U.S. Commandos Lurk in Countries That Surround Russia, Continuing to Raise Tensions
“In the twenty-first century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template... The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness... [t]he broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures... is supplemented by military means of a concealed character, including carrying out actions of informational conflict and the actions of special operations forces.”
Spetsnaz troops have indeed played a role in all of Russia’s armed interventions since 2001, including in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. During that same span, U.S. Special Operations forces have been employed in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Niger, and the Central African Republic. They have also had a presence in Jordan, Kenya, Djibouti, and Cameroon, among other countries to which, according to President Trump, U.S. combat-equipped forces are currently deployed. In an interview late last year, retired Lieutenant General Charles Cleveland, chief of U.S. Army Special Operations Command from 2012 to 2015 and now the Senior Mentor to the Army War College, discussed the shortcomings of the senior military leadership in regard to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the “bad national policy decisions... that shaped U.S. campaigns in those theaters,” and a reliance on a brand of conventional war-fighting with limited effectiveness in achieving political goals. “[I]t is important to understand why SOF has risen from footnote and supporting player to main effort,” he added, “because its use also highlights why the U.S. continues to have difficulty in its most recent campaigns -- Afghanistan, Iraq, against ISIS and AQ [al-Qaeda] and its affiliates, Libya, Yemen, etc. and in the undeclared campaigns in the Baltics, Poland, and Ukraine -- none of which fits the U.S. model for traditional war.” U.S. Special Operations Command Europe failed to answer TomDispatch’s questions about those “undeclared campaigns” on Russia’s doorstep, but more public and conventional efforts have been in wide evidence. In January, for example, tanks, trucks, and other equipment began arriving in Germany, before being sent on to Poland, to support Operation Atlantic Resolve. That effort, “designed to reassure NATO allies and partners... in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine,” according to the Congressional Research Service, began with a nine-month rotation of about 3,500 soldiers from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, who were replaced in September by 3,300 personnel and 1,500 vehicles from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which would be deployed to five countries. Earlier this month, Russia’s Defense Ministry complained that the size of the U.S. contingent in the Baltics violates a Russian-NATO agreement. Red Dawn in the Gray Zone Late last year, a group of active-duty and retired senior military officers, former ambassadors, academics, and researchers gathered for a symposium at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, D.C., titled “Russian Engagement in the Gray Zone.” Conducted via Chatham House rules -- that is, in accounts of the meeting, statements could not be attributed to any specific speaker -- the Americans proceeded to vilify Russia both for its bellicosity and its underhanded methods. Among the assessments: “Russia is always at a natural state of war and it prioritizes contactless war”; “Russia de-emphasizes kinetic activities and emphasizes the indirect/non-lethal approach”; and “Russia places a priority on subversion.” The experts at NDU called for a comprehensive campaign to undermine Russia through sanctions, by courting “disenfranchised personnel” and “alienated persons” within that country, by developing enhanced cyber-capabilities, by utilizing psychological operations and “strategic messaging” to enhance “tactical actions,” and by conducting a special ops shadow war -- which General Charles Cleveland seems to suggest might be already underway. “[T]he United States should learn from the Chechnya rebels’ reaction. The rebels used decentralized operations and started building pockets of resistance (to include solo jihadists),” reads a synopsis of the symposium. “SOCOM actions will need,” the NDU experts asserted, “to be unconventional and irregular in order to compete with Russian modern warfare tactics.” In other words, they were advocating an anti-Russian campaign that seemed to emphasize the very approach they were excoriating Russia for -- the “indirect/non-lethal approach” with a “priority on subversion.” In the end, Russia’s much-feared “West” war game, in which Spetsnaz troops did participate, concluded with a whimper, not a bang. “After all the anxiety, Russia's Zapad exercise ends without provocation,” read the headline in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes on September 20th. For months, while Russia insisted its war game would involve fewer than 13,000 soldiers, the U.S. and its allies had warned that, in reality, up to 100,000 troops would flood into Belarus. Of those Russian troop levels, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Möller, a Swedish military observer who attended Zapad, said, “We reported about 12,400.” Of such exercises, he added, “This is normal military business as we do in all countries with armed forces. This is not training for attacking anyone. You meet the enemy, you stop the enemy, you defeat the enemy with a counterattack. We are doing the same thing in Sweden.” Indeed, just as Möller suggested, more than 20,000 troops -- including U.S. Special Operations forces and soldiers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, and Sweden -- had gathered in his country during the Zapad exercise for Aurora 2017. And Sweden was hardly unique. At the same time, troops from the U.S., Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Georgia, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom were carrying out Rapid Trident, an annual military exercise, in neighboring Ukraine. What message was the U.S. sending to Russia by conducting training exercises on its borders, Catherine Herridge of Fox News asked General Raymond Thomas in Aspen? “That's a fascinating question because I am -- I try to appreciate the adversary's optic to -- I realize that a way to gauge a metric if you will for how well we're doing,” the SOCOM chief replied somewhat incoherently. Herridge was, of course, asking Thomas to view the world through the eyes of his adversary, to imagine something akin to Russia and its ally Syria conducting war games in Mexico or Canada or in both countries; to contemplate Spetsnaz troops spread throughout the Western hemisphere on an enduring basis just as America’s elite troops are now a fixture in the Baltics and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. In the end, Thomas’s take was understated in a way that undoubtedly wouldn’t have been the case had the roles been reversed. “I am curious what Putin and his leadership are thinking,” the special ops chief mused. “I think it was a little unnerving.”
- Now You Can Read My Guantánamo Diary, Including the Previously Government-Censored Sections
- Puerto Rico Is an Ongoing Disaster Area While Trump and FEMA Have Their Heads in the Sand
- The FBI Is Once Again Profiling Black Activists Because of Their Beliefs and Their Race
Syndicated from AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed.