Rough men: Their twilight’s last gleaming
"We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” [Edmund Burke (1729-1797)]. Despite President Bill Clinton’s post-Soviet downsizing of America’s military, President George W. Bush inherited several units of "rough men."
U.S. Special Forces, AKA the Green Berets, were trained to embed with indigenous forces. U.S. Army Rangers stood ready to back up special operations. The Army’s Delta Force was fielding the world’s premier hostage-rescue and counterterrorism teams. U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 was held in awe, even by the Israelis. Even the CIA had a small paramilitary force.
By 1980, the need to place our military’s most highly skilled warriors under a unified command became so obvious the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was created; however, the years between 1980 and 2001 produced a mixed record of successes and failures. The failures mostly due to the flag officers of the conventional Army, Navy, and Air Force trying to horn in on JSOC operations. The result: Too many cooks spoiling the broth.
In the weeks following 9/11, then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and President George W. Bush seized upon the JSOC as a key instrument in their determination to retaliate against the radical Islamic jihadists for the 9/11 atrocities. Rumsfeld elevated the JSOC to first among equals in the War on Terror. The brilliant successes (and some failures) of JSOC under Rumsfeld and Bush are well-documented in Sean Naylor’s Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command, (2015).
Major General Stanley McChrystal (a former Ranger commander), was chosen to command JSOC. McChrystal picked Brigadier General Michael Flynn as his director of intelligence. Working together, McChrystal and Flynn forged JSOC into the formidable weapon envisioned by its creators back in 1980.
Under McChrystal, who eventually rose to four-star rank, the leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban inside Afghanistan were virtually eliminated. That done, McChrystal and JSOC were redirected to Iraq which began the Golden Era of JSOC, featuring McChrystal’s relentless night-time pursuits of al-Qaeda and even the Quds Forces slipped into Iraq by Iran.
With targeting help from the CIA and NSA, McChrystal’s rough men were conducting as many as six raids per night in a relentless tempo of finding, fixing, killing or capturing the Islamic insurgents. General McChrystal personally took part in many of the night-time raids. General McChrystal is credited with molding JSOC in a "force of unprecedented agility and lethality" that was a major factor in the success of the surge in Iraq. Later, McChrystal was fired by President Obama
After President Obama pulled U.S. forces out of Iraq in 2011, the JSOC teams were ordered back to Afghanistan. Despite the success of SEAL Team 6 by killing bin Laden in Pakistan, the hopelessness of Afghanistan, as opposed to their earlier successes in Iraq, began to take its toll on JSOC morale. By 2012, JSOC’s rough men were telling their superiors: "Sir, [expletive deleted] this! It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to do this. This raid for the low-level IED guy is not going to change anything." By 2012, in Afghanistan, the "Graveyard of Empires," the Golden Era of America’s Rough Men was in its twilight’s last gleaming.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the Army Language School, the George Washington University, the Infantry School, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
©2016. William Hamilton.
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