The war in Afghanistan has given the public an unprecedented look at what America's special forces can do--their extraordinary skill and stamina and the sacrifices they are willing to make. Now, Tom Clancy and Carl Stiner--the second commander of SOCOM, the U.S. Special Operations Command--take readers deep inside the history, training, resourcefulness, and creativity of the Special Forces soldier.
These are first-hand accounts of soldiers fighting outside the lines: counterterrorism, raids, hostage rescues, reconnaissance, counter-insurgency, and psychological operations-from Vietnam and Laos to Lebanon, from Panama to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq, to the new wars of today...
Brigadier General Carl Stiner, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, was returning from his morning run at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, when his J-2 intelligence officer, Colonel Mike Flynn, met him at the gate. "A cruise ship has been hijacked in the Mediterranean," Flynn told him coolly, but with urgency, "and Americans are very likely on board."
No other organization had the capability to recapture a ship on the high seas, and Stiner knew they would certainly be called in, and soon.
Stiner was a slender man of six feet, with a crisp but not rigid military bearing and a comfortable, easy look. At the same time, he had always been driven by an underlying intensity and a deep competitiveness. It wasn't just that he wanted to be the best, or to lead his troops to be the best -- all officers want that -- but that he had time and again figured out ways to make it happen.
As he and Flynn hurried toward the headquarters building, Stiner was already processing the news. He knew that Flynn's sparse information was all that was then available, or else Flynn would have told him more. Even so, he had to begin initial actions based on that slender thread. Through long hours of intense planning, training, and rehearsal, JSOTF had developed force packages for virtually any anticipated crisis situation; these were always ready to go within a few hours, as long as there were airplanes available to haul his men. Based on the planning and rehearsals, Stiner focused on what he had to work out right away: "It's a tough target . . . got to get more detailed information," he thought to himself. "We'll have a long way to go and have to get on the road as soon as possible . . . must order up airlift now. And we must find out the location of the ship."
As these thoughts went through his mind, he remained calm. When Special Forces have a job to do, the job must be done fast, accurately, and efficiently. It is likely to be extremely complex, with many lives at risk, and many unknown variables. Facing those conditions, people in these units do not waste their time and effort expressing feelings. They are businesslike, always focusing on the mission at hand -- looking especially for vulnerabilities that can be exploited to solve the problem in the cleanest, most complete way possible.
Once he reached the headquarters, he went without pausing to the Joint Operations Center (JOC), a high-tech war room, complete with computer workstations and secure communications to all JSOTF units, the Pentagon, and major commands throughout the world. There he would review the latest intelligence and learn firsthand everything anyone knew about the incident in the Mediterranean. His staff principals had already assembled, waiting for his guidance.
The Task Force maintained its own twenty-four-hour intelligence center, complete with "watch officers" -- military officers and civilians expert at picking out intelligence indicators of an impending crisis-analysts, and databases covering every known terrorist organization. Terminals connected the command with all major news networks, including Reuters and the BBC -- the first indication of a developing incident often appeared as a news item. JSOTF also had its own people resident in all U.S. intelligence agencies -- always looking for indicators of terrorist activities, as well as already existing information that had not seemed important to analysts in those agencies.
In most cases, the headquarters learned of terrorist incidents early, and they usually had the most complete information about them.
Stiner knew that all available intelligence information had already been transmitted by the staff to the units that would be involved. This also meant that all his units would have begun to ready their forces for deployment, while anticipating further guidance from him. They always made maximum use of the time available. In this business, time was a most precious asset.
BEFORE Stiner had taken this command, previous tours in the Middle East had taught him a lot about terrorists and how they operated. For instance, while he had been the chief of training for the modernization of the Saudi Arabian National Guard from 1975 to 1977, he had had a chance to take the measure of Yasir Arafat and his chief lieutenants. Along with other dignitaries from the region, the Palestinians had been invited to a graduation dinner for an officer candidate class by King Khalid and Prince Abdullah, the commander of the National Guard.
Arafat's lieutenants were impressive, no doubt about it. Most of them had advanced degrees from American universities. They were all well-dressed, very sharp, well-spoken, and knowledgeable about world affairs. Arafat was obviously the leader-and clearly an intelligent and remarkable man-but the lieutenants who made things work struck Stiner as truly formidable. In years to come, that impression proved terribly accurate.
Later, in 1983, Stiner was assigned to Lebanon. There he got a firsthand experience of terrorism and its effects-a U.S. ambassador had been assassinated; while he was there, more than sixty people at the American Embassy, and later more than two hundred U.S. Marines, were killed by bombs.
In those days, Beirut was not only an armed camp with many hostile factions, but a place where fighting might break out anywhere at any time. No one was safe, and death was an ever-present risk-from snipers, crossfires between factions, ambushes, and indiscriminate shelling by heavy artillery and rocket fire. The shelling sometimes involved thousands of rounds, which reduced entire sections of the city to rubble in half an hour.
It was not an easy assignment. Yet, for Stiner, it proved to be rewarding. It offered a chance to learn lessons he could get nowhere else.
* You learned how to survive. Or you didn't.
* You learned whom to trust in a life-or-death situation-and whom, by faction or religious motivation, you could not trust.
* You learned to think like a terrorist.
The Evolution of JSOTF
The traditional function of wars is to change an existing state of affairs. In the early 1970s, a new form of warfare, or maybe a new way of practicing a very old form of warfare, emerged-state-supported terrorism. Nations that were not militarily powerful learned to use terrorist tactics to obtain objectives and concessions they could never win through diplomatic or military means.
When this new form of warfare broke out, the United States quickly showed itself unprepared to cope with it. It had neither a national policy nor intelligence capabilities aimed at terrorism, nor any military forces adequately trained and prepared to respond to terrorist provocations. Although the United States was the most powerful nation in the world, its military capabilities were focused on the Soviet Union and not on something like this.
In 1972, Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics were massacred by Black September terrorists. This outrage might have been avoided if German snipers had had the ability to hit the terrorists as they led the hostages across the airport runway to their getaway plane.
The Israelis took this lesson to heart, and on July 4, 1976, eighty-six Israeli paratroopers landed at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Their mission was to rescue the passengers from an Air France airliner hijacked eight days earlier. In a matter of minutes, the paratroopers had rescued ninety-five hostages and killed four terrorists-though at the cost of the lives of two hostages and the paratroop commander. News of the raid flashed all over the world-and pointed out even more sharply America's inadequacies in fighting terrorism.
This truth had already been brought out in May 1975: Forty-one American Marines were killed in an attempt to rescue the thirty-nine crewmen of the American merchant ship Mayaguez after it had been seized by the Cambodian government. The rescue attempt had failed.
These incidents clearly indicated that the United States was unprepared to deal with terrorist-created hostage situations.
To correct this shortfall, in the mid-70s, three farseeing people began lobbying for the creation of a special "elite" unit to deal with this unconventional threat: Lieutenant General Edward C. "Shy" Meyer, Director of Operations for the Army; Major General Robert "Bob" Kingston, Commander of the Army's Special Forces; and Robert Kupperman, Chief Scientist for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, who was managing the government's studies on terrorism.
The three initially made little headway. Scant support for the "elite" unit could be found among the services, and even within the Army, even though it was devastatingly clear that the technology in which the Army was investing so heavily-tanks, helicopters, air defense missiles, armored personnel carriers, and all the other machinery of the modern-day battlefield-was of little use against terrorists. The opposition stemmed primarily from two sources: a bias against elite units as such-elites have never been popular in the U.S. Army-and the perception that the unit would rob resources and available funds from the existing force structure.
On June 2, 1977, Lieutenant General Meyer presented the concept of this special mission unit to Army Chief of Staff General Bernard Rogers.
This unit was to be the premier counterterrorist force. Because it was expected to deal with the most complex crisis situations, it would have capabilities like no other military unit. It would be organized with three operational squadrons and a support squadron; and it was to be composed of handpicked men with demonstrated special maturity, courage, inner strength, and the physical and mental ability to react appropriately to resolve every kind of crisis situation-including imminent danger to themselves.
On November 19, 1977, the Army officially activated the unit, but it took another two years to develop the tactics and procedures required for the unit's projected mission.
The unit's final exam and validation exercise was held at Hunter Army Airfield at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and ended in the early-morning hours of Sunday, November 4. It was now certified for its special mission requirements.
IRONICALLY, just as the exercise was taking place, a mob was invading the American Embassy in Tehran. Moments later everyone inside-fifty-three people-became hostages to the new religious-led Iranian revolutionary government.
The crisis of the next 444 days challenged the United States as it had never been challenged before, and proved a horribly painful lesson in effective response to terrorist incidents. The nation was faced with risks, quandaries, contradictions, legal issues, other nations' involvement, and sovereignty issues; and there were no easy solutions. We were presented with what was in fact an act of war, yet this "war" was on a scale that made the use of heavy weapons either impractical or overkill. And besides, there were hostages. We wanted to do something to turn the situation to our advantage.
In terms of shooters and operators, the unit was probably the most capable unit of its kind in the world, but it did not yet have the necessary infrastructure to go with it-no command organization, no staff, no combat support units. To make matters more frustratingly complex, the intelligence infrastructure necessary for support of rescue operations did not exist in Iran, either.
Meanwhile, President Jimmy Carter-sitting very uncomfortably between a rock and a hard place-decided that an operation to rescue the fifty-three hostages had to be attempted. Army Special Forces had to be the centerpiece of any rescue in Iran.
The obvious model was the Israeli raid on Entebbe. A brilliantly planned, led, and executed operation . . . yet only a marginally useful model. The difficulties of a raid into Tehran were incomparably larger. The Entebbe raid was made against an airfield. The raiders could land there quickly, and make their move against the terrorists almost before they themselves had been detected. Tehran was a major metropolis, with a population in the millions, and it was hundreds of miles inside a vast and hostile country. Getting inside Tehran and into the embassy undetected and with sufficient force to do any good presented many problems.
Major General James Vaught was picked to head the rescue operation. He had a capable Special Forces Unit, but that was all he had. He literally had to begin from scratch to create an effective headquarters for command, control, and intelligence support functions-to select and train a competent staff, develop a plan, select the support units, and train the force for the mission.
If Special Forces could get to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, they were certainly capable of conducting the rescue operation, but getting them there and back was the challenge. It meant the establishment of staging bases in countries willing to support American efforts and of a support infrastructure within Iran itself. This required, first, an airfield for transloading the rescue force from C-130s to helicopters, which would then take the force on to a landing site near Tehran and back; and second, trucks in waiting near the landing site.
Also required were C-130s and crews that were capable of flying "blacked-out missions" into sites in the desert at night, and a reliable helicopter unit that could take the rescue force from the transload site to Tehran and back.
No units capable of performing this mission existed in any of the services. Jim Vaught had to form, equip, and train them.
It was a daunting challenge to develop in very little time the individual- and unit-level proficiency required to accomplish the job-for example, flying with night-vision goggles had never been done before-and Jim Vaught was the right man for the mission, but the units, equipment, and crews available were at best only marginally capable of taking it on.
Even more difficult was the establishment of an intelligence and support mechanism inside Iran. Vaught did this partly with CIA support, but primarily by using his own assets, sending his own people into Iran to prepare the way. His plan called for establishing an intelligence support infrastructure in Tehran whose function was to verify that the hostages were being held in the Chancery, a ninety-room structure on the Embassy compound, and to arrange for trucks to be waiting near the helicopter landing site for transporting the unit, and later the hostages, back and forth between the landing site and the Embassy compound. This mission was accomplished by Major Dick Meadows, three Special Forces NCOs, and two agents provided by the CIA.
On April 1, 1980, a one-legged CIA pilot in a small two-engine plane flew Major John Carney into Iran at night. Carney's mission was to locate and lay out a 3,000-foot landing strip on a remote desert site in Iran called Desert One. This was to serve as the transload site for the shooters, as well as the refueling site for the helicopter force that would join them after they had been launched from the aircraft carrier Nimitz. The force was composed of eight Navy Sea Stallion helicopters-not the right aircraft for the job, but the best available in terms of range and payload.
Carney laid out the strip with the help of a small Honda dirt bike he brought on the plane. Once the field was established, he installed an airfield lighting system that could be turned on remotely from the cockpit of the lead C-130 (a duty he himself performed on the night of the landing).
On April 24, 1980, 132 members of the rescue force arrived at a forward staging base on Masirah Island near Oman. There they transloaded to C-130s for the low-level flight to Desert One.
That night, the C-130s made it to the Desert One area with no unusual problems, but the helicopters did not arrive as scheduled. Of the eight Sea Stallions, six operational helicopters finally arrived at the desert landing strip an hour and a half late, after an encounter with a severe unforecasted sandstorm. The other two had had mechanical problems before reaching the sandstorm and had returned to the Nimitz. Six Sea Stallions were enough to carry out the mission-but only barely. If another was lost, then some part of the rescue force would have to be left behind, which was not a good idea. All of the force was essential.
Meanwhile, that hour-and-a-half delay made everybody nervous. The helicopters had to leave in time to reach the secluded landing site near Tehran before daylight.
The mission's luck did not improve. During refueling, one of the six remaining helicopters burned out a hydraulic pump. And now there were five-not enough to complete the mission-and it was too late to reach the hide site.
At that point, the decision was made to abort the mission. It was a choice no one wanted to make, but no other choice was possible.
And then came tragedy.
After refueling, one of the helicopters was maneuvering in a hover in a cloud of desert dust, following a flashlight to a touchdown location. The helicopter pilot thought the man with the flashlight was a combat ground controller, when in fact he was not. He was simply a man with a flashlight-possibly a C-130 crew member checking out his aircraft. Meanwhile, the helicopter pilot expected the man with the flashlight to be holding still. In fact, he was moving, trying to get away from the dust storm thrown up by the helicopter's blades. This combination of mistakes resulted in the helicopter veering so close to a C-130 that its blades clipped the C-130's wingtip and ignited the fuel stored there, instantly setting off a flaming inferno. In moments, five men on the C-130 and three men on the helicopter were killed.
The commander of the helicopters then elected to abandon all the helicopters rather than risk further disasters. Everyone who wasn't then on a 130 scrambled aboard, and the best America could muster abandoned the Iranian desert site in shocked disarray.
--from Shadow Warriors by Tom Clancy, Copyright © January 2002, G.P. Putnam's Sons, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
The plethora of insider history and firsthand operation specifics...will please the historically minded. (Publishers Weekly)
Significant events and anecdotes detailed in Shadow Warriors include:
A CONVERSATION WITH GENERAL CARL STINER (RET.), CO-AUTHOR OF SHADOW WARRIORS
- The history of “unconventional warfare.” Commando raids, reconnaissance, sabotage, and guerrilla bands have all existed as long as men have clashed violently with other men. But what is now called “unconventional warfare” did not become officially recognized as a proper activity for “real” soldiers until World War II. Shadow Warriors details the exploits of the pioneers who wrote the book on special warfare while carrying out missions for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Europe and Asia during WWII.
- How a small group of unconventional warfare veterans quietly worked to bring special operations back into the Army in the years between the dissolution of the OSS after World War II and the outbreak of the war in Korea. Thanks to their efforts Special Forces continued to exist albeit as a minor and marginalized Army unit.
- The defining moment for U.S. Special Forces on October 12, 1961, when President Kennedyalready favorably inclined toward special operations to fight what he foresaw as a “new form of warfare” attended a SF demonstration at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It was this event that sparked presidential approval for a much larger Special Forces: more groups, more men, and much more money. The authors also revisit world events that shaped JFK’s thoughts on unconventional warfare.
- How Bill Yarborough, commanding general of the Green Berets in the early 1960s, transformed the “old” Special Forcesan end-of-the-road repository for wild men, macho misfits, and has-beensinto a new fighting force capable of operating in politically and psychologically sensitive situations. One milestone incident in Yarborough’s housecleaning occurred early in his command when he took his officers into the woods at Ft. Bragg and told them in no uncertain terms what he expected of them. The event was long remembered as Yarborough’s “Talk in the Woods.”
- How Yarborough used “showbiz” to sell his cutting-edge-but-maybe-somewhat-suspect military unit both to the Army and the American public. Shadow Warriors also shows how the Green Berets, during this transformational period, adapted Mao Tse Tung’s “Nine Rules of Conduct,” and lessons from other Communist authorities including Che Guevara, Vo Nguyen Giap, and Truong Chinh, to formulate their own brand of irregular warfare.
- A detailed look at elite forces training. Shadow Warriors describes the training process Steiner went through at the start of his military career as he moved through the Basic Officers Course, Jump School, Ranger School, and Green Beret training on the way to his first tour of duty in Special Operations. The authors’ show how the scope of the Green Beret selection process and training program has evolved over the years as Special Forces has taken on a wider range of missions. Known in the Army as an expert trainer himself, Steiner offers his reflections on military trainingthe essential element for the readiness of any unit in any service.
- A look at the myth that Special Forces soldiers itch for firefightsthat they are all Rambo-like killing machines with nothing better to do than waste enemies. As the authors make clear, there is zero reality in this fable. They write, “Special Forces solders are not killing machines; their value lies elsewhere. They are simply too highly trained, too valuable; to be placed in greater risk than is absolutely essential. That means they avoid fights when they can. They fade away into the woods rather than stand up and prove how macho they are. In fact, the Special Forces selection process selects against those types.”
- A detailed look at the long history of the Special Forces in Southeast Asia. Shadow Warriors details SF operations in Laos, beginning in 1959, to organize and train the lackluster Laotian Army and minority hill tribesmen. It was here that Bill Yarborough’s SF vision was tested and proved. The authors go on to describe the key role Special Forces played during the Vietnam War. They chronicle SF’s successful involvement in the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) Program, which was originally conceived and controlled by the CIA, as well as a wide range of active and offensive operations, deep reconnaissance missions, covert cross-border ops, and much more.
- The SF struggle to survive in the post-Vietnam era as the military establishment’s focus withdrew from operations involving foreign internal defense and development, and returned to the tried-and-true conventional doctrines and procedures in which professional soldiers had long found comfort. The survival of Special Forces itself was never in doubt during this era, but the survival of the organization’s capability to perform a multitude of roles on a big stage, was.
- A look at the long history of discord that existed between Special Forces and the rest of the Army, and the ways in which Special Forces often contributed to that discord. The authors write, “Since most of the Army distrusted them, the Special Forces tended to react accordingly, to overplay their skills, and then rub in their triumphs in a way certain to cause resentment.”
- How America’s inability to respond to growing unconventional threats in the late 1970s and early ‘80s prompted the Army’s Chief of Staff to institute sweeping initiatives for change within Special Operations. The final turning point for Special Forces came in 1986 when Congress, spurred by the same real-world concerns, passed the Goldwater-Nichols Act, a sweeping work of military reformation. It was passage of Nunn-Cohen amendment to this act that established the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and fully broke down the wall that had come between Special Ops forces and the other parts of the military.
- A detailed look at the tragedy of Lebanon in the early 1980s as the country began a rapid and uncontrollable descent into chaos. Carl Stiner was present during the worst days of the Lebanon tragedy. Though his assignment there was not specifically a Special Forces mission, it shared many characteristics of such missionsincluding military advice at the tactical level, political management (both military and diplomatic) at the strategic levels, and the need for cultural sensitivity.
- A behind-the-scenes look at America’s special operations response to the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean. Stiner, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force at the time, offers a unique blow-by-blow account of the complex, high-stakes U.S. mission to take down the terrorists. He shows how the JSOTF’s planned assault on the cruise ship evolved into an operation to force down, into Italian territory, an airliner the terrorists were using to flee the area. Stiner also describes the intense diplomatic wrangling that occurred as the Italian government tried to find an easy, no-pain way out of the dilemma they felt they were in, and the U.S. government sought to ensure that the terrorists would face justice.
- U.S. operations in Panama against the regime of strongman Manuel Noriega. The Panama operation, a milestone in Special Forces history, was the first time ever that SOF were fully integrated with conventional forces as a vital part of an overall operations plan. In great detail the authors describe the earliest planning stages of what came to be known as Operation JUST CAUSE; the details of combat operations; the search for and capture of Manuel Noriega, and the post-combat transition to nation building that became known as Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY.
- An account of SOF operations during the Persian Gulf War ranging from simple language interpretation to strikes against targets more than a hundred miles behind enemy lines. Desert Storm was a defining moment for SOF, in that it validated the establishment of SOCOM. This was really the second time that SOF was deployed in its entirety, covering the full spectrum of their missions. Notwithstanding great successes the authors also show how command attitudes within the conventional military, in some cases, handicapped the utility of Special Operations forces in the Gulf.
- An account of operation EAGER ANVIL, the destruction of two Iraqi early-warning radars guarding the country’s southwestern frontier using Special Operations aircraft. This mission became the first strike of the Gulf War.
- The role Special Operations played in search-and-rescue missions during Desert Storm. The authors describe in vivid detail one of the most daring such operations of the war, a full daylight rescue of a downed Navy pilot under fire. They also offer a full account of the role SOF troops played in missions aimed at Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missile campaignprobably the most successful Iraqi effort of the war.
- Details of one of the least publicized major efforts of the Gulf Warpsychological operations (PSYOPS). The authors show how these efforts succeeded in building Coalition support for the war; countering Iraqi propaganda; unnerving Saddam’s troops; and loosening the Iraqi resolve to fight.
- A retelling of the best-known deep recon account to come out of Desert Storm. The authors use this account to illustrate not only the difficulties of special reconnaissance missions in general, but the challenges (many of them unnecessary) that Special Operators faced during the war.
- A look at Special Forces participation in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, the post-Gulf War mission to bring relief to hundreds of thousands of dispossessed men, women and children massed along Iraq’s border with Turkey and Iran. The same attributes that make Special Forces so valuable in combatthe ability to adapt to unexpected situations, to use cutting edge technology to its fullest, to think creatively, to act quickly, decisively, and independentlyturned out to be the qualities most needed to help the Kurds and other refugees in the free-flowing post-war crisis.
- Q: There have been other books written about the Special Forces. What makes this one different?
A: It’s the most complete book ever written on the subject. Most books about the Special Forces have been written from an event- or period-specific point of view (i.e. the Crisis in Panama or the Vietnam War era). Shadow Warriors looks at the entire history of Special Operations forces from World War II to the present day. In doing so it explains how the United States developed its current Special Operations capabilities. And it has been written in such a way so as to give readers a better understanding and feel for the utility of these forces to tackle the current challenges we’re facing in this war against terrorism as well as those we’re likely to face in the future.
- Q: Your first Special Operations tour of duty was from 1964-1966 with the 3rd Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg. Your final Special Ops tour was as the Commanding General of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). What’s the greatest change you’ve seen in Special Forces in the years spanning those two assignments?
A: There has been a tremendous change in the quality of the people selected for Special Operations forces and how they are trained. When I joined Special Operations in 1964 the troops were certainly expert at what they did but their main focus was almost exclusively on unconventional warfare. Special Operations soldiers today are much more capable in a much broader range of missions. Special reconnaissance, counter proliferation, combat search and rescue, coalition warfare, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, noncombatant evacuation, humanitarian demining, peacekeeping, crisis response, combating terrorism, military training assistance, and the enforcement of sanctions or exclusion zones are all now Special Operations mission areas.
- Q: What’s the biggest misconception people have about Special Forces?
A: Many people have come to see Special Forces strictly as non-conformist unconventional warriors and Rambo-like snake-eaters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Special Operations forces are versatile professionals of the highest quality. Because of their adaptability they often function as direct instruments of U.S. national policy. As they carry out their missions they develop relationships with military and political leaders of host nations that are of great benefit to the United States.
- Q: When you first joined Special Forces you knew very little about who they were or what they did because their secretive, closed nature extended to the rest of the army. Is that still the case today?
A: It’s not nearly as much of a factor as it used to be. The senior leadership in Special Forces has made a concerted effort to educate commanders, all the way up to the four-star level, about the utility and versatility of SOF in meeting their peacetime and wartime needs. And we integrate all training activities where Special Forces skills and talents would be applicable. As a result, Special Forces no longer operate behind what we used to call “the green door.” In fact, since 1986 the commander in chief (CINC) of each of the five major warfighting Commands that the world is divided among (SOUTHCOM, CENTCOM, PACCOM, and so on) has been given his own Special Operations command element right in his headquarters. That element, headed by a flag rank officer and consisting of senior Special Operations officers from all services, manages, integrates and even commands Special Operations forces for the CINC. The same thing happens all the way down to the division level, where we provide teams to assist in integrating Special Operations activities and forces. So there is no secrecy from that standpoint. Special and conventional forces operate together on the battlefield as never before.
Of course there is still operational security associated with missions that have to be safeguarded for national security reasons—such as the missions taking place in Afghanistan right now. You never want to compromise missions or limit your available options for getting the job done because of a lack of security. And of course you want to do everything possible to protect the lives of your troops and their families.
- Q: What do you consider the lowest point and the highest point in the history of Special Forces to date?
A: That’s hard to define. I guess the lowest point probably came after Vietnam. Because of downsizing and the military’s shift of focus back to the Cold War, Special Forces received little funding and had to be extremely innovative in creating training activities to keep its skills sharp. It took them—and indeed the entire military—about ten years to get over Vietnam and build back to the kind of capability the world saw in Panama in the late 1980s, Desert Storm in the ‘90s, and Afghanistan today. A key turning point came in 1987 with the creation of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). It was this event that truly helped break down the wall that had come between Special Operations forces and other parts of the military. It allowed Special Operations forces to come into their own.
- Q: What was so significant about the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, and the Nunn-Cohen amendment to that Act?
A: Prior to Goldwater-Nichols, the individual services “owned” their own special operations forces. The Navy had its SEALs, the Air Force had Air Force Special Operations Forces, and the Army owned the Green Berets, the Rangers, the Delta Force, Pychological Operations and Civil Affairs. Although the Army did a better job of funding their Special Forces than the other services, there was a perception in Congress that the services were, as a rule, programming money for modernizing SOF but then moving that money to fund conventional type activities. As a result, Special Operations readiness was not increasing. The Goldwater-Nichols Act, and the Cohen-Nunn Amendment to that act, took all those forces away from the different services and assigned them to a separate four-star Command (the above-mentioned USSOCOM.) It is this unification that has allowed Special Operations forces to modernize and to develop the capabilities they now have.
- Q: How does Special Forces training differ from training in other branches of the military?
A: It is different in its orientation. The training for both Special Operations forces and conventional forces is intense and thorough, but SOF training is focused on those skills that are unique and special to SOF missions such as deep reconnaissance, direct action, coalition warfare, counter proliferation, combat search and rescue, and so on. These sorts of activities—which often take place deep behind enemy lines—require unique skills, specialized equipment to accomplish, cultural training for the region of the world to which the missions are oriented, and extensive language training. It takes a heck of a lot more time—in some cases years longer—to train and produce Special Forces soldiers than it does soldiers for conventional forces.
- Q: What do you think will most surprise readers of this book?
A: I think they’ll be surprised at the extent to which Shadow Warriors affords them a clear and full understanding of the makeup of Special Forces; what kind of people they really are; the training they go through; and how fortunate we are as a nation to have their capabilities at our disposal in this day and age—particularly in light of recent world events.
- Q: Of all the stories, anecdotes, tales, and incidents you describe in this book, which stands out most in your mind?
A: I would say the Achille Lauro incident is one of the most important stories in the book because it represents our first real success against terrorism. Prior to that we had been chasing our tail for quite some time when it came to effective strikes against terrorists. We had certainly had successes, but they came primarily because our anti-terrorist actions had thwarted planned attacks. The Achille Lauro affair was the first time we actually were able to get our hands on terrorists and bring them to justice. Having singled out Achille Lauro, however, I’d also add that all of the stories in this book are important. Special Operations forces did an absolutely outstanding job in Panama, in Desert Storm, and in hundreds of missions around the world that we didn’t have room to talk about in the book. And they’re out there carrying out those missions every day—with little or no fanfare.
- Q: Why was Operation JUST CAUSE—the U.S. operation in Panama against Manuel Noriega and the Panamanian Defense Force—such a milestone for Special Operations forces?
A: It was probably the first time ever that Special Operations forces were truly integrated as a vital part of the overall operations plan for accomplishing that kind of mission. When you integrate Special Ops forces with conventional forces the result is a capability far beyond what would otherwise be possible. It was this blending and integration that resulted in America’s quick victory in Panama.
- Q: One of the memorable media images from JUST CAUSE was the blaring of rock and country western music outside the Papal Nunciatore where dictator Manuel Noriega had taken refuge. The impression most people got was that this was done simply to unnerve Noriega. You were in command of the overall Panama operation. Why did you order that music to be played?
A: From the very beginning of JUST CAUSE we had been hunting relentlessly for Noriega. The press had been allowed into Panama and we had put them out with different combat units so they could get their stories. Once word got out that Norgiega was holed up at the Nunciatore, and that we had him surrounded, the press broke away from their assigned units and flocked to a nearby Holiday Inn. They literally took over the place. They were out on all the little balconies of the hotel with these powerful parabolic microphones trying to pick up the ongoing negotiations in the Nunciatore to get Noriega, and the women and children that were holed up with him, out of the building. These were very delicate negotiations. We feared that if they were picked up by the press and compromised in the media we’d lose options. We needed a way to mute those microphones. That’s why we started blaring the music. And of course it wasn’t just music we were playing. We also patched in Armed Forces Radio in Panama so Noriega could hear how the war was going. We wanted him to clearly understand that his henchmen were being captured or surrendering, that his power base had dwindled away to nothing, and that he was trapped. Needless to say the press didn’t like what we were doing. They started calling directly to the White House, saying we were violating their first amendment rights. Eventually we were told to stop.
- Q: You characterize the work of Coalition Support Teams during the Gulf War as an “unsung yet critical mission.” What exactly is a Coalition Support Team (CST) and why was their work so important?
A: After the Gulf War General Schwartzkopf described the Special Forces Coalition Support Teams as “the glue that held the coalition together.” In most cases the CST for a battalion size coalition unit was an A-detachment, which consists of twelve men. For a brigade or division sized unit the CST was usually a B-detachment, which consists of three A-detachments under the command of a major. Either way, the men in these teams spoke the native langue of the units they were supporting. They assisted with training, served as the link to U.S. fire support, helped develop and integrate battle plans with U.S. fire and maneuver forces, and went into battle side by side with their coalition comrades. They also served as General Schwarzkopf’s direct link to coalition units and provided truth in reporting. So they were absolutely vital. Special Forces are playing the same role in Afghanistan today as they serve with various anti-Taliban forces and tribal units. Without them we wouldn’t have any idea what was happening on the ground in Afghanistan; there would be no close fire support; and no way to influence those folks where it counts most—on the front lines.
- Q: The purpose of Tom Clancy’s Commanders Series is to provide a look deep into the operational art of war as seen through the eyes of some of America’s outstanding military leaders. Why is it important for civilians to have a greater understanding of the military?
A: Civilians should have a greater understanding of the military because their tax dollars are paying for the defense of our freedom. They deserve to know where their dollars are going, how those dollars are being used, and what readiness they’re receiving for every dollar invested.
- Q: What do you want readers to get out of this book?
A: I want them to come away from Shadow Warriors feeling like they’ve just read an extremely credible book. The information here is a hundred percent factual. We’ve told readers as much as we possible can, in an unclassified way, to make the SOF story interesting and to educate them as to what these quiet professionals are made of and how important they are to our nation now and for the future. I also want readers to have a better understanding and appreciation for the sacrifices SOF soldiers have made to defend our freedom.