I refer to Peter Kessler's letter extolling the virtues of the US Special Forces. He claimed that the primary task of this unit is to train foreign indigenous forces.
The origin of the US Special Forces began in 1942 after General George Marshall became attracted by a British scheme of having specialised unit perform difficult operations such as raids and special strikes on important strategic targets.
Marshall wanted the US to have the best such unit in the military world, and thus created a special force where its men were trained in demolitions, amphibious assaults, alpine tactics, mountain climbing and such like special skills. These troops were employed in the invasion of North Africa and Europe.
During the earlier days of the Vietnam War, these special forces were dispatched there to train the hill tribesmen as Kessler suggested, but this scheme had more to do with the original rules of engagement that the Americans were operating under, namely as technical advisers rather than direct combatants.
Thus it was a US policy constraint at that time rather than as a principal role that the US Special Forces trained friendly locals in Vietnam. The American military assessed the scheme as successful and retained it as part of the Special Force portfolio.
But this policy restriction for the earlier days of Vietnam did not in anyway disguise or alter the fact that the US Special Forces were created to conduct unconventional warfare, namely guerrilla warfare, evasion and escape, and subversion (sabotage) against hostile states.
Their tasks included the collection of intelligence through covert surveillance. All these roles imply operations behind enemy territories.
The Special Forces has the role also of conducting strikes and small-scale offensive actions of an overt or covert nature, say, in seizing a strategic target and holding onto it for a short time until relieved by conventional forces.
Hence it is incorrect of Kessler to deny them their principal roles, and for him to aver that what had been conducted in Vietnam as a result of policy constraint had been the original design.
Sadly, he made some derogatory comments on a French unit. Kessler erred thrice in suggesting the French Foreign Legion (FRL) be considered as a poor equivalent of the US Special Forces.
Firstly, the FRL is just a conventional military unit. Its worldwide fame has to do more with the romantic appeal of the film Beau Geste . The esotericism and mystery of the FRL has been further enhanced by the character of its troops, who, except for the officers, were all made up of foreigners, some allegedly with rather shady, disturbed or eccentric pasts.
Secondly, notwithstanding its rather unique character, the FRL possessed a reputation for toughness and ferocity in battle, and had, in fact, served with distinction in several French wars and operations.
Thirdly, the French special forces are called the Regiment de Parachutistes d'Infanterie de Marine , operating under the command of the Commandement des Operations Speciales or Special Operations Command. These troops are definitely not the FRL as incorrectly stated by Kessler.
Needless to say, the rich and powerful Americans have equipped their Special Forces with an astonishing plethora of exotic equipment. But while many less well-endowed nations envy their equipment, gadgetry and awesome firepower as well as logistic support, this doesn't hide the fact that many professional soldiers - including those of its closest allies - regard the general performance of the US Special Forces rather poorly.
If one wants a highly regarded special force, the top candidates would be the British SAS, the Australian SAS, the Russian Spetnaz, the German KSK and the French Regiment de Parachutistes d'Infanterie de Marine .
But as mentioned before, the problem in Sabah doesn't require such specialised troops. It is essentially a Malaysian naval or police task.
Kessler's suggestion for a geo-stationary satellite to be a 'seeing eye' over Sabah waters is not a reality for a country like Malaysia (the using of hi-tech stuff for a specialised task of locating raiders). Such intelligence capability would only be within the reach of a rich and powerful nation like the US.
Additionally, in my previous letter, I mentioned the Sabah situation and the likely limitations faced by satellite imagery, and also the importance and appropriateness of conventional or rather old-fashioned intelligence, particular for a small force like the Royal Malaysian Navy and Royal Malaysian Police.
I do not want to go too deeply into what the Malaysian Special Branch can do in this regard, but suffice to say they have produced the goods before. We can only hope they will rise to the occasion again.
We must not deprive the Americans of their Rambos or GI Janes. President Ronald Reagan once wanted to 'send' Rambo to Beirut. During a difficult time for the US Marines in Beirut, Reagan in a moment of either frustration or enlightenment declared, "Let's send Rambo to Beirut", and this was widely applauded by his supporters.
The Americans even took to wearing T-shirts with this popular slogan. What could the Hezbollah do but smile. At least Reagan did bring forth a ray of humour into the normally tense, hostile and drab atmosphere of Beirut.
Well, President George W Bush can do it again with the dynamic duo of Rambo and GI Jane and 'send' them, too, to Baghdad, where they will undoubtedly be most welcomed.
Maybe they can knock off some insurgents there with laughter.