Wanted: More ‘Lawrences of Afghanistan’ and Female Special Operators

2/7/2011
By Stew Magnuson
U.S. Special Operations Command is ramping up a program to deploy teams of female “cultural support teams” in order to gain better insight into local populations, Adm. Eric Olson, commander of U.S. SOCOM, said Feb. 8.
Special operations forces have seen remarkable improvements to three key areas since 9/11 — “shooting, moving and communicating,” Olson said. Now the command must concentrate on “understanding,” he said.
“In the places where we are going, frankly, we didn’t always know what we were doing was right. We were unable to reliably and accurately predict the effects of what we were doing because we didn’t understand deeply the places where we were,” he said at the National Defense Industrial Association Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference in Washington, D.C.  
Project Lawrence, the command’s attempt to infuse its ranks with in cultural and language specialists, is inspired by the British officer T.E. Lawrence, who successfully mounted an irregular warfare campaign against Turkish forces in the Arabian Peninsula in World War I.
SOCOM is looking for the next Lawrence of Pakistan, Lawrence of Afghanistan, Lawrence of Mali or Lawrence of Indonesia, he said.
“It’s enormously valuable when you can find those kind of people because they are key to understanding a place,” he said.
It’s much better if the command can recruit candidates for the program who already have these skills, he said.
Yet it is difficult to develop such specialists in the construct of the military promotion system, he said. So more often than not, they have to train special operators who don’t come from these countries or cultures in the local customs and languages.
“You don’t get the sense of a place if you can’t look at it through the lens of that language,” Olson added.
The all-female cultural support teams are attached to tactical units, he said.
“There is no denying that their primary value is that they’re female,” he said. They are trained in many advanced skills and, most importantly, have access to the 50 percent of the population that male special operators often can’t reach, he added.
“The understanding that we are able to gain through them has become enormously valuable,” Olson said.
As far as technology is concerned, the “shooting, moving, communicating” realms have made strides in the past 10 years, he said.
Special operators are more mobile than ever before, and there have been some improvements to weaponry, he said.
“The real growth — the sea change movement since 9/11— has been our ability to communicate,” Olson said. “We have placed networks on the battlefield with truly powerful effects.” The instantaneous communication, the ability to change targets on the way to an objective, the ability to sort out who is good and who is bad, and receiving biometric feedback in just a few minutes have all combined to create this revolution, he said.
“It has changed how we do warfare,” he said.
The aforementioned “understanding” must follow the shooting, moving and communicating, he said. “You can shoot, you can move, you can network the battlefield, but how do you then know what you’re doing is right?”

Topics: Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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