With the current Global War on Terror going on for the past 15 years it has become evident that ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been long drawn out and costly, with poorly defined enemies and goals and objectives. After the withdraw of major combat forces from Iraq and Afghanistan a new strategy has been developed in combating terrorist groups. Instead of sending 50,000 to 100,000 troops US forces develop good relationships with local leaders both military and civilian and arm supply train and advise them to combat the threats on the ground at times with assistance from Special operations Forces, while being supported by air power both manned and unmanned. This strategy started out in Iraq and Syria against ISIS in 2014 and later in Afghanistan and the results have been positive. It is important to understand the roles each element play in these types of operations
The first step is advisors. The purpose of advisors are to train equip and build relationships for local forces whether it’s a state military force like the Afghan National Army or Iraqi Army or a non state paramilitary force such as the Kurdish Peshemerga and SDF. Advisors can train these forces how to use their own weapons or American and NATO weapons as well as teach them tactics to better succeed on the battlefield. As a result local ground forces can perform similarly to US ground forces and act as force multipliers against the enemy. In order for advisory operations to be successful advisors must have a base of operations and be backed up by a substantial force protection element. As a result a company to battalion size level of soldiers must be deployed to protect the advisors from enemy attack. This has been done in Iraq and Afghanistan in situations like Syria Special Operations forces operate under a low profile and act as their own force protection. Advisors have been helpful in rebuilding the fractured Iraqi army and allowing Iraq’s lost cities to be retaken by state forces instead of paramilitaries as what is being done in Mosul.
The second phase is the use of air power. Air power has been a tool of fighting war since World War 1 and has developed into the primary form of military action conducted by modern military forces. Air power can come in the form of RPAs (Drones) using hellfire laser guided missiles or in the form of fast fighter jets such as F-16s. A combination is usually the most effective. Air power allows US forces to attack targets from the safety of the skies. Terrorist forces such as IS and AQ do not have advanced air defense capabilities to threaten fixed wing platforms allowing them to operate freely in their airspace with absolute superiority. Airstrikes can support local ground forces as well as be used in pinpoint strikes against terrorist leaders and command and control. Air power is often the most available option for any strike against terrorist forces. UAVs such as Predators and Reapers can loiter over the target area for hours without having to return to base or refuel while fast jets like the F-16 can be on target in less then an hour. In the Middle East and South Asia the US currently can respond to terrorist threats with airpower using their Aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea as well as bases in the UAE, Djibouti and Qatar. Airpower’s only downside is it can be hard to identify certain threats as enemies might hide among civilian populations and with the explosive power from modern air to surface weapons civilian casualties can happen. As a result airpower is effective but has its limits.
Special Operations forces are another option in counter terror and insurgency operations overseas. American units that fall under JSOC such as DEVGRU (Seal Team 6) and 1stSOF(Delta Force) are directly under the command of the president as well as units under USSOCAM such as the Navy Seals ,Green Berets and MARSOC all can be used for these task. Each unit has its own unique capability yet they are all responsible for direct action operations. Unlike regular ground forces Special Operations force receive training to allow them to operate in small units behind enemy lines for prolonged periods of time. If there is a threat to risky to attack from the air or to far out of reach for local forces SOF units usually will take on this mission. SOF are also used to rescue hostages and downed airman. In both operations against IS in Iraq and Syria as well as those in Afghanistan Special Operations force have taken a leading role in taken out command structure and at times advising local forces. Special operations will be employed to prevent friendly fire and civilian casualties by directing air support. The advanced training of Special Operations forces and makes them less susceptible to causalities making counter terror and insurgency operations less costly.
The combination of Airpower, advisors backing local forces and Special operations forces have proven successful at weakening IS and AQ without the risk and cost of US boots on the ground and a major ground war. This posture allows US and Coalition forces to continually operate against terrorist threats around the world at short notice and for a sustained period of time.