Friday, December 25, 2009

A Brief History of CIA and Special Operations Forces (SOF) Paramilitary Operations

In addition to acquiring intelligence to support US military operations from the Korean War era to
Iraq today, the CIA has also worked closely alongside DOD personnel in military operations. On
occasion it has also conducted clandestine military operations apart from the military. One
example was the failed Bay of Pigs landing in Cuba in 1961. Especially important was a
substantial CIA-managed effort in Laos in the 1960s and 1970s to interdict North Vietnamese
resupply efforts. The CIA was directed to undertake this effort in large measure to avoid the onus
of official U.S. military intervention in neutral Laos. The CIA’s paramilitary operations in
Afghanistan in 2001 have been widely described; CIA officers began infiltrating Afghanistan
before the end of September 2001 and played an active role alongside SOF in bringing down the
Taliban regime by the end of the year. According to media reports, the CIA has also been
extensively involved in operations in Iraq in support of military operations.3

SOF have reportedly been involved in clandestine and covert paramilitary operations on
numerous occasions since the Vietnam War. Operations such as the response to the TWA 847 and
Achille Lauro hijackings in 1985, Panama in 1989, Mogadishu in 1993, and the Balkans in the
late 1990s have become public knowledge over time but other operations reportedly remain
classified to this day.4 Some speculate that covert paramilitary operations would probably become
the responsibility of a number of unacknowledged special operations units believed to exist
within USSOCOM.5


3 See Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer, “Afghanistan, Iraq: Two Wars Collide,” Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2004, p. A1; Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), especially pp. 301-306, 373-376; Gary C. Schroen, First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005).

4 Col. John T. Carney, Jr. and Benjamin F. Schemmer, No Room for Error: The Covert Operations of America’s Special Tactics Units from Iran to Afghanistan, 2002, pp. ix -x.

5 Jennifer D. Kibbe, “The Rise of the Shadow Warriors,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2004, vol. 83, no. 2, p. 110.

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