Tuesday, January 21, 2014

White SOF v. Black SOF

"To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not 
the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill"
Sun Tzu

This morning, deviating from my 2014 plan, I finished reading Linda Robinson's One Hundred Victories. I was drawn to the book because of her work at RAND and some great articles she recently penned about Special Operations. She knows what she is talking about and did the research. The result is a fantastic book about the efforts of Special Forces (and SEALs) to build up the Afghanistan security forces through heavy engagement, training and mentorship. It gives the reader a much better sense of the herculean task these small teams face in creating and sustaining local and regional police and military forces. Dealing with others cultures and language barriers makes their task all the more difficult. Surviving the unforgiving human terrain with Taliban all around makes their task perilous.

NYT review here

This book is not a gunslinger tale of night raids and kicking-ass. The big victories arrive when the teams are able to get local village leaders to provide for their own defense and reject the Taliban. The big victories are when Afghan forces repel Taliban attacks and come to each other's aid. This is White SOF. It is political-military warfare. It is population centric and it is a long hybrid game of chess and Chutes and Ladders.

The narrative was excellent but I wish the author had cut that down by 30-50 pages and instead expanded the last chapter about the future of Special Operations and American warfare. It is here where she provides the "what does it all mean" synthesis but it is far too short. More analysis and insight and this book would have hit the sweet spot.

There are lots of great books about daring raids, killing Osama, and all the missions that make great stories. Those books describe what special operators call Black SOF. Capturing a terrorist or a bomb maker is a great feeling but those raids rarely produce strategic results....they are the one hundred victories. Training and equipping an ally or partner to do it themselves is the acme of skill.

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