History of the United States Army Special Forces
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This article presents a history of the United States Army Special Forces, founded in 1952
Some of the Office of Strategic Services have much more similarity in terms of mission with the original U.S. Army Special Forces function, unconventional warfare (UW), acting as cadre to train and lead guerrillas in occupied countries. The Special Forces motto, De oppresso liber (Latin: "to free the oppressed") reflects this historical mission of guerrilla warfare against an occupying power. Specifically, the three-man Jedburgh teams provided leadership to French Resistance units. The larger Office of Strategic Services "OSS" Operational Groups (OG) were more associated with SR/DA missions, although they did work with resistance units. Colonel Aaron Bank, considered the founding commander of the first Special Forces Group created, served in OSS during World War II.
Another unit widely associated with the origins of the Army Special Forces was the First Special Service Force, a joint Canadian-American unit formed in 1942 and disbanded in 1944. Members of the First Special Service Force were retroactively awarded the Special Forces Tab upon it's creation in 1983 for their part in Special Forces' history. Each year, a joint 1st Special Forces Group-Canadian Special Operations Regiment exercise, known as Menton Week is held to commemorate the historical link that both units share in the First Special Service Force.
While Filipino American guerrilla operations in the Japanese-occupied Philippines are not part of the direct lineage of Army Special Forces, some of the early Special Forces leadership were involved in advising and creating the modern organization. They included Russell Volckmann, who commanded guerrillas in Northern Luzon and in Korea,[unreliable source?] Donald Blackburn, who also served with the Northern Luzon force, and Colonel Wendell Fertig, who developed a division-sized force on Mindanao.
During the Korean War, United Nations Partisan Forces Korea operated on islands and behind enemy lines. These forces were also known as the 8086th Army Unit, and later as the Far East Command Liaison Detachment, Korea, FECLD-K 8240th AU. These troops directed North Korean partisans in raids, harassment of supply lines, and the rescue of downed pilots. Since the initial Special Forces unit, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was activated on 19 June 1952, and the Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950, U.S. Army Special Forces did not operate as a unit in that war. Experience gained in the Korean War, however, influenced the development of U.S. Army Special Forces doctrine.
Their lineage dates back to include more than 200 years of unconventional warfare history, with notable predecessors including the American Revolutionary War "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion, the WWII OSS Jedburgh Teams, OSS Detachment 101 in Burma, and the Alamo Scouts. Since their establishment in 1952, Special Forces soldiers have operated in Vietnam, El Salvador, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, and, in an FID role, Operation Enduring Freedom - Horn of Africa, which was transferred to Africa Command in 2008.
Special Operations Command was formed by the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Center which was activated in May 1952. The initial 10th Special Forces Group was formed in June 1952, and was commanded by Colonel Aaron Bank. Its formation coincided with the establishment of the Psychological Warfare School, which is now known as the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Bank served with various Office of Strategic Services (OSS) units, including Jedburgh teams advising and leading French Resistance units before the Battle of Normandy, or the "D-Day" invasion of 6 June 1944. Bank is known as the father of the Special Forces.
The 10th SFG deployed to Bad Tölz, Germany the following September, the remaining cadre at Fort Bragg, North Carolina formed the 77th Special Forces Group, which in May 1960 became 7th Special Forces Group.
First deployment in Cold War-era Europe 
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10th Special Forces Group was responsible, among other missions, to operate a stay-behind guerrilla operation after a presumed Soviet overrunning of Western Europe, in conjunction with the program that later became controversially known as Operation Gladio. Through the Lodge-Philbin Act, it acquired a large number of Eastern European immigrants who brought much area and language skills. As well as preparing for the Warsaw Pact invasion that never came, Vietnam and other areas of South Vietnam, El Salvador, Colombia, Panama and Afghanistan are the major modern conflicts that have defined the Special Forces.
Southeast Asia (Indochina Wars) 
The Vietnam era saw the testing and shaping of Special Forces policy and action for the United States. The mission of the Special Forces changed rapidly in the first years from a force which had initially been used like its WWII predecessors as an internal strike force into a training force which helped develop unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency tactics. The period between 1961–1965 were especially formative.
The first U.S. Special Forces operations in Vietnam were in 1957, when soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Group trained fifty eight Vietnamese Army soldiers at the Commando Training Center in Nha Trang. Special Forces units deployed to Laos as "Mobile Training Teams" (MTTs) in 1961, Project White Star (later named Project 404), and they were among the first U.S. troops committed to the Vietnam War. Beginning in the early 1950s, Special Forces teams deployed from the United States and Okinawa to serve as advisers for the fledgling South Vietnamese Army. As the United States escalated its involvement in the war, the missions of the Special Forces expanded as well. Since Special Forces were trained to lead guerrillas, it seemed logical that they would have a deep understanding of counter-guerrilla actions, which became the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission. The 5th Special Forces Group mixed the UW and FID missions, often leading Vietnamese units such as Montagnards and lowland Civilian Irregular Defense Groups. The deep raid on Son Tay, attempting to recover U.S. prisoners of war, had a ground element completely made up of Special Forces soldiers.
The main SF unit in South Vietnam was the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). SF soldiers assigned to the 5th Group earned seventeen Medals of Honor in Vietnam, making it the most prominently decorated unit for its size in that conflict. Army Special Forces personnel also played predominant roles in the highly secret, multi-service Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG), with an extraordinarily large number of covert U.S. military personnel lost MIA while operating on Studies and Observations Group (SOG) reconnaissance missions. During the prolonged conflict the Army Special Forces trained regular and paramilitary units of several Allied nations as well as US reconnaissance members; supervised the indigenous Civilian Irregular Defense Group stationed throughout Vietnam in fortified camps and as backup reserves; monitored the border region and infiltration routes; conducted strategic intelligence missions and fielded numerous elements engaged in special operational tasks.
The "Green Beret Affair": U. S. Special Forces received a severe black eye when in July 1969 Colonel Robert Rheault, Commander of 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), six subordinate Green Beret officers, including his headquarters staff intelligence officer, and a sergeant first class (SFC) were arrested for the murder of Thai Khac Chuyen, a suspected North Vietnamese double agent. It was suspected that Chuyen was providing the North Vietnamese Army information about Project GAMMA and the indigenous agents used by the 5th Special Forces Group. An attempted cover-up was uncovered when the SFC became concerned that he might be a 'fall guy' and contacted the local Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office chief. In September 1969 Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor announced that all charges would be dropped since the CIA, in the interests of national security, had refused to make its personnel available as witnesses; implying some sort of involvement.
El Salvador 
In the 1980s, U.S. Army Special Forces trainers were deployed to El Salvador. Their mission was to train the Salvadoran Military, who at the time were fighting a civil war against the left-wing guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). In 1992, the FMLN reached a ceasefire agreement with the government of El Salvador. Following the success of SF in El Salvador, the 3rd Special Forces Group was reactivated in 1990.
In the late 1980s, major narcotics trafficking and terrorist problems within the region covered by the Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) worsened. USSOUTHCOM was (and remains) responsible for all of South America, Central America, and the Caribbean (CARIBCOM). The 7th Special Forces Group deployed detachments, trainers and advisers in conjunction with teams from the 1st Psychological Operations Battalion to assist Host Nation (HN) forces. During the late 1990s, 7 SFG(A) also deployed to Colombia and trained three Counter Narcotics Battalions and assisted in the establishment of a Brigade Headquarters. These were the first units of their kind in Colombia and each is known as "Batallón Contra Narcotraficantes" or BACNA. These elements continue to be very successful against the narcotics industry which thrives in Colombia. U.S. Army Special Forces detachments still rotate among various locations within Colombia, training HN units in counter-guerrilla and counter-narcotics roles, and SF detachments routinely deploy to other countries within the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility.
Persian Gulf War 
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Invasion of Panama 
In late 1988, tensions between the United States and Panama were extremely high with the Panamanian leader, Manuel Noriega, calling for the dissolution of the agreement that allowed the United States to have bases in his country. In December 1989 President George H. W. Bush activated the planning section for Operation Just Cause/Promote Liberty. Just Cause was the portion of the mission to depose Noriega and return Panama to democracy. Originally scheduled to begin at 0200 hrs. on 20 December, it actually kicked off at 2315 hrs when part of a Special Forces detachment that was waiting for the signal to begin was discovered above a gate above a Panamanian checkpoint. Just Cause was the first mission to have a very large contingent of Special Operations Forces on the ground. The units that were involved with the mission were as follows: Task Force Green (Delta Force), Task Force Black (7th SFG, 5th SFG, 3rd SFG, 4th PSYOP Group, the reinforced 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, and all three battalions of the 75th Rangers, and numerous other units from other forces such as the Navy SEALs, Marine Force Recon, and Air Force Combat Control Teams. The invasion was successful at deposing Noriega, but led to widespread looting and lawlessness in the following weeks.
Afghanistan-Pakistan War 
Special Forces units were the first military units (a Special Forces MSG wearing the Green Beret ring was the first person in country to seek out the Northern Alliance) that went into Afghanistan under Major General Geoffrey C. Lambert after the 11 September 2001 attacks, although CIA paramilitary officers from the famed Special Activities Division (SAD) were the first U.S. forces in the country to prepare for their arrival. A number of Special Forces operational detachments worked with Afghan Northern Alliance troops, acting as a force multiplier, especially by using new techniques for precise direction of heavy air support. Since the initial invasion, the 3rd and 7th SFGs have been charged with conducting operations in Afghanistan. SF has been conducting its bread-and-butter, Unconventional Warfare, fighting the enemy in its own or influenced territory. During the daytime, SF will often be meeting with local village elders and working with the people to garner support from the local leaders as well as trying to identify possible Taliban spies in the villages. SF has worked closely with Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations to provide villages with food, water, medicine, medical treatment and clinics, and even education programs to the people. As well as humanitarian assistance such as building roads, schools, and wells. This also requires SF to have to constantly patrol the areas to defend the villages from Taliban attacks. At night, SF will often be hunting down the Taliban and other insurgencies in the area, conducting raids on camps, training centers, drug-smuggling operations, and other Taliban safe-havens. As well as ambushing weapons, supplies, and drug convoys and clearing hidden paths in the mountains that border Pakistan and Afghanistan, including mining operations on paths that the Taliban use, conducting reconnaissance, and capturing or killing high-ranking terrorist leaders. SF will almost always work with Afghan forces, who they have often trained. This shows the people that it is their own Afghans stopping the Taliban, not the Americans. SF soldiers will also make small changes to their appearance, such as growing beards, growing their hair longer, and wearing traditional Afghan scarfs or belts to show that they are not trying to force any American culture on them but rather that they respect their culture and traditions.
Iraq War 
Just as in Afghanistan, SF were the first military units in Iraq after the initial entry of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) and the CIA. 10th SFG was heavily deployed to Northern Iraq, where they, along with CIA/SAD officers contacted, organized, and trained Kurdish, anti-Saddam Forces. During the initial invasion, 10th SFG and CIA/SAD officers led one of the most successful campaigns in Iraq, the Group along with its Kurdish allies defeated six Iraqi Army Divisions with limited air support and no SF soldiers were killed. The joint Kurdish-Special Forces units killed over one-thousand Iraqi Army soldiers and captured hundreds more. Likewise, 5th SFG (1st BN) was deployed in Western Iraq. One battalion infiltrated the country weeks before the initial invasion in order to conduct DA strikes to destroy Saddam's SCUD missile capability. 5th SFG also organized anti-Saddam forces and, like 10th SFG, led an extremely successful operation which inflicted serious casualties to the Iraqi Army in Baghdad right after conventional forces had seized it. With major combat operations over, SF were charged with building a new Iraqi Army, eliminating Baath Party members, and, most importantly, finding Saddam and his sons.
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