If the Devil does exist, and man has therefore created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness
Keith Pace, a Sergeant in the Green Berets, was stationed deep in the Philippine bush in a base only accessible after a march through a mangrove swamp and a triple-canopied rainforest. He was keeping something of a busy schedule.
Pace, a medic, and the rest of his Special Forces A-Team had gone to work in the thick mosquito-rich overgrowth rebuilding a mosque and organizing biweekly medical clinics in as many of the local villages as they could, treating everything from trauma wounds to toothaches to malaria to strokes. It was territory Ramzi Yousef and Uncle KSM would’ve felt plenty comfortable in, as it was rife with members of Abu Sayyaf, the fundamentalist militant group with close ties to Osama bin Ladin mentioned earlier when the boondocks were discussed. Those ties are why Sergeant Pace came to be stationed in Basilan, a strategic island thick with Philippine jungle, in the first place.
After the attacks of 9/11 the U.S. military launched Operation Enduring Freedom, which actually had two fronts. Although most Americans were only aware of the more publicized one – removing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The second front, disrupting the Abu Sayyaf’s operations in the Philippines and severing its ties with Al Qaeda, was run almost exclusively by the American Special Operations Command. The Special Operations Command is in charge of all American Special Forces, and was the command that had ordered Sergeant Pace into Basilan’s dense and sweaty flora.
Unlike the front being opened against the Taliban, the one being run in the Philippines “would be accomplished less by military actions than by an unusual kind of humanitarian assistance program.”1 This same sort of unusual humanitarian assistance program was being integrated in with more regular military action in Afghanistan, but since the Abu Sayyaf had nothing of the Taliban’s centralized authority the American command saw no need for wide-scale regular military action, and planned to use only this type of irregular action in the Philippines.
Another, broader name for this sort of irregular action, usually punctuated by unusual humanitarian assistance programs, is a counterinsurgency. And just as the Green Berets actively built rapport with indigenous warlords in Afghanistan in an effort to make them better trained and more effective at fighting the Taliban in their counterinsurgency there, in the Philippines the Green Berets also sought to serve as a “spine doctor” by trying to “put some backbone into the Manila authorities so they would better take care of their own people.”2
Crucial to the irregular humanitarian assistance program was accurate intelligence. To gain this, the Green Berets first conducted a series of population surveys, unique in that they had a “concrete, cut-to-the-chase quality about them that is uncommon in academia.” The only information about the people of Basilan the Green Berets were interested in was that which would help them kill or drive out the Abu Sayyaf. Because the Abu Sayyaf, operating as an insurgent State Shell on the island, was strongest where government services and infrastructure was the weakest, the first missions for the Green Berets were digging wells and building roads, constructing piers, and clearing airstrips. In a sense, beginning to construct their own State Shell to counter the one being developed by the Abu Sayyaf.
The whole point of this was to leave behind infrastructure that would benefit the civilian population once they left, and for the time being lure the civilian population into closer contact with the Green Berets and the national Philippine army troops integrated with them. And once locals were lured in, they were hooked by the guarantee of free medical and dental clinics. At these clinics the strongest rapport was formed and that the most actionable intelligence was gathered as “villagers casually volunteered information about the insurgents while their children were being treated for scabies, malaria, meningitis, and having their teeth pulled.”3
And it was at one of these clinics that Sergeant Pace was faced with an extremely dire case. A seven-year-old girl had been brought to his clinic with an advanced case of spinal meningitis. Out in the middle of – quite literally – the boondocks, with no modern treatments available to the medic, the girl seemed sure to die. But Sergeant Pace came up with a solution, one which was as practical and American as it was allegorical for the counterinsurgency he was attempting to foment.
i i i
The concept of Special Forces, brought into the modern era by Ned and the Jeds and godfathered by Gideon, has undergone countless permutations since. Many of these developments likely went undocumented by history, as they have been lumped into the framework of the wider wars they occurred within and gone largely overlooked.
Assasins and Zealots occupy something of a bloody gray-area, since their operations were the actions of one or two individuals – hardly Forces. And because they acted in societies that were so very different from ours in terms of culture and communication, it’s difficult to draw more than loose parallels from their exploits. Besides, they never operated on a modern battlefield, or within the auspices of any regular war, unlike other old-school Special Forces who serve as more direct martial ancestors to our modern equivalent.
At the head of this class was Alexander the Great, who used “speed, leverage, stealth, new kinds of skills and people, all faster, subtler, and stranger as the years went by” in his pioneering of unconventional warfare waged by Special Forces.4 Unconventional warfare, as defined by Tom Clancy – the closest thing to a Homer we’ve got now – “is hard to pin down… [but] primarily involves operations different from the conventional fires and movement of massed troops,” and is “performed by small, highly trained units.”5 Alexander not only developed “mountain units, amphibious siege trains, stone-hurling catapults, and light troops prepared specially against such of the age’s heavy-weapons systems as battle elephants,” but was “one of the most effective captains of commando detachments ever” and excelled in “taking the seemingly impervious mountain redoubt, striking into the worst parts of his enemies’ harshest regions, making a specialty of winter campaigns, and conducting night attacks.”6
He even once used a troupe of delightfully scantily-clad dancing girls to grappa-up a Persian garrison commander, who they then sunk their hidden daggers into before he could sink anything into them.