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Guerrilla Warfare

Part 4: The Green Berets
"Fearless men who jump and die"

US Army Special Forces had it's genesis during WWII when the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was created. 

The OSS mission definition was intelligence gathering, support of resistance movements, and sabotage. Toward these ends, the OSS created "Jedburgh" teams (named after the English town where they trained) consisting of three men: a leader, an executive officer, and a radio operator. Normally the radio operator was American, one officer was Free French, and the other American. They parachuted into Nazi-occupied France to conduct sabotage and guerilla warfare, and to lead French guerrilla forces (called the maquis) against the Germans. They provided advice, expertise, and leadership, and arranged airdrops of arms and ammunition.

Green Berets in action
Green Berets in action

In 1952, the Army Special Forces were formed by recruiting former OSS officers (with Jedburgh experience) and veterans from the elite Rangers and Airborne Army units. Captain Aaron Bank was recruited from the OSS and became the first leader of the Special Forces. Headquartered at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, the unit's mission was "to infiltrate by land, sea, or air deep into enemy-occupied territory and organize the resistance/guerrilla potential." 

Candidates were required to speak more than one language. They were trained in at least two of the basic Special Forces skills: intelligence, communications, demolitions, weaponry, and medical aid, as well as how to operate behind enemy lines with little or no outside support. Special Forces units were organized into "A" teams consisting of two officers and ten enlisted men.

Special Forces units had worn a green beret since it was designed by Major Herb Brucker in 1953. He got the idea from the berets worn by the elite troops in European armies, but his green beret was not officially authorized Army headgear. President John F. Kennedy became a big supporter of Special Forces because he appreciated the value of elite troops and he considered the green berets that were worn by many Special Forces soldiers to be "symbolic of one of the highest levels of courage and achievement of the United States military." Kennedy's support was instrumental in convincing the Army to make the green beret the official headgear of all Special Forces units in 1961. Thereafter, all Special Forces units were known as Green Berets.

During the 1950s the Green Berets carried out many "Cold War" missions to resist the spread of communism around the world. They supported rebels fighting against communist governments in unfriendly countries and helped friendly countries battle communist insurgencies, but they were not well known outside of the military establishment because nearly all of their missions were secret.


After WWII, the French reoccupied South Vietnam in an ill-fated attempt to resurrect their prewar empire. The North Vietnamese wanted to reunify their country, so they fought a guerrilla war to convince the French to leave. In 1956, Green Berets were sent to Vietnam to assist the French and train South Vietnamese soldiers in modern warfare and counter-insurgency techniques.

The "A" teams trained and fought alongside the natives from outposts in remote areas. During the war, the Green Berets won 17 Medals of Honor, 814 Silver Stars, and over 13,000 Bronze Stars. The Green Berets also provided medical care and built schools and hospitals as part of the program to win the "hearts and minds" of the local populace.

The Green Berets began to gain notice and popularity with the American public after the publication in 1962 of The Green Berets by Robin Moore. A Green Beret Staff Sergeant and medic named Berry Sadler, wrote and recorded a very popular song called The Ballad of the Green Berets in 1966. And in 1968, John Wayne produced, directed, and starred in a movie called The Green Berets.

On November 20, 1970, a rescue mission called the Son Tay Raid was launched to rescue 75 American POWs from a North Vietnamese prison camp about 23 miles from Hanoi. The mission was executed brilliantly and no Green Berets were lost. Unfortunately, no prisoners were rescued either. The POWs had been moved a couple of days earlier. The raid did help the POW's morale though, because the North Vietnamese decided to move all the POW's to a central facility in Hanoi where they were no longer kept in isolation from their comrades.

Special Forces Take the Lead

After the US withdrew from Vietnam, budget cuts in the late 1970s forced the Army to rethink its dependence on large conventional forces and to consider the use of more elite units. It was thought that in the future, wars could be fought with air power and small units of highly trained men.

The Army put this plan into effect during Operation "Just Cause," the invasion of Panama to remove its despotic leader Manuel Noriega and stop him from allowing Panama to be used as a way-station by drug runners. The invasion and capture of Noriega was carried out entirely by Green Berets, Rangers, and Navy Seals.

During Desert Shield, the first war against Iraq that secured the liberation of Kuwait, Special Forces went into Kuwait early to train resistance forces. Once the air war was launched, Green Berets operated well behind enemy lines providing intelligence and targeting data to direct air units on concealed and elusive targets like the Iraqi mobile scud missiles.

Prior to the commencement of the ground war, Special Forces were instrumental in clearing lanes through the minefields and trenches that blocked the invasion routes for the conventional forces. After Kuwait was liberated, Special Forces helped to reconstitute the Kuwaiti armed forces.

The War on Terror

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the U.S. declared war on international terrorism. President George W. Bush announced the "Bush Doctrine" during his State of the Union Address on Sept. 20, 2001, when he said "We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. "

Afghanistan had long been a safe haven for the terrorist organization known as Al Quaeda and its leader, Osama Bin Laden, who were responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01. The U.S. demanded that Afghanistan turn over Bin Laden and his associates and then invaded Afghanistan when its demand was ignored. The ground war was fought almost entirely by Special Forces and Rangers leading, or in cooperation with indigenous forces provided by the "Northern Alliance." The war was over quickly, but Bin Laden has yet to be captured. He is believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan where the rugged terrain makes military operations very difficult to sustain, and Special Forces continue to hunt for Bin Laden in that area.

Special Forces spearheaded the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, to remove the dictator Saddam Hussein and to free the Iraqi people from the excesses of his Ba'athist regime. The war lasted approximately three weeks, but securing the peace has been far more difficult and continues to this day. Special Forces are now training the new Iraqi army and police forces, as well as providing humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq.

The Green Beret's motto is "De Oppresso Libe" (To Free the Oppressed) and today Special Forces troops are stationed in trouble spots all over the world, fighting terrorism and training local forces in counter-terrorism tactics, techniques, and procedures so that someday the entire world will be liberated from the scourge of terrorism.

For more guerrilla warfare, see Guerrilla Warfare Part 5: Delta Force



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