By lex, on August 31st, 2011
Admiral Bill McRaven speaks on the use of DevGru forces for IRF duties in Afghanistan:
The new commander of American Special Operations forces has defended the use of commandos in a Navy Seals unit to back up a raid in Afghanistan earlier this month that ended in tragedy when a Chinook helicopter was shot down, rejecting criticism that planning for the operation was different from other missions that had been carried out successfully, as many as a dozen on a typical night.
The commander, Adm. William H. McRaven, said “there was nothing unusual about this mission” to warrant the sustained criticism heard from some retired commandos and military analysts, who have questioned how the operation was planned and carried out and whether it was an appropriate use of the vaunted Navy Seals…
Admiral McRaven dismissed assertions that the most highly trained Navy and Army commando teams should be reserved solely for the most high-profile missions; he said they were regularly assigned to support commanders of units in a local area of combat if that contributed to the overall mission.
“We have to be fungible as a force,” Admiral McRaven said. “And if we are not fungible as a force, then we are not of value. It is not unusual at all for Seals or Rangers or Army Special Operations forces to be part of a quick-reaction force, as in this case.”
Admiral McRaven also said that Chinook helicopters were used instead of the smaller, more agile, Black Hawks when a larger team was transported.
“They are more than capable of doing this particular job,” he said of the Chinooks. “This was an appropriate use of that particular helicopter.”
Apart from their unique skill sets, SOF are of course capable of doing a wide spectrum of infantry missions, which is what the admiral is referring to when he speaks of fungibility. The question some asked was not whether they were suited to this task, but whether the task was suited to them. None dared doubt their personal courage. Some questioned their commander’s wisdom. But perhaps there were no other forces available, either in personnel or equipment. I will of course defer to Admiral McRaven when he speaks of perceived “value.”
But specialization matters: You could use an aircraft carrier to do a visit, board, search and seize operation at sea. But you wouldn’t, if you had a frigate or destroyer at hand. We lost eight Navy SEALS in a Chinook QRF in Afghanistan in 2005. Another 17 earlier this month in similar circumstances. As human beings they are to be mourned no more or less than any grunt in the line infantry. But as national treasures they are irreplaceable, at least in the short term, by which I mean the next ten to fifteen years.
The six basic principles of special operations, according to one widely read special operator, are simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed and purpose. The DevGru operators had three of those six; simplicity, speed and purpose. Maybe four if you throw in security, which the author used to describe secrecy in planning and training. There was of course no opportunity to specifically rehearse and repeat the targeting of squirters in a dynamic and fluid ground operation. The element of surprise was lost entirely.
The author of that seminal text?