Special forces

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(HOST) As Americans have been pausing to remember President John F.Kennedy on the anniversary of his death, commentator Bill Seamans has been thinking about him for very different reasons.

(SEAMANS) Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been spurred by the specter of global terrorism to launch a program that would transform the whole concept and organization of the army. His aim is to change the ponderous infantry and tank divisions into smaller, lighter more flexible brigades that can move fast against a worldwide terrorist threat. An important part of this new army will be an expanded role for the elite Special Forces.

But this is not a new idea. It dates back to October 12, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy witnessed a demonstration at Fort Bragg, North Carolina by a small embryonic Special Forces unit. Kennedy was so impressed that he endorsed the expansion of the Special Forces – a decision not popular with some of our tradition-bound generals. The story has been told by many military historians but one of the most succinct descriptions is in Tom Clancy’s book called Shadow Warriors.

Back then, Clancy wrote, Kennedy had a vision that few of the nation’s leaders shared. He saw the likelihood that the United States would soon find itself entangled in a new kind of conflict that would pose a new kind of threat. In Kennedy’s words, we faced “another type of war than we were used to, one that challenged our normal ways of waging war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origins – war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of combat; by infiltration instead of by aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It requires, in those situations where we must encounter it, a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force.” So said President Kennedy.

What Clancy wrote about was more than the birth of the Special Forces but also the extraordinary foresight of President Kennedy who forty-four years ago accurately predicted the situation we are in today in Iraq.

As a footnote to this story Kennedy endorsed the green beret for the Special Forces as a symbol of excellence….At his funeral, the Special Forces sergeant major placed a green beret on Kennedy’s grave.

The unanswered question is why has our multi-billion-dollar Pentagon with all its extremely capable military thinkers not carried Kennedy’s ideas forward to the fullest extent he intended.
If they had we would have today a large highly trained counter-
insurgency force in Iraq – instead of limited Special Forces units and mostly regular troops whose lack of specialized counter-
insurgency training has too often reduced members of the most powerful army in the world to helpless sitting ducks.

This is Bill Seamans.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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