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20 years of fighting terrorism cost money, but helped prepare for bigger fight, say US special operators

U.S. Special Forces soldiers and Afghan National Interdiction Unit operatives board CH-47 helicopters for an operation in Helmand province, September 12, 2016. US Army / Sgt. Connor mendez

  • The US military’s special operations forces have played an outsized role in the war on terrorism.

  • Twenty years of fighting terrorists and militants have taken a heavy toll on these forces.

  • Those years of fighting also sharpened their skills, preparing them to take on more capable opponents.

For 20 years, American special operators have been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.

These special operators are few in number compared to their conventional counterparts, but they have made a disproportionate contribution to the global war on terrorism.

After the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, most US counterterrorism operations involved unconventional warfare, with commandos training local partners and carrying out raids.

This has played on the strengths of the special operators, who see themselves as a scalpel rather than a hammer. Special operations forces have thrived in such fast paced and ambiguous environments.

First in, last out

20 years of fighting terrorism cost money, but helped prepare for bigger fight, say US special operators

U.S. Army Rangers clean a room during a nighttime operation with Afghan forces in Helmand province, August 14, 2012. US Army / CPS Justin Young

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, special operators were the first in Afghanistan.

The army’s elite Delta Force has launched a daring operation to eliminate Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, from its own headquarters deep in enemy territory. While this was happening, the Green Berets were leading local anti-Taliban fighters to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda within weeks.

When the insurgency threatened to destroy Iraq and thwart US-led reconstruction efforts, Special Operations Forces orchestrated an industrial-scale counterterrorism campaign. Level 1 units – Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, now known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group – led the effort to dismantle Al Qaeda in Iraq with a relentless campaign of raids, sometimes up to three la night.

The 75th Ranger Regiment also took on a larger role, taking on high-value targets that in the past would have been assigned to Level 1 units.

The Green Berets formed the Iraqi counterterrorism unit which then led the brutal but effective struggle against ISIS. In Afghanistan, the Green Berets trained their Afghan counterparts, with the aim of winning the hearts and minds of the people and securing their communities.

20 years of fighting terrorism cost money, but helped prepare for bigger fight, say US special operators

A SEAL Team 6 operator stands guard during a close protection mission in Afghanistan. US Department of Defense

The Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders, Reconnaissance Marines, and Air Commandos have played an equally important role in eliminating terrorists or implementing other special operations.

“No one can deny that it was an extremely harsh war. Perhaps not in the sense that military historians think and write about war from ancient times until today. It was our war. [Special-operations forces] were at the tip of the spear, and we fought relentlessly, ”a retired Delta Force operator told Insider.

“This is not to ignore or diminish the contribution of our conventional brothers and sisters,” added the retired operator. “They played an extremely important role, and we are extremely grateful for their contribution. This is one of the truths of SOF: Special operations require non-SOF support. I want to stress this. It is always a joint or combined effort.

The retired operator Delta and others in this story spoke anonymously to describe the operations they conducted in uniform.

A small number of US special operators remain in Iraq, but US forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan, and the move to compete with close adversaries like Russia and China means the war on terror is likely to continue to grow. end.

A heavy toll

20 years of fighting terrorism cost money, but helped prepare for bigger fight, say US special operators

A hearse carries the coffin of US Petty Officer Brian Bill in Stamford, Connecticut on August 19, 2011. Bill was killed when a helicopter carrying him along with 21 other Navy SEALs was shot down in Afghanistan. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

In two decades of fighting terrorism, 660 special agents have been killed and 2,738 injured. These totals are small compared to casualties from past wars, but they have taken a heavy toll on these forces.

There are approximately 70,000 special operators in all services, making it approximately 3.5% of the total 2.1 million troops in the United States Army. In such a small community, where members know each other by name, face or reputation, every victim is deeply felt.

‘We played a big part in the war’ and suffered as a result, with some units deploying more than a dozen times, straining families and mental health, a former Green Beret told Insider .

“Broken marriages [and] birthdays and missed anniversaries are just a few of the residue from the relentless deployment cycle, ”said the former Green Beret. “But we were defending America forward. We were not forced or coerced. We are volunteers. we answered [to] cowardly attacks [of 9/11], and we responded with force and precision. “

Although the toll has been heavy, US special operations forces are now better prepared to face these close adversaries.

20 years of fighting terrorism cost money, but helped prepare for bigger fight, say US special operators

A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier leads North Macedonian Special Forces soldiers during an air assault exercise on May 7, 2021. US Navy / Lt. Rob kunzig

“The wars have allowed us not only to develop tactics, techniques and procedures, but also equipment and technology to match them,” said the retired Delta Force operator, adding that the experience had allowed operators to work more closely and more efficiently.

“We have sharpened our blades and learned what works and what doesn’t,” added the retired Delta Force operator. “We would never be able to move that fast in peacetime. It’s cynical to say it, but wars have really helped us in that direction.”

Senior leaders of the United States Special Operations Command, which oversees each service’s special operations units, summarized these units’ contributions to the war in a recent letter to the force.

General Richard Clarke, SOCOM Commander, and Chief Master Sgt. SOCOM’s enlisted leader Gregory Smith wrote that they were inspired by the “generation of courageous Americans who have answered the call to serve over the past two decades – like the courageous generations before them.”

Special operators on duty on September 11 “approached their service with renewed dedication and determination. Many others have raised their hands to serve,” Clarke and Smith wrote. “Our Special Ops community has been distinguished by countless acts of heroism and selflessness over nearly two decades. This legacy of service and sacrifice continues.”

Read the original article on Business Insider