Small Wars Journal

The Right Tool for the Job

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 8:30pm

The Right Tool for the Job

Morgan Smiley

Recently, a story was published indicating that the US military will now train rebel Syrian elements due to ineffective training by the CIA.  While the story does not provide specifics regarding what the CIA training consisted of or fell short in, if CIA "foreign internal defense" (FID) efforts focused on the same things US Special Forces (SF) does, which seems to be small-unit tactical level "shoot 'em in the face" efforts, then perhaps it is time for conventional military advisors focused on higher level functions: advising on command-and-control (C2) and staff organizational skills that can develop the host-nation (HN) ability to conduct short and mid-term operational planning, logistics management / forecasting, and overall staff coordination needed to support organized combat efforts extended across time and space.

While this might seem like heresy to some (many?) to say such things, the FID efforts of US Special Operations Forces (SOF), including CIA, appear to place greater emphasis on direct-action kinetic fights, with HN forces "along for the ride", VS developing HN C2 capabilities and staff functionality focused on self-sufficiency (I got a taste of this during my stint as a contractor supporting US SOF in Afghanistan).  As one retired SF guy put it, "We don't join SF to be on staff..." which I understand.  However, it seems that greater emphasis needs to be placed on staff activities like planning, coordination, and overall management and less on “shoot-‘em-in-the-face” efforts.  The recent fall of Ramadi has been attributed to a “lack of good planning by the (Iraqi) military”, which I feel supports my position.

Special Forces and CIA FID advisors certainly have their place.  But the development of staff capabilities can be better supported by conventional troops, mainly senior officers and NCOs, with extensive experience on staffs.  This can be accomplished by using an organization discussed previously on SWJ:  advisor teams built from Training Support Battalions.   The current technique uses the Regionally Aligned Brigade (RAB) concept to provide advisory forces for foreign troops.  But if current “hot-spots” become dangerous enough to warrant the intervention of conventional US combat troops (as Iraq very well may), those units must be well-trained to operate together, which the current RAB model interferes with by taking key leaders away from their organizations for advisory missions, degrading their collective operational capabilities. 

By using training support teams already organized as small training / advising elements to execute such FID duties, we can have the necessary advisory elements engaging the HN forces in the appropriate areas (leadership, C2, planning, organizing, coordinating) while our combat brigades and its leaders focus on their primary area of expertise:  breaking things and killing bad guys.   We have the organizations in our inventory to do host-nation “advising”….let them do it, and keep our combat troops focused on combat training and, if necessary, combat duties.  The right tools for the right job.

Morgan Smiley is a retired US Army officer currently working in Saudi Arabia.


Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 10:28am

After reading and rereading this article there is actually a lot that can be said BUT the author has little to no actual understanding of what is ongoing currently on the ground in Syria and or the Ukraine--both actually a total UW environment that has deeper ties to a conventional fight.

Being currently in the KSA I am sure that he has noticed from the social media reporting out of Syria-- Assad, Iranian and Hezbollah forces are being pushed back with defeat after defeat with IS on occasions taken beatings as well from Whom one might ask? Those rag tag FSA types we "somehow abandoned and yet are still there", moderate and to some degree radical Islamist groups -- right now at any given time 10-14 groups AND they have a General Council and are in fact working together for the first time without killing each other.

Now what is more than surprising--- these rag tag groups who have suffered long under repeated loses to Assad, Iranian and Hezbollah forces NOW suddenly have a well structured command and control, fight in a disciplined manner, and fight in a coordinated fashion AND against all odds when they win battles instead of racing head long into the next disaster as is typical for Arab forces they wait, regroup, plan, and attack---the mark of someone and or something providing training and combat guidance. Simply stated "they are currently on a roll".

COUPLED with a new group of professional roving TOW and MILAN hunter killer teams which has proved the tipping point after four long years.

These ATM teams are hitting targets moving, hiding, flying, buried in ways not even the US Army trains against--and from their videos--motivated.

Question that needs to be asked and it goes to the author presumptions--someone/something is training, mentoring, leading and supplying this rag tag group and their overall performance has rocketed. AND when the combat opportunity presents itself they fight even IS and have booted IS out of some key areas recently.

The author is right CF has a FID role--we see that with the 173rd now in the Ukraine--preparing in 8 week BN cycles young recruits for actual front line combat-- infantry style or for static defense of infrastructure--that they are great at and are also working with the Ukrainian BN staffs as they come through.

What the author fails to understand is that the UW role of SF and of the entire SOF community takes in elements that the conventional side simply does not do well.

In the current Iranian, Russian and Chinese forms of UW where there is a high degree of armed intel operations with integrated conventional forces that even the US Army Bdes are not structured to combat that.

Right now in Syria the fighting has reached an interesting stage--the UW anti Assad side is winning against a conventionally fought Assad side and for the first time appears to be close to booting him out--thus the recent US DoS trip to Sochi as Assad is the Russians problem.

So back to my core question Who is providing the training and mentoring?---is it the CIA, SF, a combination of the two or KSA or the Jordan SF in combination with one or more of the US group?? Where are the TOWs and MILANs coming from?? Personally the setting up of a central training point in Turkey has been smoke screen for a long while diverting attention from what was being developed inside Syria. IMO probably Turkey will be for a newly built Syria Army when the fighting subsides.

Take the Ukraine--after the capture of two Russian active duty Spetsnaz by a combined State Security combat Alpha team and the 92nd Bde a combined armor/airborne unit there has been an amazing amount of info coming out on Spetsnaz mission sets, command and control, weapons, tactics and personnel.

Since the Russian GRU/Spetsnaz is the backbone of the new Russian UW doctrine we need to pay extremely close attention to the ongoing fighting in the Ukraine--why because it is here that one sees a true integrated armed intel operations conventional forces fight complete with all the latest and greatest new EW, artillery and weapons systems at their command which they focus with ease against the standard conventional side of the Ukrainians.

Russian SF are carrying the lead in the key attacks and then turn it over to the conventional side and then they move on to other target sets combining the skill sets of SF with the traditional conventional skill sets as the mission requires.

So the concept of SF FID needs to be rethought-- FID yes but in an integrated UW/Conventional environment--that is what the author missed-- FID on the conventional side has it place ie what the 173rd is doing but even the FID taught there is not focused on countering a combined and integrated UW/conventional fight. Conventional FID for rebuilding a military or assisting a military is great but simply does not address what we are currently seeing in Syria or the Ukraine.

By the way any former SF who states that SF cannot do Staff training when in fact the concept of Mission Command is inherently part and parcel of SF needs to have his beret pulled in. Even the conventional side has bailed on implementing MC in the current command environments seen at BDE and Div levels.

What the author does not realize is right now in the Ukraine and in Syria we have a deep UW fight that is coupled with conventional forces.

Suggest the author go back a reread the history of SF in VN from 1964 to the last ones coming out in 1973--SF trained, led, supplied and fought with Company, BN, Regimental and when merged together from different War Zones Divison minus level local defense forces that held their own against combat line units of the NVA. AND many of the SF BN, REGT and Div "officers" were in the SF ranks of SGT, SSG, SFC, and SGM with a few SP4s thrown in.

SF in VN fielded a trained fighting force of over 70,000 civilian irregular defense force personnel in multiple different configurations and that is not "minor".

We need since the Ukraine, Iraq and Syria to get out of this standard FID thinking and back into a new form of UW FID. Do not foresee the US doing any kind of "military rebuilding or nation building" in the coming years--BUT I do see the new forms of UW being at the forefront of what we will be seeing.

Since the author is in the KSA and close to the constant news coming out of Iraq and Syria--he must also be seeing that IS is also engaged in a very good combined UW/conventional military campaign.

Their swarming attack on Ramadi was as "classical" as any integrated UW/conventional attack could be--IMO a truly well designed UW/conventional attack using "swarming tactics". AND there is nothing in conventional FID that can prepared you for it UNLESS you fully understand UW.

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 5:31am

While I have no doubt that Morgan's anecdotes and experience are very real I also believe he has not experienced FID around the world and he is fundamentally mistaken if he thinks FID is the appropriate mission in Syria. The Syrian operations requires the application of Unconventional Warfare though I fear we are at the point of too little much too late and we have missed the opportunities that might have existed 3 or more years ago (but that is a different story). I do not disagree at all that conventional forces have a role in FID, they absolutely do and they have important roles and not just for staff training. In fact I am gratified to read that he advocates conventional forces participation in FID because FID is not a SOF exclusive activity. And I agree that we have to use the right tools or capabilities for the job but his critique of SF and the CIA appears to be from a limited view point.

On the other hand the retired SOF personnel who make such statements to Morgan do not represent all of SOF and if they are making those statements they are undermining SOF and demonstrating their lack of understanding of SOF.