- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

President Bush's top aides have made no secret of plans to rely greatly on special operations troops in the emerging war on terrorism.
But many of the missions themselves may stay secret for years as lightning-quick commandos, in this war at least, supplant the heavy tank.
Officials paint a scenario of covert nighttime raids into Afghanistan and other terrorist havens. Raiders will kill or capture the opposition and then quickly retreat. Where and how they do it will likely remain in the military's black world of classified operations so as not to tip off terrorists on what to expect.
It promises to be the most extensive use of covert warriors since the Vietnam War.
"If they don't shoot back, then you bring them all back, bring the documents and make it an intelligence windfall," said Richard H. Shultz Jr., author of a well-received book on American commandos, "The Secret War Against Hanoi." "When you attack a camp, you don't just do it to kill people."
Despite the secrecy, the first theater of operation and the staging areas are known.
The Bush administration says the war's first phase will be to eliminate those who orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That means operations against the top suspect, Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda organization embedded in Afghanistan's inhospitable landscape.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, two former Soviet republics on Afghanistan's northern border, have agreed to host U.S. ground forces. Pakistan, which broke with Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, is now negotiating basing rights with Pentagon emissaries
Ex-Soviet soldiers have warned the United States of the hopeless quagmire that awaits if it, like Russia, tries to conquer Afghanistan and its ferocious Taliban militia.
But special operations troops told The Washington Times they have no intention of getting bottled up in the barren, hilly country.
"I groan when I hear experts babble about how the Russians were mired down in Afghanistan," said one active-duty special operations soldier, who asked not to be identified. "The Russians occupied the terrain. We would only 'visit.'"
Mr. Bush wants bin Laden "dead or alive" for orchestrating the attack on American soil on Sept. 11 via four hijacked airliners that killed more than 6,000 people. The tough words belie the difficult task of rooting out the indicted fugitive from hundreds of possible hiding places.
One scenario: the United States fixes its surveillance network of spy satellites and signals-monitoring on the country, and begins air strikes. Bin Laden and his operatives begin moving, and are spotted by electronic or human spies. A special operations team is notified and it commences to capture the elusive Saudi exile, dead or alive.
Mr. Shultz, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said in an interview that Mr. Bush should heed at least two lessons from the Vietnam experience. First, he said, be wary of aides arguing against covert missions.
"The mentality in Vietnam was 'don't do anything too risky,'" he said.
Secondly, even in the general failure of the Vietnam War, special operations troops were able to disrupt enemy operations.
Two of the most famous post-Vietnam commando missions ended in disaster.
Desert One, President Carter's operation to free the hostages in Iran, broke down in midcourse in a fiery accident at the staging area.
In 1993, an Army operation to capture warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed in Mogadishu also flopped. Somali guerrillas shot down a Black Hawk helicopter and killed 18 U.S. soldiers.
Mr. Shultz believes an Afghanistan campaign will be different. He said the Carter administration erred by crafting its mission as a rescue instead of a precise military raid with liberal rules of engagement. The poor planning, he said, resulted in fewer helicopters and combatants than the mission needed.
In Somalia, the Pentagon did not take Aideed's warriors seriously enough.
"We paid the price for that," Mr. Shultz said. "We put special operations in harm's way but we did not do an effective assessment of how Aideed's people would fight and what their capabilities were."
The Bush administration talks in a more bullish manner.
"A lot of it will be special operations," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said recently on "Fox News Sunday." "There's no question but that the people who, God bless them, who have volunteered for that work and trained themselves for it, are important to our country. They're unconventional, and we're dealing in an unconventional time. And we may very well need more."
U.S. Army Special Operations Command, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., has received a deployment order but will not say where the troops are heading. The command oversees about 23,000 commandos and support personnel in the active force, Reserves and National Guard.

Here are the key elements:
Special Forces. Known by their trademark Green Berets, these soldiers were extensively used in Vietnam, mounting a war against Hanoi in Laos.
"Their missions include small-scale direct action, such as ambushes and raids, deep special reconnaissance and unconventional warfare," said an Army officer who asked not to be named. "They speak the languages, know the culture and in many cases have been to these places before and know personnel in these militaries."
Green Berets have traveled to Uzbekistan, which accuses the Taliban of trying to instigate a radical Islamic uprising.
Army Rangers. Larger raids are left to the 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Benning, Ga. Rangers own a storied past. Missions include storming Normandy beaches in World War II and parachuting into Panama in 1989 to oust strongman Manuel Noriega.
"The best light infantry brigade in the world," the Army officer said. "Rangers are capable of attacking large targets, seizing airfields and operating in urban areas. … If you want something blown up, destroyed or seized, these are the guys who can do it for you."
Delta Force. The most secretive unit at Fort Bragg, Delta Force commandos specialize in hostage rescue and counterterrorism. If a bin Laden hideout is stormed in the middle of the night, the team most likely would be Delta Force.
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The unit operates a fleet of MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that infiltrate enemy airspace at night, at tree-top level under radar detection.

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