Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines

June 24, 2017 Disclaimer: Please read.
x

Statements and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.

Five GOP Senators Now Oppose the Health Care Bill as Written
What’s Next for the Bill Cosby Sex-Assault Case?
Truthdig Bazaar
Iran: Time for a New Approach

Iran: Time for a New Approach

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert M. Gates, Suzanne Maloney
4.00

more items
Report
Email this item Print this item

The Year of the Commando

Posted on Jan 5, 2017

By Nick Turse / TomDispatch

    U.S. special operations forces fire on targets during a rifle familiarization drill in Herat, Afghanistan. (ResoluteSupportMedia / CC-BY-2.0)

Square, Story page, 2nd paragraph, mobile
They could be found on the outskirts of Sirte, Libya, supporting local militia fighters, and in Mukalla, Yemen, backing troops from the United Arab Emirates.  At Saakow, a remote outpost in southern Somalia, they assisted local commandos in killing several members of the terror group al-Shabab.  Around the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Rai in northern Syria, they partnered with both Turkish soldiers and Syrian militias, while also embedding with Kurdish YPG fighters and the Syrian Democratic Forces.  Across the border in Iraq, still others joined the fight to liberate the city of Mosul.  And in Afghanistan, they assisted indigenous forces in various missions, just as they have every year since 2001.

For America, 2016 may have been the year of the commando.  In one conflict zone after another across the northern tier of Africa and the Greater Middle East, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) waged their particular brand of low-profile warfare.  “Winning the current fight, including against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other areas where SOF is engaged in conflict and instability, is an immediate challenge,” the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), General Raymond Thomas, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.

SOCOM’s shadow wars against terror groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (also known as ISIL) may, ironically, be its most visible operations.  Shrouded in even more secrecy are its activities—from counterinsurgency and counterdrug efforts to seemingly endless training and advising missions—outside acknowledged conflict zones across the globe.  These are conducted with little fanfare, press coverage, or oversight in scores of nations every single day.  From Albania to Uruguay, Algeria to Uzbekistan, America’s most elite forces—Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets among them—were deployed to 138 countries in 2016, according to figures supplied to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command.  This total, one of the highest of Barack Obama’s presidency, typifies what has become the golden age of, in SOF-speak, the “gray zone”—a phrase used to describe the murky twilight between war and peace.  The coming year is likely to signal whether this era ends with Obama or continues under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.


America’s most elite troops deployed to 138 nations in 2016, according to U.S. Special Operations Command.  The map above displays the locations of 132 of those countries; 129 locations (blue) were supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command; 3 locations (red)—Syria, Yemen and Somalia—were derived from open-source information. (Nick Turse)

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Square, Site wide, Desktop
Square, Site wide, Mobile
“In just the past few years, we have witnessed a varied and evolving threat environment consisting of: the emergence of a militarily expansionist China; an increasingly unpredictable North Korea; a revanchist Russia threatening our interests in both Europe and Asia; and an Iran which continues to expand its influence across the Middle East, fueling the Sunni-Shia conflict,” General Thomas wrote last month in PRISM, the official journal of the Pentagon’s Center for Complex Operations.  “Nonstate actors further confuse this landscape by employing terrorist, criminal, and insurgent networks that erode governance in all but the strongest states… Special operations forces provide asymmetric capability and responses to these challenges.”

In 2016, according to data provided to TomDispatch by SOCOM, the U.S. deployed special operators to China (specifically Hong Kong), in addition to eleven countries surrounding it—Taiwan (which China considers a breakaway province), Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Laos, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan.  Special Operations Command does not acknowledge sending commandos into Iran, North Korea, or Russia, but it does deploy troops to many nations that ring them. 

SOCOM is willing to name only 129 of the 138 countries its forces deployed to in 2016. “Almost all Special Operations forces deployments are classified,” spokesman Ken McGraw told TomDispatch.  “If a deployment to a specific country has not been declassified, we do not release information about the deployment.”    

SOCOM does not, for instance, acknowledge sending troops to the war zones of Somalia, Syria, or Yemen, despite overwhelming evidence of a U.S. special ops presence in all three countries, as well as a White House report, issued last month, that notes “the United States is currently using military force in” Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, and specifically states that “U.S. special operations forces have deployed to Syria.”


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments
Right Top, Site wide - Care2
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide

Like Truthdig on Facebook