Operator Assistance

5 steps to standing up special forces in Libya.

On Oct. 15, the New York Times reported that the United States is "speeding up efforts to help the Libyan government create a commando force" that can combat Islamist extremists and errant militias.

I applaud the effort. In an era of decreased U.S. defense spending and a dwindling appetite for large overseas commitments, building the military capacity of our partners so that they can take care of their own security problems makes a lot of sense. And creating a host-nation Special Forces capability is a cost-effective way to build that capacity.

But there are pitfalls to creating such a force -- especially if it is done too rapidly. Taking shortcuts or trying to go too fast can result in a poorly trained force that is just as likely to commit human rights violations as it is to combat militants. In the wake of the Benghazi attack, it is important to remember that one of the Special Operations Truths states: "competent Special Operations Forces (SOF) cannot be created after emergencies occur."

And building such a force in Libya will have its own peculiar challenges. For starters, most of the recruiting base is inexperienced. Candidates for training will likely come from the ranks of anti-Qaddafi militias who -- though ultimately successful in their fight against their former regime -- are still self-taught rebels. Those who are more experienced are likely to be former Qaddafi soldiers. The former may not mix well with the latter.

So how would one begin to build a Special Operations capability in Libya? Here are five time-tested tips to doing it right.

1. Determine what you want the unit to do.

The first thing that needs to be agreed upon is what is it that the United States and Libya want the unit to do. Is the unit to be a direct action raiding force? A counterterrorism unit? Does it need to have a civil affairs capability? These questions are important, as the answer will drive how the unit is to be manned, trained, and equipped.

For example, if the unit is to be a direct action raiding force, it will probably be made up of squads, platoons, companies, and battalions -- something akin to our U.S. Army Rangers. If it's a counterterrorism force, it could be composed of small combat assault units supported by snipers and covert intelligence operatives. Or if it's a unit designed to infiltrate into denied territory, collect intelligence, work with the local populace, and strike out at extremists when the time is right, it might look more like U.S. Army Special Forces.

Upon determining what you want the unit to do, you can then decide what kind of training and specialized skills it needs and the type of people that you want to populate its rank structure. Which leads us to the second step.

2. Ruthlessly assess and select candidates for Special Forces training.

Two of the SOF Truths apply here: "humans are more important than hardware; and quality is better than quantity."

Despite what one sees in the movies, it is not the specialized weapons, the night vision devices, or the beards that make a SOF operator -- it's the quality of the individual. As such, SOF cadres ruthlessly assess and select candidates for training. Applicants undergo a battery of physically and intellectually demanding events in order to determine which candidates possess the requisite characteristics of a SOF operator. Intelligence, determination, common sense, compassion, a strong moral and ethical foundation, and the ability to thrive in a chaotic and ambiguous environment are all necessary traits.

When I commanded the officer portion of the Special Forces Qualification Course, I can still remember relieving a young captain from training -- something that I hated to do -- because he was too rigid and linear in his thinking and in his approach to solving problems. Though physically imposing and with an impressive combat record in the infantry, he lacked the ability to think creatively under pressure when the situation was less defined.

Assessment and selection is not just an American thing. For example, the Iraqi National Counter Terror Forces (INCTF) commandos that I worked with were treated to a culturally attuned version of the U.S. assessment and selection process -- but keyed to getting the same results: The right guy was admitted to training. It is important to note that while American trainers started the process it was eventually (and rightly) taken over by INCTF cadres.

The point here is that whether the candidate is an American or a Libyan soldier, the clear expectation is that SOF are expected to conceptualize and solve tactically, politically, culturally, and morally complex problems with strategic or political implications -- often in a physically challenging environment.

Lastly, assessment and selection must include serious vetting of candidates to ensure that you do not end up training human rights violators or enemy infiltrators. Know who they are before you provide them with advanced military training.

3. Train the basics and master them.

A respected Special Forces officer once told me that "the reason that Special Forces soldiers are so good is that they have mastered the basics." Shooting, moving, and communicating under combat conditions require realistic training, repetition, and an adherence to high standards. And that takes time.

Take shooting, for example: In an urban environment such as Benghazi or Tripoli, it is extremely important to engage the enemy discriminately. An errant bullet might pass through a dirt wall or cardboard shanty and hit a civilian, thus increasing the chances of alienating the population that you are trying to protect and whose support you are trying to win.

To get to the point where you seldom miss your target requires immense amounts of training time and ammunition. Months, not hours or days, have to be spent on the shooting range honing one's skills.

Other basic skills like planning, reading maps, and patrolling are equally important -- and culturally neutral. No matter what nationality, you have to master the basics if you are going to play at this level. It pays huge dividends when it comes time to test those skills in battle.

4. Build in oversight mechanisms.

In building a Libyan SOF capability, it is important to ensure that the force is not used improperly. There's a credible fear that the troops trained could be used to destroy the political enemies of the ruling government -- a highly trained "goon squad" that essentially assassinates political dissidents and members of minority clans or tribes.

Equally worrisome: that the force becomes so good -- yet so unmanageable -- that they are able to stage a coup.

To prevent the misuse of this highly effective SOF capability, trainers will have to work with the Libyan government to establish control mechanisms to ensure that those targeted by the force are deserving of the violence that may be unleashed upon them.

There are numerous ways to do this in a manner that is politically, culturally, and militarily sound. They can be as simple as ensuring the force is represented by all tribes and clans and minorities of a given populace; establishing command and control procedures that make the force easy to use in a crisis and harder to use otherwise; creating a process wherein potential targets are evaluated by a political and military board to ensure its legitimacy; establishing U.S. or other allied liaison officers; maintaining financial leverage; and professionalizing their officer corps.

(Note: The U.S. Congress plays a role here too. It is they who will give approval to the U.S. military to undertake the training mission and later hold them accountable for the training that they give and the force that they help create.)

The good news, at least: we have a good track record of getting this right. The Philippines, Iraq, and Afghanistan offer tangible examples of where U.S. SOF established host-nation special operations capabilities that were well-trained and accountable.

5. Train and educate those who will enable and support the force.

From the SOF Imperatives: "Most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance." It is not enough to train the force to conduct combat operations. One must train everyone and everything that support and enable the newly created SOF.

That can mean training drivers and gunners for mechanized assault vehicles, helicopter pilots and crews, logistics and maintenance teams, civil affairs units, information operations experts, medical trauma teams -- the list goes on and on.

Training and education should extend to the conventional military units that may be required to support the SOF by cordoning off target areas, attacking supporting objectives, or providing quick reaction forces in emergency cases where extra help is needed.

Since a country's civilian authorities should direct the efforts of its military force, Libya's national-level leaders will also have to be trained to employ their SOF.

The requirement to bring other entities up to a higher standard of capacity, capability, and command and control should -- if done properly -- help increase Libya's interagency communication and professionalize more than just the SOF unit.

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Creating a SOF capability takes time -- one simply cannot take shortcuts if the end goal is a professional force that can provide protection to the populace and tailored force to the enemy. To try to build such a force too fast can result in the opposite: a unit that terrorizes the population thereby driving more members into the waiting hands of insurgents and terrorists.

If the U.S. government wants to get a Libyan unit up and running, it needs to identify what it wants the unit to do and then start assessing and selecting candidates for training. Start with the current military organizations and cull the best of the best.

Members of the U.S. Special Operations community know how to do this. It will be important for them to educate policymakers, diplomats, the U.S. Congress and -- of course -- our Libyan allies, so that expectations can be managed and success can be achieved.



The Cyber Trade War

The showdown between China and the United States over telecommunications technology is about much more than just security.

On Oct. 8, the House Select Intelligence Committee released a report on the cybersecurity threat posed by China's Huawei and ZTE, the world's second- and fourth-largest telecommunications suppliers. The report, which described the companies as potential espionage risks and asked the U.S. government and U.S. firms to refrain from doing business with them, drew an angry response from Chinese media: Xinhua, China's state news agency, called its conclusions "totally groundless" and arising out of "protectionism"; the nationalistic tabloid Global Times said the United States is becoming an "unreasonable country"; and the state-run English language newspaper China Daily labeled the accusations "unreasonable and unjustifiable." But the fear of vulnerability from foreign technology, whether reasonable or not, is as present in China as it is in the United States -- now more than ever.

The threats China sees from dependence on foreign telecommunications, software, and hardware suppliers echo many of the concerns raised in the House report: both countries fear that dependence on foreign technology makes them vulnerable to spying and threatens network security and economic development. According to an April 2012 article in Outlook Weekly, a  Xinhua publication, 90 percent of China's microchips, components, network equipment, communications standards and protocols, as well as 65 percent of firewalls, encryption technology, and 10 other types of information security products rely on imported technology. Foreign producers also dominate the market for programmable logic controllers, devices used to control manufacturing and other industrial processes. As a result, "all core technologies are basically in the hands of U.S. companies, and this provides perfect conditions for the U.S. military to carry out cyber warfare and cyber deterrence," according to a January article in the military newspaper China Defense.

Beijing has long strived to limit the use of foreign technology and develop indigenous alternatives. The "Regulations for the Administration of Commercial Encryption," implemented in 1999, require government approval for the manufacturing, sale, use, import or export of any product containing encryption, restricting the use of foreign encryption technology within China. Introduced in 2007 by the Ministry of Public Security, the "Multi-Level Protection Scheme" prohibits non-Chinese companies from supplying the core products used by the government and banking, transportation, and other critical infrastructure companies. And the May 2010 Chinese "Compulsory Certification for Information Security Scheme" forces foreign companies wishing to sell to the Chinese government to disclose their intellectual property for security products.

But it's China's over-reliance on pirated goods that makes it extra-susceptible to security breaches. Chinese software companies have been unable to develop competitive products, and as a result Chinese users pirate software from foreign companies. Because stolen software is not updated automatically by the producer, and users rarely patch on their own, it's easier to hack. In October 2008, when Chinese users with pirated copies of Windows on their computers downloaded a new Windows upgrade, their screens went black. The blackout screen could be turned off but returned every hour with a reminder to buy legitimate products. Chinese netizens were enraged at the intrusion, and many Chinese policymakers were suddenly presented with the unpleasant truth that a U.S. company was controlling computers inside their country. As Tang Lan, an expert in information security at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, wrote in a February 2012 article in China Daily about the incident, "It's right to attack piracy, but the incident also exposed China's online vulnerability to high-tech intrusion from overseas."

Beijing has been working to reduce the use of pirated software, especially in government offices. As part of a 2012 national anti-piracy campaign, the government spent $156.9 million on legitimate operating system licenses, office software, anti-virus, and other special-purpose software. Overall, the proportion of China's personal computers with pirated software installed fell from 92 percent in 2003 to 77 percent in 2011. Government ministries and state-owned industries, however, are still not immune to the lure of pirated software: In September 2012, Microsoft asked the Chinese government to stop the country's largest energy company, China National Petroleum Corporation, and three other state-owned enterprises from using pirated software.

Chinese analysts also worry that as the People's Liberation Army becomes increasingly dependent on computer and communication networks, it will become more vulnerable to cyberattacks. As evidence of the threat, Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China's Ministry of Science and Technology, claimed in an Oct 14 article that the United States sold virus-laden computers to Iraq via France prior to the Gulf War in order to paralyze its air defense system (an allegation that has never been confirmed). The article says the result was a "soft knife without spilling blood" -- meaning an attack that causes undetectable harm, and implies that the United States could perform a similar attack against China. The Stuxnet virus, which the United States and Israel reportedly used to attack the Iranian nuclear program, has reinforced the Chinese perception of vulnerability and of the United States' willingness to use cyber weapons.

Foreign attacks on China's networks could also threaten domestic stability, the maintenance of which is Beijing's top priority. China must have its "own discourse on cyberspace," wrote Liu Zengliang of Beijing's National Defense University in an August 2011 cover story in the state-owned People's Tribune, and so must master the "integrated trio of video, voice, and data" and fully exploit technology like cellphones, blogs, podcasts, and microblogs to disseminate its message and restrict foreigners from influencing public opinion within China. A December 2011 article on the military website China Military Online argues that "online games, online shopping, and online movies, etc., which represent new online industry models, are also influencing people's lifestyles and systems of values, and are becoming important components in seizing strategic high ground for the dissemination of information online." The goal is not only to block Twitter, Google, and other foreign social-networking sites, but to ensure that the hardware and software that enables their Chinese competitors is also secure.

Keeping out foreign companies and growing domestic ones also helps China avoid a technology trap, where Chinese producers dominate at the labor-intensive, low-value end of production while paying expensive royalties to Japanese, European, and U.S. patent owners.

The House report will likely reinforce the existing policy dynamic of distrust and protectionism, instead of a cooperative and transparent inspection process for information technology that would be beneficial for both countries. Chinese entrepreneur and activist Fang Xingdong argues in an October article in the technology journal Communications Weekly, that China's response to the House report should be to "study the United States and establish an even more open, fair, and impartial security investigation mechanism so that we can use their standards to protect the interests of Chinese companies."

The Chinese government is unlikely to follow Fang's advice and the House report dismisses suggestions for a global, transparent inspection system as insufficient and overly complicated. The result: a wave of protectionism that harms both sides.