The New York Times on June 5, 2012 had a Capitol Hill piece about the refusal of House, Senate and State department heavyweights to grant increased authority and funding to the daring Special Operations Command, to bolster its ability to go after bad guys in lawless parts of the world.
The leader of the failed bureaucratic effort was Adm. William H. McRaven, who heads the Special Operations Command and directed the highly successful SEAL raid on the Abbottabad compound that Osama Bin Laden is no longer here to remember.
The kind of controlled fury, deliberate speed, boots on the ground and targeted goal of the SEAL raid are likely to be hallmarks of U.S. military actions for the next few years. Not to mention secrecy and support of the Commander in Chief.
Which makes this a perfect time to write about “SPEC OPS. Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice.” The author is Adm. McRaven, who published this work seven years ago. If you read it closely enough you can see the outlines of the Bin Laden raid in the background, and with the perfection of hindsight you can feel it was only a matter of time.
This book also provides a pretty good prediction of what the future may bring – lightning fast raids, high value targets, secrecy until they want us to know.
For a textbook, it’s exciting.
The 1995 book (published by Ballantine but I downloaded my copy) is a detailed analysis of eight military actions and how they worked – or didn’t. Starting in 1940 and moving forward through the Israeli raid on Entebbe in 1976, McRaven derives six principles from the outcomes of the clandestine operations: “simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed, and purpose.”
The thing that caught my attention was the degree to which the successful raids depended on the rehearsal of the planned actions – the “repetition” he writes about. Each element played a part, of course – speed especially, because the longer the raiding party was behind enemy lines, or under them in the case of a torpedo attack, the greater the probability of failure.
But every other detail was planned, too – ammunition, failsafe areas, backup flares, etc.
His eight chapters seem like movie scripts in the making – a midget submarine attack, the rescue of Benito Mussolini, the 1970 U.S. Army raid on Son Tay base during the Vietnam War.
The famous Son Tay the mission was a success from a technical point of view – every action had been rehearsed more than 170 times – although faulty intelligence failed to discover any POWs, who had been moved. McRaven writes: “The media immediately blasted the intelligence community for its inability to verify the existence of POWs prior to the operation, and the administration was vilified for escalating the war. What was overlooked was the exceptional performance of the raising force and their support elements…”
For each event Adm. McRaven provides two key graphs – one ranges from the Point of Vulnerability to Relative Superiority Achieved; and other uses an inverted triangle to identify Simplicity (at the triangle’s point, accounted for the in the planning stage), on top of which are security and repetition (part of the preparation phase), and then finally, on top, are surprise, speed and purpose.
He accounts for moral factors (such as courage, boldness, intellect and perseverance) overcoming the “frictions of war,” including superior forces and the unexpected.
From an organizational point of view it’s pretty compelling. As someone without military experience, I found many of the blogs and reviews of this book helpful and informative. These were three I especially liked:
A review by Lance Crowe: http://tinyurl.com/cjv2stl
A Washington Post opinion piece: http://tinyurl.com/3s3nzon
A Wired magazine review: http://tinyurl.com/6xwvvvn
For me this was a fascinating look at the kind of military operations we can expect in the future. Warfare is one thing; Capitol Hill is another. The SOC will be back.
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