in sectors with a high churn-rate of senior management (in this case courtesy of “targeted assassination”, “extraordinary rendition”, etc): superb prospects for swift advancement. Perfect for self-starting jihadists and ambitious caliphs-to-be.

  4. financial matters

    Syria seems to be providing a very good example of how these special forces are unfortunately being used. Iraq and Libya seemed to be given somewhat the benefit of the doubt but the results there as well as the ongoing Syrian fiasco is showing US strategy to be not much more than breaking things for the benefits of Wall Street with little concern for either its own or others’ citizens.

    “”Understanding and communicating to the public the fact that each and every “covert” attack on Russian forces carried out by Al Qaeda affiliates and the Islamic State not only proves Russia is actually in Syria to combat terrorism, but it also further proves how the United States has used the excuse of fighting terrorism to hide its true agenda behind, rather than uphold as its primary mission.””

  5. Lords of Chaos

    When you understand that perpetual war and chaos is the goal, nothing else, everything starts to make complete sense.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      The US isn’t a peaceful country, because Americans aren’t a peaceful people. We like to blame our government for what we support but won’t acknowledge.

    2. justanotherprogressive

      You are right – feeding the military-industrial complex seems the only reason for what our military does these days… can’t be about protecting lives or we’d have involved ourselves in some of the African civil wars where brutality reigned (guess there’s just not enough money there) and it can’t be about spreading “democracy” (whatever we think that is) or we wouldn’t be propping up people like Salman……

      I’m wondering which side we will choose in Qatar…….will we honor our commitment to NATO (Turkey is a member of NATO and is becoming deeply involved in protecting Qatar) or will we go for the money and support Saudi Arabia?

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        One of the long term consequences of over extension and a deeply unpopular set of institutions here means the vassals are freer than the have been in a long time and Versailles no longer has the resources whether carrot or stick to keep them in line.

        It’s likely internal problems in the Plantation are causing the Saudis to act irrationally.

        In the case of Qatar, Iraq and Libya happened. Syria and Yemen are ongoing.The population and the second tier leadership are less likely to simply roll over expecting a temporary government and promotions once the old regime is gone.

        Since the U.S. is a decadent empire, I don’t think it even comprehends it is a decadent empire. There is no functional way to choose sides anymore because everyone is on our side. The U.S. rules with threats of turning a place into Iraq and a relatively small touch for the most part. Since the empire is largely a result of the decline of the old colonial empires, World War II realities, the USSR, and it’s collapse, the U.S. achieved an empire beyond the wildest dreams of empire builders by default. We were certainly opportunistic. Since we don’t call the colonies “colonies”, I don’t think there is an even a way to articulate how to deal with this conflict.

      2. JTMcPhee

        I do love the use of “we” to describe the Blob. As in which side “we” will choose. Of course given the activities of “our” paramilitaries and Special Ops, “we” often find “our”selves on both or all or many sides of various conflicts.

        As to African civil wars, many resulting from the actions, effects and eventual departures of really wonderful colonial powers like the Belgians, how about reading a brief abstract on the “Angolan civil war,” Where the spooks and paramilitaries on many sides did all kinds of wonderful stuff, destabilizing stuff, that echoes and caroms down the time line? Where the CIA was “supporting” on faction, called UNITA, led by a terrorist named Jonas Savimbi, who was attacking US corporate “investments” in that sadly resource-rich country? And those US (sic, post-supra-national looting and extraction entities have no nationality) investments were being protected against UNITA and other “Western-“sponsored terrorists by CUBAN Communist soldiers?

        Strange bedfellows, but the Players in that round of the Great Game were convinced of the wisdom and rectitude of their involvment– or was it that they were just “doing stuff” that they knew how to do, were rewarded for, got advancement and careers from, and did not give a sh!t about consequences? Anyone see any real-world parallels with the story line of “The Tailor of Panama”?

        “Endless Summer is Coming,” or so they say…

        Some say the world will end in fire,
        Some say in ice.
        From what I’ve tasted of desire
        I hold with those who favor fire.
        But if it had to perish twice,
        I think I know enough of hate
        To say that for destruction ice
        Is also great
        And would suffice.

        Robert Frost

        Not much ice in our future, other than perfect cubes in the perfect Manhattans of the perfect Elites…

    3. thoughtful person

      Which does tend to generate worry and fear, which tends to generate sales of military equipment around the world, which generates more wars and sales of military equipment, which generates large profits for some very large military equipment suppliers, which generates lobbyists who advocate policies of militarism around the world, and fund politicians who support such policies, which tends to generate perpetual war and chaos. Repeat.

  6. a different chris

    “On a daily basis, we sustain a deployed or forward stationed force of approximately 8,000 across 80-plus countries.”

    8000. 80+ countries. Often more people at a single Little League game than he’s got in a whole country… A certain parallel to our destroyer getting unknowingly run over by a autonomous container ship can be made.

  7. Bill Smith

    What is the definition of success? How long were the English in India? From the English point of view that was successful for how long? Including the British East India Company for way over 100 years?

    In a number of these cases winning would be nice for the intervening force but keeping the cost of fighting to a low enough level is worth it to continue to enable other things.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Yah, Bill, like overthrowing elected governments that are “inconvenient,” from the Empire’s perspective. That’s “success,” and costs are imposed on the weak, so who the eff cares?

      “Ve vas chust doink our doody.” Once one has wedded to the Empire, all things are rationalizable…

  8. Tobin Paz

    Winless wars? Framing it from this point of view is like debating Obama vs Trump care. The issue is not whether they are winless or not. The issue is that they are illegal as defined by both national and international law. Not addressing this normalizes the death and destruction of millions of people.

  9. casino implosion

    In military terms, we are well on our way to a world in which most combatants actually present in the field will be “special forces”, which entails both the expansion of the special forces numerically and the contraction of the number of combatants overall. Many of these conflicts can be seen from the military perspective as training exercises.

    1. anon

      Agreed. Except that the expansion of special forces numbers will likely result in a concomitant reduction their “quality”, however that might be measured (I don’t think _anyone_ really has a clue as to what that would be: too many fortunes have been dependent on keeping it fuzzy). There’s an argument to be made that the _only_ ground forces the US should have on active duty at this point are “special” forces. The Constitution talks about “raising an army” as distinct from “maintaining a navy”. It seems that the actual defense of this country (and its overseas interests such as the free flow of shipping) could be done by a Navy and _its_ “special” forces (you know, the Marines) whose size could be halved at least if relieved of the mission to support a hyper-interventionist foreign policy (a/k/a “shock and awe”).

  10. Susan the other

    Our special ops military model looks something like a pack of hyenas. Opportunistic. Surreptitious. Taking advantage of confusion. Grabbing resources. Operating under cover of darkness. So, is there an equivalent hyena behavior corresponding to trafficking in contraband? I guess not.

  11. Jesper

    For people with good hammers everything looks like nails…. The special forces are good at what they do but might well be the wrong tool for the job.

  12. bondo

    spec ops pretty good at coney island selling hot dogs and popcorn.
    so, never count ’em out

  13. VietnamVet

    The basic problem with the American military is that there is not enough manpower to seize and hold territory without conscription. All the wars since Vietnam have been fought with volunteers, contractors and uncontrollable proxy Islamist or Neo-Nazi forces. They are unwinnable. But, they will continue forever unless the funding runs out or a shooting war with Russia and/or China destroys the world.

  14. RBHoughton

    “districts that are contested or under “insurgent control or influence” have risen from an already remarkable 28% in 2015 to 40%” … and …
    “on 9/11 al-Qaeda had a few hundred members ….. today it enjoys multiple safe havens across the world”

    We are witnessing a “one, two” – one is Arabia sending money worldwide to promote its form of religion and jihad; and two is USA sending its forces to extinguish the fires the Saudi’s light.

    It seems the reason this fruitless exercise continues is the people who pay for it have no voice.

  15. Dan F.

    The author mistakenly thinks the objective is to win wars. The objective is to justify awarding contracts. The wars/conflicts are strategic parts of the propaganda necessary to justify the expenditures.

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