News: U.S. Special Forces leave lasting impact on ISOF counter-terrorism force
Story by Sgt. Jeff Ledesma
BAGHDAD — In light of Iraq's recent decrease in violence and influx of stability, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) Soldiers were able to assist their Iraqi Special Operations Forces brothers in making great strides in their counter-terrorism operations.
Soldiers with the Company C, 1st Battalion, contributed in the transformation of their Iraqi counterparts from simply a "strike force" into a more comprehensive counter-terrorism organization.
While assigned to Special Operations Task Force — Central, the Green Berets were able to accomplish this with, what the company commander called, aggressive Foreign Internal Defense.
"We're going to teach them what they need to know, tell them what they should be doing and we're not going to be shy about it," said the commander while explaining his aggressive mentoring philosophy. "I didn't come here to overwatch. I came here to advise."
According to the Department of Defense, FID is the participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization to protect its society from subversion, lawlessness and insurgency.
The commander explained it is one of the five key missions in the Special Forces community.
This time around, the U.S. element saw a different Iraq, a country with fewer rebels, amplified law and order and an increasingly fractured insurgency.
"The environment in Iraq had changed significantly from the last time we were here," the commander said. "It seemed pretty clear that the tide had turned."
He went on to explain that the surge of troops, the Sunni Awakening, also known as the Sons of Iraq, and the Baghdad Security Plan, were clearly making a noticeable difference.
Sending a strong statement to insurgents
Nonetheless, terrorist groups still existed throughout Iraq.
Within the unit's first month here, the group of Green Berets and their Iraqi partners dismantled an up-and-coming insurgent group by targeting its key leaders.
With less than 30 days on the ground they had already sent a strong statement to the insurgent group by hitting dozens of high-value targets.
"These missions had an undeniable effect on the network and led directly to the reconciliation of [the terrorist network]," the commander stated in a report.
The company sergeant major said he considered the missions successful because the insurgent network saw the effects the Iraqi Special Operations Forces' commandos and Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force, both battalions within the ISOF brigade, were having which quickly convinced them to reconcile with the government of Iraq.
In the reconciliation process, the U.S. and Iraqi government reached out to select former insurgents and tried to convince them to lay down their arms and enter the legitimate political process.
"This idea manifested itself in the Sons of Iraq program, where Sunni tribal leaders helped us turn their tribal members from insurgents to [citizens] contributing to the security of Iraq," explained the ISOF planner with Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force — Arabian Peninsula.
While ground forces continued to project a sense of stability into the region, American and government of Iraq officials finalized an agreement concerning the continued presence of U.S. combat forces on Iraqi soil.
The U.S. and Iraq Security Agreement, which was signed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, came into effect in January, which in addition to laying out U.S. withdrawal guidelines, required warrants to arrest suspected terrorists.
The ISOF planner stated that many people were unclear on how the Security Agreement would affect the operational climate.
However, now that ground forces have been operating in that framework for a few months, the impact it is having is much more transparent.
"It has implemented a legal framework for the ISOF to conduct operations," said the ISOF planner with CJSOTF-AP. "We have to get warrants [and] we have to think about follow-on prosecution."
With the changes implemented by the U.S. and Iraqi agreement and the decreasing violence, it was an ideal time for the counter-terrorism mentality to change as well.
A time for learning
During the deployment, the battlefield was relatively quiet and its silence was only broken by a few sporadic firefights. As a result of that relative calm, the unit's efforts shifted to their primary mission — to conduct counter-terrorism FID with ISOF.
"We saw it as a window of opportunity to conduct heavy work on our Foreign Internal Defense mission," said the commander while considering the current conditions in Iraq. "We had that window and we seized it."
The unit was able to take a fresh look at the new security environment in Iraq, according to the commander, and apply its FID skills developed from years of counter- insurgency operations around the globe to the current needs of this critical U.S. Central Command fight.
For the duration of the company's tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the "Quiet Professionals" implemented the "Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze and Develop," or F3EAD, methodology.
As the primary outline for today's insurgent capturing operations, the F3EAD is an aggressive targeting model that focuses on the incorporation of both intelligence and tactical missions aimed toward crippling counter-terrorist networks.
The ISOF Soldiers with the assistance of their U.S. counterparts learned how to find a target using accurate and reliable intelligence. After further narrowing down of the location, they "fix" their sights on the exact position of the suspected insurgent, which allows them to "finish" or capture the target.
The commander pointed out that the success of the finish step comes not from taking one "bad guy" off the streets, but the information that can be gained in the process.
During the "exploit" and "analyze" sections of the model, intelligence is collected and critically examined which brings the cycle full circle with new leads.
According to the commander, the need to add the "D" for "develop" to the original F3EA targeting model for the new security arrangement.
According to a report, the target development aspect of the F3EAD tactic ensures that warrants are obtained and targeted individuals have supporting intelligences to facilitate accurate execution and capture of the correct individual.
The commander stressed that an effective counter-terrorism force is about getting the right people and not the number of people.
"That is how you defeat terrorism," he claimed. "It's not about the numbers."
In addition to the targeting methodology, the U.S. element was able to focus on teaching the ISOF counter-terrorism element how to train, how to plan for future operations and how to improve communication.
The targeting process of the ISOF counter-terrorism component has reached a higher level of sophistication in comparison to a couple of months ago, according to the commander.
Rescuing kidnap victims
As 2009 began, tragedies occurred in the form of kidnappings and it was time to put the learned methodology into action.
An 11 year-old boy's disappearance was brought to the attention of the ICTF Soldiers when his distraught father phoned asking for assistance.
"It's a little disheartening the prevalence of kidnap-for-ransom cases here in Iraq," the senior non-commissioned officer said.
Consequently, both U.S. and Iraqi Soldiers became passionate about the search-and-rescue mission to bring the child home to his family, recalled the sergeant major. "Knowing that at any moment he could lose his life — that was the driving force for most of us," he added.
The commander said he taught the ICTF and commando soldiers that each person they talk with, each detainee they question and every document they obtain is a part of the network puzzle and it's their job to put those pieces together.
With time winding down, each day the Iraqi soldiers searched homes, gathered intelligence and started to piece together the network.
Although the combined force initially thought they were going after a small-scale kidnapping ring, they were wrong. They had uncovered a large-scale terrorist network with suspected financing and money laundering ties to insurgency groups.
After a final 13-hour mission, the ICTF Soldiers found the child and returned him safely to the arms of his father.
Almost there, but not quite
Despite the ups and downs, an undeniable fact remains — progress has been made.
The commander said he believes his ISOF partners have made tremendous improvements and have evolved to what they are today.
"It was very difficult. It didn't happen overnight and there were some days we took two steps forward and three steps back," the commander said. However, he added, they now realize the significance of exploiting, analyzing and developing when it comes to counter-terrorism victory.
"That's our biggest success imparting that methodology to them and making them understand what a real counter-terrorism force does," the commander claimed.
One of the commander's proudest moments was when he experienced the ISOF counter-terrorism element completely take control of an operation against al-Qaida in Iraq in western Baghdad.
"The recognized it as a threat and they chose to attack it," he said.
After several objectives, according to the commander, they took the time to develop the targeting packet and analyze the gathered intelligence.
"That's the improvement," he said. "They know they're onto something here; they know they are on the road to success."
Although positive strides have been made, both the commander and the sergeant major agree, there is still work ahead.
"There are still many issues and they are far from perfect," the sergeant major explained. "However, we have taken the football to the 20 yard line and we will pass it to the next group who will take it another five yards."
With steps forward being taken each day, this group of elite Soldiers have made an impact on the ISOF element that once known only as a "strike force."
"Those before us have built and we had honed a fine sword," said the commander.