Saturday, April 25, 2015

U.S. Sends Commandos Around the World in New Power Projection Strategy

Training local forces to die in the U.S. interest. Actually, that's not particularly novel, although the Obama administration's picked up the pace.

At WSJ, "New Way the U.S. Projects Power Around the Globe: Commandos":
MAO, Chad—“Is this good?” yelled the U.S. Special Forces sergeant. “No!”

He waved a paper target showing the dismal marksmanship of the Chadian commandos he was here to teach. Dozens of bullet holes intended for the silhouette’s vital organs were instead scattered in an array of flesh wounds and outright misses.

The Chadians, with a reputation as fierce desert fighters, were contrite. They dropped to the fine Saharan sand and pounded out 20 push-ups. “Next time, we’re going to shoot all of the bullets here,” one Chadian soldier said, gesturing toward the target’s solar plexus.

Such scenes play out around the world, evidence of how the U.S. has come to rely on elite military units to maintain its global dominance.

These days, the sun never sets on America’s special-operations forces. Over the past year, they have landed in 81 countries, most of them training local commandos to fight so American troops don’t have to. From Honduras to Mongolia, Estonia to Djibouti, U.S. special operators teach local soldiers diplomatic skills to shield their countries against extremist ideologies, as well as combat skills to fight militants who break through.

President Barack Obama, as part of his plan to shrink U.S. reliance on traditional warfare, has promised to piece together a web of such alliances from South Asia to the Sahel. Faced with mobile enemies working independently of foreign governments, the U.S. military has scattered small, nimble teams in many places, rather than just maintaining large forces in a few.

The budget for Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., which dispatches elite troops around the world, jumped to $10 billion in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, from $2.2 billion in 2001. Congress has doubled the command to nearly 70,000 people this year, from 33,000 in fiscal 2001. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force provide further funding.

Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, for example, are stationed in the Baltics, training elite troops from Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia for the type of proxy warfare Russia has conducted in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

U.S. forces are also winding down what they consider a successful campaign, begun soon after the Sept. 11 hijackings, to help Filipino forces stymie the al Qaeda-aligned Abu Sayyaf Group. And commanders believe U.S. training of Colombian troops helped turn the tide against rebels and drug traffickers.

At times, U.S. special-operations troops take action themselves, as in the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout in 2011, or the rescue of freighter Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates in 2009.

U.S. special operators roam the forests of the Central African Republic, alongside Ugandan troops, hunting the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony . The rebel group, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., has forcibly recruited children into its ranks.

But the vast majority of special-operations missions involve coaxing and coaching foreign forces to combat extremists the U.S. considers threats.

Driving the idea are 14 years of fighting in Afghanistan, and the on-again-off-again battle in Iraq, expensive land wars that have sapped the political support of many Americans. At the same time, the U.S. faces threats from such free-range terror networks as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali; al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen; Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Most of these militants have no borders, instead concealing themselves among civilians disaffected with their own corrupt or inept rulers.

The special-operations strategy has a mixed record. The U.S. tried it in Vietnam, only to watch an advisory mission metastasize into a costly, full-scale war. The U.S. put years of training into Mali’s military, which crumbled before the swift advance of al Qaeda and its allies in 2012.

The partnership between U.S. and Yemeni special operators to battle al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was disrupted earlier this year when an anti-American rebel group ousted the U.S.-aligned president.

One skeptic, James Carafano, vice president for defense and foreign policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said relying on special-operations forces was akin to saying, “I’m not going to do brain surgery because I’m going to give you an aspirin. The world doesn’t work that way.”

Commandos can hunt down enemy leaders or train small indigenous units, Mr. Carafano said, but they alone can’t build a capable national army.

The strategy isn’t always flexible enough to meet immediate threats. American efforts to enlist, train and arm moderate Syrian rebels have moved so slowly that some potential allies have given up on Washington. Many have been overrun by the same extremist groups the U.S. sought to defeat.

The three-week military exercises in Chad, which ended last month, are a microcosm of the U.S. strategy. The annual event started small a decade ago, and has grown to include 1,300 troops, with special-operations contingents from 18 Western nations coaching commandos from 10 African countries.

“We have a common threat in the form of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram and other extremist organizations that threaten our way of life,” said Maj. Gen. Jim Linder, the outgoing commander of Special Operations Command-Africa.
Still more.