America's fittest young men leave for battle

Andrew Buncombe,Florida
Wednesday 19 February 2014 03:25
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There have been no fanfares and no special announcements, but across America the secret soldiers that will head the strikes against terrorism are heading off to war.

At the bases where America's special forces train and live, the signs are clear: security is up, the fit, young men have disappeared from view and families are arriving to say goodbye and good luck.

"You don't see so many soldiers on the streets anymore. It's real quiet," said Stacy Lange, the owner of an outdoor equipment shop at Southern Pines, a small North Carolina community near Fort Bragg, home of the army's special forces contingent.

In the coming days, weeks and even months, President Bush is going to rely heavily on the special forces. A number of units have already been deployed to northern Afghanistan and neighbouring Tajikistan where they are taking up positions to support the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

America is expected to use a mixture of airstrikes and ground forces in its retaliation against the forces of Osama bin Laden. Mr Bush has 46,000 special forces – made up of the Army's legendary Delta Detachment, the Navy's Seal team, six units of the 75th Army Ranger Regiment and selected air force squadrons.

The special forces are being co-ordinated from behind the razor-wire, roadblocks and guards that protect the MacGill Air Force base in Tampa, Florida, the headquarters of Ussocom, the US Special Operations Command. In its action crisis centre the strikes the public may not hear about will be controlled and assessed.

As with the locals at Fort Bragg, the people who live in the small communities that adjoin MacGill have seen the preparations for war before. During Desert Storm, the missions into Iraqi territory in search of Scud missiles were also co-ordinated from here.

At the Green Iguana Bar and Grill, a couple of miles from MacGill, there was no shortage of enthusiasm for strikes. Pinned to the till was a picture of Osama bin Laden – his visage fixed in the cross-hairs of an imagined rifle sight.

Beneath his picture were the following words: "Cost of air ticket to Afghanistan: $800. Sniper rifle: $1,000. Hotel with roof-top access: $100. Clear head shot at a worthless s*** like Osama bin Laden: Priceless." The word "s***" had been printed in capitals while, at the door, a large man with close-cropped hair demanded: "Are you with us or against us."

"I don't think there is an American anywhere who does not support military action," said Spike, a salesman, aged 37. His friend, Mr Sprackman, 45, an anaesthetist, added: "I think that something has to be done. It's the first time that America has been 100 per cent in agreement ... They have f***** with Americans on American soil." Despite their legendary status, the relationship of America's top brass and the special forces has been uneasy ever since the unit developed from the Office of Strategic Services, set up by President Roosevelt during the Second World War. Apart from the Hollywood movies that seek to portray their heroics, the public really only gets to hear about them when something goes wrong.

But experts on the special forces say their past experiences will be essential in the battle to "neutralise" Mr bin Laden. David Morris, a former Marine Corps officer with a special forces background who teaches at San Diego State University, said the lessons learnt in the pursuit of the Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar – officially killed in 1993 – could be crucial.

"Much like bin Laden, Escobar was a non-traditional enemy who fought his pursuers not so much with guns and bombs as with his wits and his network. "

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