In a similar vein to yesterday’s post on James Fallows’ controversial critique of the United States’ military in the Atlantic magazine comes this article by Nick Turse over on Tom’s Dispatch examining the remarkable growth of America’s special forces contingents since 2001. As with Britain’s counter-insurgency war in Ireland from the 1970s to late ’90s (and arguably to the present day) a myriad of secret armies have developed in the shadows of the conflict, armies that have been granted unprecedented levels of operational freedom coupled with ever-more voracious budgetary demands.
In the British “Dirty War” various groupings such as the chameleon-like Military Reaction Force (FRU), the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU), the 14 Field Security and Intelligence Company, the Special Air Service (SAS) and of course the infamous Force Research Unit (FRU) were able to function virtually free of oversight as senior army commanders and government officials turned a blind eye to their activities (aided by the fetish-like veneration of such forces by the Thatcher administration from 1979-90). In the American “War on Terror” a legion of specialist military units have captured the public and media limelight in ways that their British counterparts would probably have abhorred (though admittedly assassinating “white Europeans” in Europe itself elicited very different consequences to the killing of people with brown or black skin in faraway territories. Even when sections of Britain’s press were veritable cheerleaders for the former). From Turse’s piece on Tom’s Dispatch:
“During the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2014, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to 133 countries — roughly 70% of the nations on the planet — according to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bockholt, a public affairs officer with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This capped a three-year span in which the country’s most elite forces were active in more than 150 different countries around the world, conducting missions ranging from kill/capture night raids to training exercises. And this year could be a record-breaker. Only a day before the failed raid that ended Luke Somers life — just 66 days into fiscal 2015 — America’s most elite troops had already set foot in 105 nations, approximately 80% of 2014’s total.
Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, including their numbers, their budget, their clout in Washington, and their place in the country’s popular imagination. The command has, for example, more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 today, including a jump of roughly 8,000 during the three-year tenure of recently retired SOCOM chief Admiral William McRaven.”
Just as interesting as the use of “elite” military units in the United States’ self-appointed counter-terror war across the globe is the employment of “proxy-forces”; insurgent or terrorist organisations allied to US national interests. While elements of the UK government sponsored at one remove several British terror gangs in the north-east of Ireland including the UDA-UFF and UVF (not to mention Billy Wright’s fanatical LVF, the soon-to-be-discarded plaything of the Force Research Unit) America’s own contemporary dabbling in “terrorism” remains largely unknown outside of the so-called Sons of Iraq or أبناء العراق, the euphemistically named Sunni Awakening, from 2005 onwards. There are several stories waiting to be uncovered here.