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Nick Turse on a Grim Inheritance: The Legacy of Infinite War

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Tom Englehardt introduces a column by Nick Turse at TomDispatch.com:

It looks like TomDispatch may have a few less readers from now on. Perhaps it will surprise you, but judging by the mail I get, some members of the U.S. military do read TomDispatch — partially to check out the range of military and ex-military critics of America’s wars that this site publishes. Or rather they did read TomDispatch. No longer, it seems, if their computers are operating via Department of Defense (DoD) networks. The DoD, I’ve heard, has blocked the site. You now get this message, I’m told, when you try to go to it: “You have attempted to access a blocked website. Access to this website has been blocked for operational reasons by the DOD Enterprise-Level Protection System.” Oh, and the category that accounts for it being blocked? “Hate and racism.” Mind you, you can evidently still read both Breitbart and Infowars in a beautifully unblocked state via the same networks.

On consideration, however, I’ve concluded that the Department of Defense might have a point. Since this site was launched as a no-name listserv in October 2001 soon after the Afghan War started — you know, the war that the DoD is still pursuing so successfully almost 17 years later with its 17th commander now in the field, 15,000 American troops still fighting and advising there (and still dying there as well), and the enemy, the Taliban in particular, in control of yet more territory in that country — TomDispatch has always hated America’s never-ending, ever-spreading, refugee- and terror-producing wars that now extend from South Asia across the Middle East and deep into Africa. So perhaps this site is, after all, a must-block “hate” site.

And among the authors who have spread TomDispatch’s antiwar gospel of hatred — now so judiciously cut off by the Pentagon — Nick Turse, in particular, has long grimly tracked the growth and spread of Washington’s forever wars and of the Special Operations forces, the semi-secret military that has become, in these years, their heart and soul. He returns to this sorry tale again today, this time in a unique fashion — by tracing the careers of those in the military, commanders and commanded, dead and alive, who returned to America’s official and unofficial war zones again and again and yet again. Maybe someone should suggest to the Pentagon that there’s something else out there to block, so that another website, 17 years from now, won’t be writing about Washington’s 34th commander in the field in Afghanistan. Maybe it’s time to block those wars. Tom

The Legacy of Infinite War 
Special Ops, Generational Struggle, and the Cooperstown of Commandos
By Nick Turse

Raids by U.S. commandos in Afghanistan. (I could be talking about 2001 or 2018.)

A U.S. drone strike in Yemen. (I could be talking about 2002 or 2018.)

Missions by Green Berets in Iraq. (I could be talking about 2003 or 2018.)

While so much about the War on Terror turned Global War on Terrorismturned World War IV turned the Long War turned “generational struggle” turned “infinite war” seems repetitious, the troops most associated with this conflict — the U.S. Special Operations forces — have seen changes galore. As Representative Jim Saxton (R-NJ), chairman of the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, pointed out in 2006, referring to Special Operations Command by its acronym: “For almost five years now, SOCOM has been leading the way in the war on terrorism: defeating the Taliban and eliminating a terrorist safe haven in Afghanistan, removing a truly vicious Iraqi dictator, and combating the terrorists who seek to destabilize the new, democratic Iraq.”

Much has changed since Saxton looked back on SOCOM’s role in the early years of the war on terror. For starters, Saxton retired almost a decade ago, but the Taliban, despite being “defeated” way back when, didn’t do the same. Today, they contest for or control about 44% of Afghanistan. That country also hosts many more terror groups — 20 in all — than it did 12 years ago. “Vicious Iraqi dictator” Saddam Hussein is, of course, still dead and gone, but in 2014, about a third of “the new, democratic Iraq” was overrun by Islamic State militants. The country was only re-liberated in late 2017 and the Islamic State is already making a comeback there this year. Meanwhile, Iraq is besetby anti-government protests and totters along as one of the most fragile stateson the planet, while the Iraqi and Afghan war zones bled together — with U.S. special operators now fighting an Islamic State terrorist franchise in Afghanistan, too.

In spite, or perhaps because, of these circumstances, SOCOM continues to thrive. Its budget, its personnel numbers, and just about any other measure you might choose (from missions to global reach) continue to rise. In 2006, for instance, 85% of Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed overseas — Army Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs, and others — were concentrated in the Greater Middle East, with far smaller numbers spread thinly across the Pacific (7%), Europe (3%), and Latin America (3%). Only 1% of them were then conducting missions in Africa.

Today, the lion’s share — 56% — of those commandos still operate in the Greater Middle East, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by SOCOM, but all other foreign deployments have grown at that region’s expense. Africa Command has leapt from last to second place and now hosts 16.5% of America’s overseas commandos, European Command 13.9% of them, the newly renamed Indo-Pacific Command 8.6%, and Southern Command 4.5%.

In the Zone

As deployments have shifted geographically, the number of special operators overseas has risen dramatically. In any given week in 2001, an average of 2,900 commandos were deployed abroad. By 2014, that number had hit 7,200. Today, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw, it’s 8,300.

A generation of commandos have spent their careers fighting on the proliferating fronts of Washington’s forever wars, hopping from one conflict zone to another or sometimes returning to the same campaign again and again. Some have spent much of their adult lives at war and a number have lost their lives after multiple warzone tours, still without a victory in sight. “At this stage in the ongoing counter-violent extremist type of fight, it is not a rare exception for airmen to be on their 12th, 13th, or 14th deployment,” Lieutenant General Marshall Webb, the chief of Air Force Special Operations Command, told the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities earlier this year. And when it comes to serial deployments, special ops airmen are hardly unique.

Consider, for example, Green Beret Colonel Owen Ray who recently took command of the 1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG). His path to that post might be thought of as the military equivalent of working one’s way up from the mailroom. He has, in fact, held a command at every level of the 1st SFG. In 2003, he served as a detachment commander in Afghanistan. By 2011, he was back there as a company commander. In 2013, he returned as the chief of the 1st Special Forces Group’s 4th Battalion. Now, he heads a unit whose members have spent the last years deploying to hotspots across the planet. “I stand in absolute awe at the service rendered and the impact this unit had on multiple theaters,” said outgoing commander Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere at a July change of command ceremony in which he handed over the reins to Ray.

Beaurpere himself is a model of the long-war SOF experience in multi-theater warfighting. A French immigrant commissioned as an officer in 1994, he served in South Korea, Kosovo, and sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, he commanded a Special Forces company in Iraq. In 2008, he was back in Iraq as the executive officer for a special operations task force in Baghdad. In 2010, he served as the deputy chief of staff of a SOCOM joint task force and the task force deputy operations officer during the lead-up to NATO’s war in Libya. In 2011, he took command of a special forces battalion and supervised its operations in West Africa. He also played a role in establishing a special ops presence in Central Africa to aid local proxies fighting Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. In 2012, he served as the chief of a special operations command and control element in the Horn of Africa. Beaurpere is now assigned to Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, where he serves as executive officer to the commander.

This spring, President Trump tapped Lieutenant General Scott Howell to be the first Air Force officer to head Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), SOCOM’s secretive “hunter-killers,” which include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team Six. A longtime special operator, Howell has hopped back and forth between combat zones and stateside posts while steadily climbing the special ops ladder. His assignments have included a 2005-2006 stint, when he was still a lieutenant colonel, as commander of the Joint Special Operations Aviation Detachment Arabian Peninsula at Joint Base Balad, Iraq; a 2008-2010 assignment, when he was a colonel, as commander of the Joint Special Operations Aviation Component, Special Operations Task Force, at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan; a 2012-2013 stint, when he was a brigadier general, as deputy commanding general of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan; and then, a 2016-2017 position, when he was a major general, as the head of NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan and Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.

Or, for a grimmer look at the special ops experience in these years, consider the biographies of some of the commandos recently killed overseas. They offer a unique window on the operations tempo, scale, and scope of America’s never-ending wars. Take Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens. He completed his Navy SEAL training in December 2002and then deployed 12 times, carrying out perhaps 1,000 missions or more, including assignments in Afghanistan and Somalia, before he was killed in Yemen last January. Similarly, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken, who enlisted in the Navy in 2002 and joined the SEALs a short time later, survived tours in Iraq — in 2007 alone, he took part in 48 combat missions there — and Afghanistan only to be killed in Somalia last May.

Staff Sergeant Logan Melgar, a Green Beret who was reportedly strangled to death by two fellow special operators in Mali last June, was a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, one of two Green Berets killed in an Islamic State ambush in Niger in October 2017, was reportedly on his second deployment to that West African nation. Army Sergeant 1st Class Mihail Golin — the victim of a New Year’s Day attack in Afghanistan — enlisted in the Army in 2005, a year after emigrating to the United States from Latvia, serving in Iraq in 2006-2007 and Afghanistan in 2009-2010, 2011-2012, and again in 2017. Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad, a 26-year-old assigned to the Special Forces, served two tours in Afghanistan — in 2012-2013 and again in 2014 — before losing his life in a June 2018 attack in Jubaland, Somalia.

Hallowed Halls

Today, who remembers Dan Brouthers or the Troy Trojans and Buffalo Bisons, the professional baseball teams he played for? The same could be said of William “Judy” Johnson of the Hilldale Daisies, Mike “King” Kellyof the Boston Beaneaters, and Charlie “Old Hoss” Radbourn of the Providence Grays who, in 1884, pitched 73 complete games and won 59 of them. (Yes, you read that right!). Those men are nonetheless immortalized in bronze forever — or at least as long as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum stands in Cooperstown, New York.

Philip CochranLeroy Manor, and Aaron Bank might be even less well known to the rest of us, although they’re enshrined in the equivalent institution for their line of work. They are among the 69 members of the Commando Hall of Honor at SOCOM headquarters, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Cochran is best known for his service as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2018 at 2:36 pm

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