Special forces

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(Host) Global terrorism has changed the way the United States engages in military combat. According to commentator Bill Seamans, some of the proposals for the role of Special Forces are creating controversy.

(Seamans) While the public’s attention is overwhelmed by the political campaign, another debate – described as fierce by those ubiquitous unidentified sources – is being waged over Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s ideas about how to use our elite Special Forces more effectively in the war against global terrorism.

The story has now captured the attention of the Foreign Affairs journal in an article by a Brookings Institute Fellow under the dramatic headline “The Rise of the Shadow Warriors.” They are the Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy Seals, Air ForceCommandos, and the Delta Force. Their covert operations in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq impressed Rumsfeld so much that he wants to give them a greater role in the new leaner more flexible Army he wants to develop.

Rumsfeld wants to organize super-elite “hunter killer” teams that would covertly track down terrorists around the world. And there the story gets truly complex.

It’s alleged that Rumsfeld’s “intention is to make Special Forces more prominent within the military and to make their leadership more proactive – and more loyal to Rumsfeld himself.” Also, the covert hunter-killer teams could move into areas where the CIA’s secret agents operate, raising the potential of a Pentagon-CIA turf war.

For the 20years or more that I observed the growth of terrorism while working in the Middle East, the historic record shows that assassinating their leaders does not remove the profound economic, political and fundamental religious factors that breed terrorists. Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, who fought terrorism all his life as a soldier and diplomat, told me in one of our many private conversations that killing the leaders was a quick-fix. At best he said, assassination might temporarily disrupt terrorist plans and give the public the feeling that something is being done. But the long range solution, Rabin often said, was to solve the basic environmental problems.

The prestige that our Special Forces have won within the military is truly a remarkable reversal of fortune. Back when the Green Berets were an embryonic force, the Army brass wanted to disband the elite troops because the generals didn’t want to create a force that might grow out of their control. It was President Kennedy who saw the potential value of specially trained elite troops and he ordered that the Green Berets be saved and allowed to expand. Thus Kennedy was called the Father of the Green Berets – and I recall that when he was buried a special force soldier placed a Green Beret on his grave.

Now the Green Berets are an integral part of the elite Special Forces which are emerging from the shadows as a key – if controversial – element of the new army Mr. Rumsfeld wants to create.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist 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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