27.12.2015 Author: Vladimir Platov

American Special Forces and Countries of the Middle East and North Africa

54645645645Latest military conflicts involving the US exposed the new Washington’s combat operation tactic: first, achievement of domination in the air; second, deployment of air forces, tactical missiles and Special Forces in neutralization of an enemy’s military facilities. Military analysts have already coined this tactic—when in the absence of a clearly defined front line the US special forces carry out special operations in the enemy’s territory, starting from the destruction of the core military facilities and ending with capturing and killing of political or military leaders—“the sixth generation warfare.”

With the establishment of the United States Special Operations Command (US SOCOM or the Unified Combatant Command) in 1987, there was a noticeable splash in the intensification of engagement of Special Forces in the US military operations. The Unified Combatant Command was charged with overseeing the various Special Operations Component Commands of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps of the United States Armed Forces and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which was also tasked (among other duties) with the organization and execution of counter-terrorist operations. The U.S. Navy’s principal special operations force (commonly known as SEAL) was intended for the execution of intelligence and sabotage operations and has already earned a reputation after participating in operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Navy SEALs have been playing an increasingly prominent role in the US operations abroad. They participated in the recurrent night raids during the war in Iraq, missions in Afghanistan (carried out by the Task Force 373), rescue of the American merchant mariner Richard Phillips held hostage by Somali pirates, assassination of Osama bin Laden (SEAL Team Six) and many other clandestine operations. As reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel, in the autumn of 2009 members of the Cabinet of the Chancellor Angela Merkel informed representatives of the German parliament that one of the “core objectives” of such Special Forces was to conduct reconnaissance and hunt down leaders of Al Qaeda and Taliban.

Actually, nobody denies the existence of such special units anymore. But top American military leaders refuse to discuss highly controversial missions conducted by these groups involving the neutralization (through capturing or assassinations) of leaders of Taliban, terrorist units or some political and public figures disfavored by Washington. Special units target people from the list of the most wanted “enemies of the US” compiled by Washington. In the military jargon the list is called the Joint Prioritized Effects List and is abbreviated JPEL. Out of 92,000 relevant messages WikiLeaks managed to get a hold of in 2010, 82 contained information related to the operations targeting individuals from these lists. Combined together, these messages provide abundant information confirming that some operations of the US Special Forces entailed casualties among civilians. Washington tries its best to conceal the cases of unsuccessful missions attempted by these units.

For example, one of the messages intercepted by WikiLeaks (dated June 17, 2007) concerning assassination of the notorious leader of Al Qaeda Abu Laith al-Libi contained a warning urging the US Special Forces to carry out “clandestine intelligence operations,” forbidding to disclose their details to other countries, including US Afghan mission allies. After the location of Abu Laith al-Libi was identified and it was found out that he would supposedly be staying in one of the Koran study schools for a few days, an assault on school was ordered. But those five US missiles killed not the terrorist, but seven innocent Afghani children.

A recent article published in The New York Times talks about activities of the US Special Operations forces, revealing certain facts from the history of this most controversial special unit in the US, stressing that it is nearly impossible to fully assess its record and the consequences of its actions.

Some time ago, the US Special Operations forces made the headlines again after the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk announced at the end of November that the US Special Operations forces might be deployed to Syria in the near future. Mr. McGurk also stated that 50 American soldiers deployed to Syria in October 2015 on the initiative of US President Barack Obama “to deliver practical assistance to the Kurdish groups” have already been engaged in successful military operations in this country. It would be plausible then to speculate that SEALs could have been involved in the assassination of Hezbollah activist Samir Kuntara in early morning on December 20 of this year in a Damascus suburb.

According to the recent reports, about 20 US Special Operations solders secretly arrived at the al-Watiya air force base in the north of Libya on December 14. The SEALs were delivered by a civil aircraft chartered by the CIA under the disguise of civil specialists. It was noted that the arrived had gear similar to that used by American Special Forces. But, as The Guardian reported, this secret US commando mission in Libya was hastily terminated on December 17, after pictures of American soldiers were published on Facebook. The Facebook post of the Libyan air forces also said that the 20 soldiers had disembarked “in combat readiness wearing bullet proof jackets, advanced weapons.” The Guardian reported that it was not clear who had authorized the mission of the US Special Forces in Libya. Later sources from Pentagon informed the American mass media that the people in the photographs had actually participated in an operation initiated this week.

It cannot be ruled out though that special units carrying out missions in Syria and Libya might be targeting not only terrorists from the Joint Prioritized Effects List, but also some “undesirable public or political figures.” This could be the reason why Libyans, who had been in the role of victims of the US actions in the past, were reluctant to let American commandos, whose operational tasks had not been coordinated with the Libyan party in advance, in the country.

Vladimir Platov, expert specialized on the Middle East region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”