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Special Forces

The U.S. Special Forces were created in the 1950s, and were beefed up by the Kennedy Administration to serve as elite soldiers who could be quickly deployed into any situation, engage in unconventional warfare and direct action including assassinations, train foreign regular or irregular forces, and specialize in covert or "black" operations.
The foreign training ensures that US military doctrine is disseminated among allies and that the allies can destroy their internal enemy. As specialists of counterinsurgency training, Special Forces have taught foreign troops psychological operations, including counter-terror and jungle warfare, among many topics.

In addition to the Army Rangers and the Green Berets, there are also the Delta Force Army counter-terrorism group, the Navy's SEALs, and an Air Force detachment all under the Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in Tampa, Florida. USSOCOM in turn reports to the Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Warfare (SOLIC) in the Pentagon.

Read about Special Forces activity in Iraq at Between The Lines:

"Preemptive Manhunting: The CIA's New Assassination Program"
Vietnam War Era-style "Phoenix" Assassination Program Implemented in U.S.-Occupied Iraq

Listen in RealAudio:

Interview with Douglas Valentine,
author of "The Phoenix Program,"
conducted by Scott Harris

Despite the capture of Saddam Hussein, the insurgency challenging U.S. occupation forces in Iraq continues. Suicide bombings and assaults on American-led coalition troops and their Iraqi allies took the lives of 19 in Karbala, a city holy to Shiite Muslims, over the Christmas holiday.

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. counteroffensive against guerrillas attacking occupation troops -- code-named "Operation Iron Hammer" -- has been successful in capturing weapons and arresting some of those accused of organizing resistance. But investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in a recent New Yorker magazine article that another American covert operation is targeting for assassination members of the deposed Ba'athist regime and other civilians thought to support the insurgency.

This secret operation described as "pre-emptive man-hunting" -- run, according to Hersh, by the U.S. Army's Special Forces -- is strikingly similar to the Vietnam-era CIA-run Phoenix Program that assassinated more than 25,000 political supporters of the Communist insurgency fighting to topple the U.S. supported South Vietnamese government. This revelation comes not long after Max Boot of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a New York Times editorial in November advocating that the U.S. adopt illegal assassination operations like Phoenix in Iraq. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Douglas Valentine, author of the book "The Phoenix Program," who discusses America's counterinsurgency program in Iraq and the parallels with the CIA's covert assassination operations during the Vietnam War.

Douglas Valentine: The planning for this counterinsurgency has been going on for ten years, and the evidence of that planning was the constant pressure for the search for weapons of mass destruction, the "no fly zones," and covert action programs which were conducted by the CIA inside Iraq starting in 1991 and which have been ongoing right up until the point of the invasion. So, the planning and strategizing for this insurgency has been elaborate and I think it's very well thought out. I don't think it's really comparable to what happened in Vietnam. I think in Vietnam, the United States learned how to fight a counter insurgency (campaign) and I think that in Iraq they're going to be applying all the lessons that they learned in Vietnam.

Between The Lines: Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations recommended (on the op-ed page of the New York Times) that the U.S. adopt tactics used during the Vietnam war, such as the Phoenix program where the CIA assassinated an estimated 26,000 supporters of the communist insurgency there. So, what do you think of this kind of
advice? I don't think this was any kind of "off the top of the head " flippant remark; it was very well thought out -- and certainly being discussed, I would imagine, in the elite circles of the U.S. military and in the White House as well.

Douglas Valentine: Absolutely. The timing of the Boot article is very interesting. It came out in November, and then a couple of weeks later, Seymour Hersh broke a story in The New Yorker Magazine saying that a copy of the Phoenix program had been launched in Iraq. This all seemed to me very well-timed and part of a concerted psychological warfare
program that's being waged by the Bush administration to acclimate the American public to the kind of abuses the Phoenix program will generate, by making it seem urgently needed, also popular and moral.

Between The Lines: Well, how do you respond to the notion that something like an updated Phoenix program could be effective in the U.S. being victorious over this insurgency which not many people in Washington really know the origin of, who's involved and where it's headed?

Douglas Valentine: It was not effective in Vietnam, because the Vietnamese won the war, OK? It was effective in killing a lot of innocent people and it was effective in terrorizing a lot of people. But as a means of winning the counterinsurgency, it failed in Vietnam. What Boot is counting on is that people aren't familiar with the terms Phoenix and Kit Carson Scouts and it's a bit of disinformation to say that they were successful.

Between The Lines: Summarize briefly what the U.S. military and the CIA undertook in Vietnam for the now infamous Phoenix program?

Douglas Valentine: The CIA concocted the Phoenix program all by itself in 1966 and 1967; it went into effect in 1967. What it did -- it was the CIA's plan to win the counterinsurgency by assassinating and otherwise terrorizing the political opposition of the puppet government of Vietnam into submission.

That's what happening in Iraq right now. The CIA is working both with the official Iraqis it's put in place and it's working covertly through assassination teams that are formed out of, very often, just goon squads or in this case lots of Shiites going after Sunnis and Kurds going after Sunnis and everybody going after the members of the Ba'ath party, which
has been outlawed. So that's sort of what 's happening and in Iraq, the military is covering for these CIA operations.

Between The Lines: But in this kind of assassination program there is the possibility, is there not, that there could be innocents killed -- as was certainly the case in Vietnam -- and that could actually fuel the fires of anger at the United States occupation forces and feed into the insurgency and resistance?

Douglas Valentine: And that's what's happening in Iraq right now. That is a fact. And it's being reported periodically. The Phoenix program assassinations have been ongoing in Iraq for months if not for years.

Between The Lines: Douglas Valentine, I know neither you nor I have a crystal ball here, but as you look at the insurgency and the U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq do you see a long war -- do you see something that might be over within a year, or are we looking at a quagmire such as Vietnam or some call it a sand trap?

Douglas Valentine: Yeah, what we're looking at is Israel-Palestine. Iraq is going to be America's Palestine. There's going to be settlements, American sort of settlements being built. They're going to be industrial settlements. They're going to be built by Halliburton, Shell and Exxon. There are going to be walled compounds that are going to be secured by
Iraqis, who have joined in with the American occupation forces just like the Vichy French did with the Nazis.

And it can go on forever. It can go on as long -- as long as they can keep the American public in the dark, they will be there.