Thomas Wictor

Special forces versus forces capable of special operations

Special forces versus forces capable of special operations

Last night I had my second interaction on Twitter with a man who claims to be a former member of the US Army Special Forces. He’s upset at me for using the term “special forces” to describe the 150,000 troops trained by Saudi Arabia to intervene in Syria (and Iran). I had to block the guy months ago; last night he opened a new Twitter account to again have the argument that made me block him in the first place.

Here’s how he argues.

“What you’re saying is not true. I lived it in the Middle East, while you’re writing about it from California. What you’re saying is not true. I lived it in the Middle East, while you’re writing about it from California. What you’re saying is not true. I lived it in the Middle East, while you’re writing about it from California. What you’re saying is not true. I lived it in the Middle East, while you’re writing about it from California.”

He answers no questions, such as, “How many Mauritanian troops went to Saudi Arabia in 2015? What makes the Senegalese bataillons de reconnaissance et d’appui unique? How many Emirati Presidential Guardsmen were landed in Crater, Yemen, on May 2, 2015?”

American veterans of special-operations units can learn a lot about civility from their Arab and Israeli counterparts.

Special? Prove it

I’m not a member of any “community,” so I’m not bound by the rules of a single organization on earth. For the convenience of readers, I use the term “special forces.” This is a partial list of how many terms I’d have to use in order to please every precious “community.”

special forces unit
commando unit
boarding party
paratroop unit
rescue swimming unit
fixed-wing aviation unit
rotary wing aviation unit
marine unit
hunter unit
task force
reconnaissance unit
ski unit
counterterrorism unit
presidential guard
royal guard
mountain unit
light infantry unit
border guard unit
ranger unit
intelligence paramilitary unit
rapid response unit
rapid intervention unit
naval special warfare unit
pathfinder unit
intervention unit
special purpose unit
special mission unit
combat search and rescue unit
military police unit
pararescue unit

All of the above are dedicated to special operations, depending on the country.

The international troops who began arriving in Saudi Arabia have been trained in unconventional warfare. Only the Pakistanis have identified the units they sent. They’re all commandos.



In the Pakistani army, each corps has a commando battalion, and there’s also the Special Services Group (SSG), the main special-operations unit. The photo below shows a Turk, a member of the Pakistani SSG, and Afghan commandos training in Ankara.


The Pakistani SSG is called both special forces and commandos. Did the world explode in a ball of smelly flames because of that?

King Salman’s bodyguard is a brigadier general of the Royal Saudi Guard Regiment.


The regiment is light infantry, and it wears a bright-green beret. However, the general wears the black beret of the Saudi Special Forces, and he has jump wings, indicating that he was trained as a paratrooper. What do we call the bodyguard? His sleeve patch identifies him as Royal Saudi Guard Regiment, but his beret and jump wings identify him as Special Forces.

Voilà! He’s a Guardsman who received Special Forces training. How hard was that to figure out? Therefore if he were to go to war in Syria, it would be accurate to call him special forces, not Special Forces.

This blog isn’t special

All I do here is blather. It’s fun. What I don’t need is people telling me what to write. When Pierre Rehov made his documentary about the Gaza war of 2014, he demanded that I find an American special-operations veteran to confirm my theory about the Hamas deception operation that resulted in the murders of Ismail Bakr, Mohammed Bakr, Ahed Bakr, and Zakaria Bakr. I didn’t want to, because I knew what would happen.

The American “special-operations community” is closed to outsiders. I contacted ten different former special operators who all agreed to talk to Rehov, and none followed through. It was 100 percent predictable. I have no pedigree, I’m trespassing on hallowed ground, and I’m showing utterly grotesque familiarity by daring to approach these paladins.

Well, I’m sorry. In World War I, American troops who had experienced combat said that they had “seen the elephant.” I’ve seen the elephant in ways that very few people have. How many special operators were forced to go on missions when they were three years old? There’s no “community” for me. Not even the human race.

So now, after I’ve cobbled together the barest semblance of normality and found something that gives me pleasure, I’m getting grief from supposed professional warriors because I’m not using the right terms?

I’ll say it again: Go learn some manners from Arabs and Israelis.

Special forces do special things

Another reason that I use the term “special forces” to describe the 150,000 troops who the Saudis have trained is that these men are not going to fight a conventional war. They’re going to infiltrate secretly, and they’ll fight out of view of the cameras. Since they’ve been given specialized training and will use new weapons and new methods, they are special forces. They’re like King Salman’s bodyguard.

This idea is a century old. By the end of World War I, the German army had trained every single man to fight the way that the specialized assault units had fought. Each German soldier was trained to be a member of the special forces. In this way, entire divisions became special-forces units. Even middle-aged Home Guard became specialists in horrendously violent close combat.


The problem with having small, dedicated special-forces units is that when they’re killed, you lose the best members of your military. On August 6, 2011, an American CH-47 Chinook helicopter transport was shot down in Tangi Valley, Wardak Province, Afghanistan.


All 38 men on board were killed. Of these, 15 were Navy SEALs who belonged to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). Two more were Navy SEALs from an unidentified unit, five more were Naval Special Warfare support personnel, and three more were members of the Air Force Special Operations Command.

DEVGRU has about 200 members. Losing 15 was a calamity. They represented 75 years’ worth of training; the loss of their collective experience is incalculable.

The Saudis decided to train a very large number of troops in unconventional warfare. Saudi Arabia has the money and facilities, and the men she chose were already extremely skilled. Maybe envy is making Americans belittle this effort. Fine. I don’t suffer from that particular deficit, so I can’t empathize. The “experts” say that the Saudis are bluffing and are incapable of intervening in Syria.

Good. Though I find it inconceivable, the world is truly blind. That benefits the side I support.

A special operator speaks

The final reason that I use the term “special forces”: It’s accurate.

I think an operator is someone who has mastered the basics, who knows infantry tactics frontwards and back, but has polished their skills well beyond shooting, moving, and communicating. An operator is more than possessing a certain skill set. An operator is someone who carries with them the wisdom that comes with experience and maturity.

The operator is someone who can be deployed as a singleton and trusted to do his job with minimal or no supervision. You can send him into denied areas to conduct low visibility operations and you can also trust that he will abort the mission rather than take unnecessary risks that could get that mission compromised.

The operator is also a quiet professional. He doesn’t feel the need to brag or compare himself to other soldiers.

—Jack Murphy
US Army Ranger and Special Forces Weapons Sergeant (ret)

They’re already in Syria. We don’t know who they are or what they’re doing.


However, they’re mopping the earth with those who need to be used as mops.

So don’t tell me that “special forces” is a “term of art” reserved for only a few.

Maybe in your world, but not in mine.

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