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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
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Altman: Book reveals post-9/11 U.S. war tactics

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In “The Way Of The Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth,” Mark Mazzetti lays out how this country fights in the modern era, where tank and artillery battles have largely been replaced by drones and small special operations teams.

Mazzetti is a Pulitzer Prize winning national defense writer for the New York Times. His book, which went on sale last Thursday, strings together some never-before-told stories and adds detail to some more well-known events to paint a vivid picture of the evolution of modern American warfare.

Anyone who follows what takes place at MacDill Air Force Base should pick up a copy. U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command play a prominent role, which should be no surprise, given that the essence of Mazzetti’s book is how things have changed since 9/11.

Boiling down 327 pages, the Penguin Press tome chronicles how the CIA became more of a paramilitary organization while the Department of Defense took on more of the traditional roles of the clandestine service, including intelligence gathering and information operations.

One particularly telling passage recalls that shortly after 9/11 how then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “was in the process of screwing himself into the ceiling” after hearing how little Socom could initially do. Then-Socom commander, Gen. Charles Holland, told Rumsfeld that not only did Socom not have the “actionable intelligence” to track al-Qaida, but the command needed permission from the CIA for special operations forces to enter Afghanistan.

Long story short, Rumsfeld changed that equation. Buoyed both by advice and from the findings of the 9/11 Commission that the CIA was ineffective hunting jihadis, Rumsfeld gave the military a bigger role in spying.

By 2004, through the Joint Special Operations Command – a Socom subcommand headquartered at Fort Bragg — small teams of special operations forces “began fanning out on spying missions across the globe…” Mazzetti writes.

Fast forward several years and the role of the military in conducting spying operations was cemented by a “sweeping secret directive” signed by David Petraeus, at the time the four-star head of Centcom. The “Joint Unconventional Task Force Executive Order” gave permission for Joint Special Operations Command and private contractors to “develop clandestine operational infrastructure that can be tasked to locate, indentify, isolate, disrupt/destroy” extremist networks and individual leaders of terrorist groups.”

It was part of the Obama administration’s effort to “tie together some of the threads that had unspooled in the years since Donald Rumsfeld initially pushed the military to become more involved in human spying.”

The ultimate successful melding of the CIA and special operations forces, of course, was the raid that took out Osama bin Laden. But Mazzetti also portrays pitfalls of the relationship and tensions that still exists between the CIA and military.

The book comes out at an interesting time. President Barack Obama has just unveiled his fiscal 2014 defense budget, which shows that while overall defense spending will be less, Socom funding will increase.

Given the way of the knife, Socom, says Mazzetti, “will grow.”

“There are more constituencies to have these kinds of operations,” he says between a long train ride and evening meeting. “I think Socom can sell itself as the command that can fight these kinds of cheaper wars than the big wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think Socom really will become more powerful.”

Chalk one up for MacDill, which likes to think of itself as having the biggest navy in the Air Force.

On Easter Sunday, Terry Montrose, a retired senior master sergeant who still serves as a spokesman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing, was boating with his family when he saw two men in a smaller boat that capsized.

“When we got to them they had been in the water for about 45 minutes,” says Montrose. “The older guy was drinking water left and right. They were both holding onto the boat.”

Montrose said that he got the men into his boat and took them and their boat back to shore, which turned into a nearly two-hour journey because the men’s 12-foot John boat kept flipping over.

Speaking of MacDill, Montrose says it is still too early to know what, if any, effect the budget-forced grounding of one third of the flying branch’s combat planes will have on the fleet of KC-135 aerial refueling tankers at the base.

“Fortunately, our location in the southeastern United States positions us near other units that also train with us. We will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to meet our training requirements,” he says.

The Pentagon announced the deaths of three soldiers last week in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, of Juncos, Puerto Rico, and Spc. Delfin M. Santos Jr., 24, of San Jose, Calif., died April 6 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit in Zabul, Afghanistan, with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. They were assigned to the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

There have been 2,182 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.


haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

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