’Chosen Soldier’: Liberators or Occupiers?
The PR struggle America wrestles with today is the nature or role of our troops in the Middle East. We may see ourselves as liberators, but whether we like it or not, we’re viewed as occupiers. “To the extent we are seen as occupiers, or are portrayed as occupiers by al-Qaeda, Al Jazeera, and insurgent groups, our job is that much harder,” writes Dick Couch in Chosen Soldier. “A recent study of suicide bombers revealed that the common thread that ran through their twisted thinking was their conviction that Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan are an occupying force.”
To recap, this summer I’ll periodically be blogging about Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior by Dick Couch, who has written a number of non-fiction and fiction books about military life. Chosen Soldier focuses on the recruitment and training of Army Special Forces, or the Green Berets. On one level, this non-leisurely summer reading is a personal interest.
But on another level, the goal is to understand better this current global war that we, for better or worse, nonetheless are caught up in—and what might lead us out of it. Which is where the Green Berets come in: In this particularly different war, we need a different, more efficient type of warrior. As I wrote in the last post, this “most essential warrior” not only will fight physically, but also intellectually. They infiltrate a region’s culture, gaining the trust of the locals and gleaning invaluable information about who the real enemy is, as that enemy is hidden among innocent communities. Not only that, the Green Berets also act as teachers, equipping the people to work out their own liberation.
So while we entered this war being viewed by some—including some in the United States—as an occupying force, the Green Berets and the rest of special forces could lead us to be seen as liberators. This would be not just PR damage control, but truly providing liberation to people in the Middle East by empowering them to control their destiny. What that may end up looking like, we must realize, is not Western-style democracy. After all, as Couch notes, one argument used against U.S. engagement in counterinsurgency is the Duarte regime in El Salvador and its alleged “human-rights violations and the infamous death squads.”
As Couch writes, the conflict in El Salvador “was another decade-long foreign-internal-defense effort.” He continues,
It is worth mentioning that insurgencies, with the notable exception of the one we backed in Afghanistan, are historically long and bloody. A great many Special Forces detachments spent a lot of time in those steaming jungles teaching military and counterinsurgency skills to El Salvadoran army troops. It is noteworthy that this was the last major effort in which Special Forces were involved in fighting a Communist insurgency. In the end, they prevailed. In 1992, the government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front reached an agreement that effectively ended the insurgency. Looking back, it was a great training ground for the current efforts in the global war on terror. . . .
While the Special Forces were serving in El Salvador in the 1980s and early 1990s, there were two developments that would shape the future of Special Forces and, indeed, our entire military. The Soviet Union was beginning to unravel, and its support of Communist insurgencies, such as in El Salvador, was on the wane. The Communist government of Fidel Castro in Cuba was a huge drain on the Soviet economy. In November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, a symbolic end to the failure of the Communist system. But as the world was shaking itself loose from one form of tyranny, another was well underway. Fundamentalist Muslims—or Islamists—had already begun their jihad, their war with democracies. Many feel, and I’m one of them, that it began formally with the taking of American hostages at the American embassy in Beirut and the bombing of the Marine barracks, both in 1983. In 1988, there was the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 259 passengers and crew, along with 11 people on the ground. By the time of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, we were beginning to sense that we had a new enemy. Indeed, prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington, D.C., there were over seventy-five hundred terrorist attacks worldwide. We were at war prior to 9/11, but most of us just didn’t realize it.
Throughout the 1990s and prior to 9/11, Special Forces and other SOF components were deployed worldwide on missions that ranged from counterdrug activities to humanitarian assistance to demining operations, but most usually these deployments related to military training. In the vein of foreign military training, there were security assistance programs designed to “provide training assistance in support of legislated programs which provide U.S. Defense articles, military training, and other defense related services.” These foreign military-aid programs deployed Special Forces and other SOF elements to foreign shores and allowed them to live and work in foreign lands. Usually, these deployments came under the Joint/Combined Exchange Training Program. This program allowed Special Forces to sharpen their skills in the training and mentoring of foreign and allied forces. They were beneficial to foreign military units and our Special Forces detachments. Who can tell when the global war on terror will move into a nation that because of prior SF military visits is trained to conduct counterinsurgency operations and is receptive to U.S. military assistance in the face of a terrorist threat? This exchange program kept our Special Forces detachments on deployment and trained in foreign-internal-defense and unconventional-warfare disciplines. This brings us to the third and most current event in Special Forces history [the first two being Vietnam and El Salvador]: the campaign in Afghanistan.
A bit of an aside: Not to be a black-helicopter type, but note the time span between the first attack on the World Trade Center and the one that brought it down in 2001. It’s been almost that amount of time since then and now. Others have speculated, and the prediction makes sense to me, that we’ll experience another attack on American soil during the next administration. May our Green Berets, other military special forces, and the rest of our men and women in uniform prevent that from coming to pass.
(Image © Random House)