October 13, 2008


Indirect approach is favored in the war on terror: The U.S.' elite armed forces are still carrying out operations, but they're also using a new tactic: teaching military allies how to fight for themselves. (Peter Spiegel, 10/13/08, Los Angeles Times)

Weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, a small team of Green Berets was quietly sent to the Philippine island of Basilan. There, one of the world's most virulent Islamic extremist groups, Abu Sayyaf, had established a dangerous haven and was seeking to extend its reach into the Philippine capital.

But rather than unleashing Hollywood-style raids, as might befit their reputation, the Green Berets proposed a time-consuming plan to help the Philippine military take on the extremist group itself. Seven years later, Abu Sayyaf has been pushed out of Basilan and terrorist attacks have dropped dramatically.

"It's not flashy, it's not glamorous, but man, this is how we're going to win the long war," said Lt. Gen. David P. Fridovich, the Army officer who designed the Philippine program.

Fridovich is part of a quiet but significant transformation taking place within the most secret of the U.S. military's armed forces, the Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, which encompasses the Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Delta Force and similar units from the Air Force and the Marines.

SOCOM Commander Adm. Eric T. Olson, who was appointed to the post in July 2007, is shifting emphasis away from the high-profile raids that were the hallmark of the early years of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. Instead, Olson has stressed "indirect action": training friendly militaries to better fight terrorism and violent separatists within their own borders. [...]

The dramatic rescue of 15 hostages by the Colombian military in July was similarly striking because that military has trained for years under U.S. Special Forces teams to combat the leftist rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The success of indirect action depends on strong, long-term ties to foreign militaries. But the demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it more difficult to cultivate those relationships. Nearly 80% of Special Operations deployments go to the Middle East or central Asia, representing a "vacuum that's sucked away some of our forces from other countries," Olson said.

Olson also must contend with the fallout from pre-Sept. 11 U.S. sanctions against countries plagued by terrorism that barred the U.S. military from working with local armed forces.

"You can go ahead and figure out where those places might be, but there's opportunity we might have missed there," said Fridovich, who declined to name specific countries.

U.S. officials in the past punished Indonesia for military abuses in East Timor and targeted Pakistan for unauthorized nuclear testing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 13, 2008 8:11 AM
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