Max Boot reviews “Mark Owen”‘s No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden.
[A]n extraordinarily high percentage of the most celebrated feats of American arms in the past decade were the work of the U.S. Special Operations Command (socom) [sic, should be “USSOCOM”[ and in particular of its most secretive component, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which is home to the Armyâ€™s Delta Force, the Navyâ€™s seal Team Six, and other â€œTier Oneâ€ units. So, too, some of the most bitter losses in recent wars have been suffered by these same forcesâ€”such as the shoot-down of a Chinook transport helicopter in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011, which killed thirty Americans, including seventeen seals. It was the greatest single-day loss of American lives during the entire war.
Since September 11 JSOC has become a finely honed man-hunting machine whose â€œoperatorsâ€ take down two thousand or more targets every year, with an 84 percent probability that they will get their man (or a close associate) each timeâ€”and usually with little resistance, so adept are they at using the element of stealth. (The Chinook disaster occurred because for once the Taliban knew the seals were comingâ€”they were responding to a call for help from Army Rangers engaged in a firefight.) The bin Laden raid, the subject of this best-selling memoir by one of the seal â€œassaulters,â€ a forthcoming book by journalist Mark Bowden, and a soon-to-be-released movie, was unusual only in that it occurred in Pakistan and involved the highest of all â€œhigh value targets,â€ but the same tactics, techniques, and procedures have been employed to capture or to kill thousands of other terrorist leaders over the past decade.
This is an impressive achievement, given that socom [sic], despite a decade of rapid growth, still has only 4.3 percent of the active-duty strength of the U.S. armed forces (sixty thousand out of 1.4 million) and spends just 1.7 percent of the entire defense budget ($10.4 billion out of $613 billionâ€”although the figure is higher if one includes the support provided by individual military services to their branch components such as the Army Special Operations Command). The role of Special Operations Forces (SOF) is expected to grow in the future. With the Army and the Marine Corps in the process of downsizing (current plans call for eliminating roughly 100,000 positions over the next few years), and the appetite for major military deployments diminishing after Iraq and Afghanistan, SOF is left, for better or worse, as the instrument of choice for presidents looking to exercise American hard power. â€œSend in the Marinesâ€ used to be the cry a hundred years ago because a Marine deployment was seen as an easy way to use force without a congressional declaration of war or undue international perturbations. SOF is viewed in much the same light today: a way to â€œdo somethingâ€ without getting mired in a major ground war.
Despite his solecism involving the military alphabet-soup acronym, Boot does a terrific scholarly job of tracing US Special Operations right back to Roger’s Rangers in the French and Indian War. He describes in detail the background of the book and its author, and discusses intelligently the unusual composition, modus operandi, and ethos of SOF teams.
Boot was well-prepared to write this review because he has just finished his own book on unconventional warfare from Antiquity to the present day, currently waiting for release in January.
Correction: My original illustration was a JSOC NATO ISAF shoulder patch, which I mistook for a cool, new JSOC insignia. Actually, they have shoulder patches of this sort featuring the flags of all the allied nations supplying troops in OD. The one I found was the flag of Portugal in OD. Hat tip to Skookumchuck (of YARGB) who caught it.