How The Secret Force That Killed Bin Laden Is Changing The Way America Fights Wars


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By now, everyone has heard of SEAL Team Six, the special ops forces that killed the world’s most wanted terrorist.The team, formally known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DevGru, is part of the Joint Special Operations Command, the U.S. military’s most elite fighting force.

JSOC is technically supposed to be a secret. Although presidents have a hard time keeping it under wraps, the team remains one of the most fearsome and mysterious elements in the U.S. national security apparatus.

In this week’s National Journal cover story, Marc Ambinder illuminates how the all-star special ops force – sometimes known as “Murder, Incorporated” – came into being and how it is shaping the way the U.S. fights its wars.

Here are the highlights:

  • JSOC was formed in 1980 after the Iran hostage debacle. Although it is officially part of the U.S. Special Operations Command and answers to the Pentagon, JSOC is, in reality, the president’s secret counterterrorism army.
  • JSOC’s missions are classified and are not subject to Congressional notification, unlike CIA operations.
  • Since its formation, JSOC has fought a secret war against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s, engaging with the guards in at least three countries, developed contingency plans to protect Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event of a coup, and helped Colombia dismantle the drug trafficking organisations that finance Hezbollah.
  • Under the Obama and Bush administrations, JSOC has virtually been given carte blanche to do whatever it takes to keep Al Qaeda networks from regenerating or expanding. Its operations were ramped up by Donald Rumsfeld in 2003 and further expanded under the Al Qaida Network Exord, signed by General David Petraeus when he was commander of CENTCOM in 2010. 
  • The unit has changed asymmetric warfare by bringing intelligence capabilities to the battlefield. The special ops forces work like crime scene investigators, using forensics and highly classified intelligence equipment to stay ahead of Al Qaeda and get inside terrorist and insurgent networks.
  • JSOC sets up fusion centres that allow it to process intel as soon as it is found. The special forces work in the same room as intelligence analysts, and uses military surveillance and reconnaissance to act on information immediately. 

  • JSOC’s intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, will soon take over as Director of National Intelligence to spread his techniques for gathering quick and efficient tactical intel throughout the rest of the U.S. intelligence community.

Gen. Flynn’s new role – combined with CIA Director’s Leon Panetta’s move to the Pentagon and Gen. Petraeus’ move to Langley – further blur the lines between military and intelligence and indicate a major shift in U.S. national security strategy. JSOC could be the key to understanding what that strategy will look like.

DON’T MISS: How the U.S. Killed Osama Bin Laden