Sgt. Major Eric Haney: Role of U.S. Army Special Forces in Afghanistan
Sgt. Major Eric Haney served with the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force in the 1970s and 1980s, and was one of the founding members. He was involved in the failed attempt by Delta Force to rescue the American hostages being held in Iran. His book about Delta Force is scheduled for release in September, 2002. He joined the chat room via telephone from Atlanta, GA
CNN: What are "special operations?"
HANEY: Special operations are those military operations that are outside the normal capabilities of conventional forces. When you think of conventional forces, think of masses of tanks, masses of men, heavy equipment and artillery. Special operations and the special operations forces go after those things that large organizations are incapable of handling because of their inflexibility and inability to innovate. Special operations also are concerned with local nationals in various countries. Army Special Forces teams are dedicated to certain and specific regions of the world.
In this case, the Army's Fifth Special Forces group is dedicated to the area of operation in southwest Asia. So, team members of that group will speak the local languages, will be experts in the countries that they're dedicated to. They'll understand the culture, the geography, the demographics, and the militaries of those countries. Those men are at home in the countries that they're dedicated to, and in most cases they'll have spent a great deal of time working in friendly countries within that region. They're characterized by small units. They can move and operate freely and quietly with the local populace.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Good afternoon, Sgt. Major Haney. Knowing that Delta Force is up for any challenge, have they had any opportunity to prepare for the sheer hostility of the terrain itself?
HANEY: The terrain is something that's always taken into account on an operation. In this case, members of Delta Force are all expert mountaineers, rock climbers, navigators, experts in winter and arctic operations. What we'll see is that the terrain and harsh weather becomes more of an ally to the special operations forces, and more of a threat to the Taliban and others. Our men are in supreme condition. They're fit and well fed. They're not looking over their shoulders in fear, which is taking place among our enemies.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Thank you for your service to our country. In light of the news about anthrax today, how do you prepare for any biological agents Delta Force may face in Afghanistan? Are medics included in a Delta Force unit?
HANEY: Yes, medics are part of Delta Force organization, and they deploy along with the unit, and have superior medical coverage. Second thing, anthrax is like the bogeyman, used to scare children. It's not a viable military weapon. It induces fear; that's all. A Delta Force member will fear falling and breaking a leg more than biological weapons. There is also no indication that within Afghanistan there's been any experimentation or preparation or dissemination of biological agents. To further that, the militaries of the world didn't forego the use of those type of weapons out of a humanitarian sense. If you remember, we retained the use of napalm, an inhuman weapon. Military agents gave up using biological agents because they're unpredictable, difficult to use, and you can't control the effect of it. You really have no idea what it will do once released. But you know it will dissipate, and the effects will be poor.
CNN: How will their operations differ from what the Soviet Union tried to do in Afghanistan in the 1980's?
HANEY: The great difference between the Soviets' attempt and what's happened here, is that the Soviets, in their attempt to prop up a corrupt Afghan regime, felt that the method they had to employ was to occupy the country and subject the people of Afghanistan to the military will of the Soviet Union. Our objective in this case in Afghanistan is to facilitate the Afghan people in taking back their own country.
We're not going to deploy masses of American troops. Any time terrain is taken back, it will be taken by Afghan forces. We'll help those forces organize themselves, and coordinate their operations, and we may stand by the shoulders of Afghan leaders to give them professional help. But the Afghans themselves will retake their country.
The Soviet experience was dealt around the type of forces they could employ, and one huge drawback of the Soviet army is that they didn't have professionals. They did have a very tiny professional officer corps, but the bulk of their forces were conscripted soldiers, draftees who, number one, didn't want to be in the army, and number two, certainly didn't want to be in Afghanistan.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Which special forces do you feel will play the key role in this war?
HANEY: As far as the special forces units that will be key in this war, more than likely will be the Fifth Special Forces group, because Afghanistan falls within their area of responsibility. Those soldiers know the region and speak the languages, and with all likelihood have had previous contact with the coalition forces there, even before the outbreak of this war.
CNN: In Afghanistan, will Delta Force conduct the "covert" operations President Bush speaks often about?
HANEY: I want to clarify the use of the word "covert." President Bush is using that in its generic sense. As far as the military is concerned, and Delta force in particular is concerned, they are not covert units, but organizations that conduct low-visibility operations. Now, I know that in most people's minds, that's a semantic difference, but I'll explain it.
Covert forces are composed of people that you can completely deny that they work for you. We never deny that an American soldier is an American soldier. Even should he be killed or captured, he's never denied, and his existence is acknowledged as an American soldier. However, these forces never broadcast their presence or what they intend to do, and they will always blend into the local environment. So hence, we use the term "low visibility." However, we will often make it appear that someone other than our own forces conducted a specific mission, if that suits the task at hand.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What would you consider the primary task for Delta Force to complete in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan - assuming that it is not only to capture Osama bin Laden?
HANEY: First of all, I doubt seriously that Delta Force or anyone else will be tasked with capturing Osama bin Laden. I believe their primary function will be to track down and kill the primary leaders of the Taliban and al Qaeda military network.
CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?
HANEY: The war being prosecuted in Afghanistan is the first war ever that could be characterized as a special operations war. Now, all conflicts are unique, and the generals of all militaries are always accused, and often rightly so, of planning the next war as a mirror image of the last one they conducted. That's not the case here. Since the time of the U.S. operation in Grenada, every time we've deployed military forces, the coordination between conventional military forces and the special operations forces has evolved and improved. In Panama, that coordination was just about perfect. In the Gulf War, that perfection, as much as is humanly possible, had been achieved. But the Gulf War was principally the classic clash of field armies, big units, masses of men wielding heavy equipment. The special operations missions were adjuncts to the main campaign.
In this instant, it's just opposite. The employment of special operations forces is the principal method of prosecuting the campaign. I can see periodically there will be some limited use of conventional American forces when, to influence a specific battle, we need to bring in some real muscle. But at the conclusion of that battle, those forces will be withdrawn again, back out of Afghanistan. We cannot afford to have American forces fighting the war in Afghanistan. The country will have to be re-taken by its own people. We're going to help them do that. In some instances, very specialized targets, and those will principally be missions undertaken by Delta Force. We will go in to eliminate specific leaders, as we've discussed earlier. Delta Force by its very nature operates by going in, accomplishing its mission, and coming back out again.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today.
HANEY: Thanks for everyone that showed interest today, and I'm just very sorry that we weren't able to answer everyone's questions. But I do hope that the questions that were answered were done so satisfactorily. And also, a final note, I'm extremely impressed with the character of the questions themselves, and the intelligence demonstrated by the people asking them.
Sgt. Major Eric Haney joined the CNN.com chat room via telephone and CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Friday, October 12, 2001 at 1:30 p.m. EDT.
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