"Walton, a Special Forces team leader, and his men described the battle in an interview with The Associated Press last week. Most seem unimpressed they’ve earned the Army’s third-highest award for combat valor.
"This is the story about Americans fighting side-by-side with their Afghan counterparts refusing to quit," said Walton, of Carmel, Ind. "What awards come in the aftermath are not important to me."
The mission that sent three Special Forces teams and a company from the 201st Afghan Commando Battalion to the Shok Valley seemed imperiled from the outset.
Six massive CH-47 Chinook helicopters had deposited the men earlier that morning, banking through thick clouds as they entered the valley. The approaching U.S. soldiers watched enemy fighters racing to positions dug into the canyon walls and to sniper holes carved into stone houses perched at the top of the cliff.
Considered a sanctuary of the Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin terrorist group, the valley is far from any major American base.
It was impossible for the helicopters to land on the jagged rocks at the bottom of the valley. The Special Forces soldiers and commandos, each carrying more than 60 pounds of gear, dropped from 10 feet above the ground, landing among boulders or in a near-frozen stream.
With several Afghan commandos, Staff Sgt. John Walding and Staff Sgt. David Sanders led the way on a narrow path that zig-zagged up the cliff face to a nearby village where the terrorists were hiding.
Walton followed with two other soldiers and a 23-year-old Afghan interpreter who went by the name C.K., an orphan who dreamed of going to the United States." Yahoo News
This post is about US Army doctrine and practice. If you are not interested in that, then you should not waste your time on it.
For some years, there has been an ongoing struggle over the role and function of US Army Special Forces (the Green Berets).
In their beginnings in the early ’50s, US Army Special Forces were built on the experience of that part of the WW2 Office of Strategic Services (OSS) that helped generate and then lead guerrilla resistance forces in German and Japanese occupied territories. Such work necessitated great military skill as well as ability in foreign languages and in depth knowledge of the cultural matrix in which the task would be accomplished.
In the context of the Cold War and an anticipated occupation of much of western Europe if war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact should occurred, it was thought to be necessary to have teams in readiness that could be left behind in areas occupied by the USSR. These troops could then work with European resistance forces to interdict Soviet lines of communications to their forces still fighting against NATO farther west. To accomplish this mission the the teams were built around soldiers who were either first or second generation Americans from the areas of concern or foreign displaced persons enlisted under a law (The Lodge Act) that specifically permitted their entry into the US Army. Other soldiers in these teams were drawn from the kind of men who always seek individual responsibility and freedom of action.
As the phenomenon of the sponsorship of "national liberation movements" under communist sponsorship came to be recognized in the late ’50s and early ’60s as a major threat to American interests, the deep understanding of the theory and practice of resistance warfare possessed by the Special Forces was recognized by the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations as easily applicable to the conduct of counterinsurgency warfare. These two kinds of operations were the two sides of the same coin. Expertise in tihs kind of wrfare was multiplied in its effectiveness by the great skill of Special Forces in organizing, inspiring and leading local forces against any sort of enemy, anywhere.
In Vietnam, South America, Africa and many other places the Green Berets (SF) led native troops against many different enemies under many different sets of local conditions throughout the ’60s and ’70s. As in any protracted warfare there were tactical victories and there were tactical defeats, but, over all, the ability of Green Berets with their peculiar blend of combat skills and cultural acumen proved again and again to be highly valuable in rallying local forces against a common enemy.
The United States lost several of the wars of that period, VN being the main example, but it would be folly to attribute that or any other loss to the activities of the Green Berets who were never more than a small element in the much larger American forces engaged.
Unfortunately, the larger US Army never embraced the concepts of Unconventional Warfare on which Special forces doctrine were based. Since the Civil War the "Big Army" has preferred doctrine based on positional and maneuver warfare that ultimately is attritional in nature. In addition to this doctrinal bias, the kinds of men who volunteered for and who served in SF made many in the Army establishment uncomfortable. Independent, "out of the box" in their thinking and accustomed to surviving without the comfort of large supporting establishments, these men did not and still do not think themselves inferior to anyone.
Special Forces has survived for almost 60 years in the US Army because of civilian (mostly congressional) governmental protection and sponsorship. Without that protection the Green Berets would be long gone.
Counter-terrorism became a theme of congressional concern in the middle ’70s. Under congressional pressure the armed forces then began to create counter-terrorist commando unitson an ever increasing scale. These units exist for the purpose of making direct attacks and raids against terrorist targets. They normally employ US personnel only and are nothing like Green Berets except that some of their units are called "Special Forces" this or that and may recruit some of their men from the Green Berets.
The "Big Army" has preferred these counter-terrorist commandos, finding them to be less of a challenge to employ and control and much easier to comprehend. As a result the original role of US Army Special Forces as a force multiplier engaged in using the disparate parts of a dangerous human situation as parts of the solution have been in danger of extinction in favor of the commandos.
Nevertheless, the tide has begun to turn. The hard lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have renewed civilian governmental interest in the old SF mission and the old kind of SF men. Secretary Gates in particular has shown an interest. There is now a concept called "irregular warfare" that is dimly and obscurely defined but which holds the promise of a renaissance The action cited in this Washington Post story is significant because what you see in this are three Green Beret teams and the Afghan troops that they had trained and you see them in a hard fought and victorious action. pl
PS This kind of thing should not be confused with the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) teams. These HTS groups are research efforts which function to interpret local society to major conventional commanders on the ground.