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story of how America's premier special operations units have grown more effective, integrated, and powerful since their formation in the later decades of the Cold War. Naylor, a well-known military reporter for the Army Times and now at Foreign Policy, is among the few journalists who have covered special operations forces almost exclusively. His last book, Not a Good Day to Die, explored Operation Anaconda, a defining battle against the Taliban and elements of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in March 2002. Relentless Strike tells the story of JSOC, the component of the U.S. Special Operations Command that focuses on "direct action" missions-those operations designed to capture or kill terrorists. Naylor begins with Operation Eagle Claw, in a remote staging area in Iran code-named Desert One, where, on April 24, 1980, elite Delta Force commandos were refueling helicopters during an attempt to rescue fiftytwo American hostages in Tehran. The ad hoc nature of the mission-with a variety of units who had rarely worked together- contributed to disaster, when a helicopter collided with a plane full of fuel and Delta Force soldiers, killing eight of them. The Desert One humiliation spurred an intense, decades-long focus on improving America's ability to rapidly deploy highly trained commandos and their supporting military and intelligence community partners anywhere in the world to perform a wide variety of missions. This is the story Naylor tells so well in Relentless Strike. The 560-page book is replete with descriptions of dozens of operations, hundreds of interviews by named and unnamed sources, and all the intrigue one would expect from the stories of America's most highly classified and secretive military units. Naylor organizes the book pretty much as a straight narrative stretching from Eagle Claw in 1980 to Neptune's Spear in 2011; while this format doesn't make it easy for the reader to glean many overarching insights, it's possible to take away a few. F irst, the focus of JSOC has depended, unsurprisingly, on the security environment that exists at any given time. In its early years, it focused on fairly large "raid- 116 September/October 2015 ing missions"-dramatic hostage-rescue yet to be fully understood. There is much missions and larger strike forces designed debate about drones and the consequencfor operations in places like Grenada, Pan- es of the proliferation of advanced robotama, and in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. ic systems, but there is less debate about After the fall of the Soviet Union, JSOC fo- how to use America's elite forces as the cused primarily on countering the spread counterterrorism struggles continue in of weapons of mass destruction, includ- the Middle East and beyond. There are deing building very sophisticated units with scriptions of what amount to assassinahigh-tech drilling and breaching equip- tion campaigns in Relentless Strike that, if ment designed to penetrate underground true, feel close to being inappropriate (for nuclear weapons complexes. After the 9/11 instance, employing precise car bombs in attacks, JSOC shifted its focus to counter- Iraq to kill high-level insurgents and terterrorism operations in Afghanistan and rorists). "It's a great tool," Naylor quotes a Iraq. In one of the more interesting de- SEAL on the use of the bombing method, scriptions of this period, Naylor captures "but as many of us have said-hey, we're the debate inside the special operations no different than the enemy if we're just community about how focused they ought blowing up people with booby traps." As to be on the counterterrorism operations JSOC and special operations forces conin Afghanistan and then Iraq, and whether tinue to be the preferred way to target concentrating on these theaters posed too America's enemies, a broader discussion great a risk that the U.S. would be unpre- about the use of force and thresholds for pared for other global crises. It's the kind undertaking what amounts to a perpetual of debate that goes on in the Pentagon war deserve more fulsome debate. constantly-how to deal with the demands Relentless Strike is likely the best definof today while training for the challenges itive history of how America's special optomorrow might bring. erations community rose like a Phoenix Second, it's hard to read Relentless Strike from the ashes of the Desert One fiasco without marveling at how much the evo- to become the most capable elite fighting lution of technology has changed the way force in the world. Naylor could have done in which special operations missions are a bit more to craft these stories together planned and conducted. In particular, the into more of an accessible narrative arc, former JSOC commander General Stanley but in fact he may have chosen the betMcCrystal comes across as especially talent- ter course: to bring this information toed at understanding the value of employing gether for the first time, tell the stories- fast-evolving technologies like unmanned warts and all-and challenge his readers drones, social networking, mapping soft- to come to their own conclusions. ware, and so-called "big data" analysis, all of Reading the book reminded me of seewhich were just starting to truly come into ing Vice Admiral McRaven at the White their own in the 2003-2008 period in which House that day in 2011; the fact that McCrystal commanded JSOC. U.S. Special Obama was willing to risk his presidency Operations Command (USSOCOM) has on the competency and professionalism of fairly unique authority, compared to the the commandos is proof of how far JSOC conventional forces, to purchase commer- and the broader special operations forccial technologies quickly, experiment with es have come. It speaks well of the presithem, and employ them. Sometimes in de- dent that he was willing to approve the fense circles the tension between investing mission, but it speaks more of those who in personnel versus investing in technolo- planned and executed it, and of the many gies can result in arguments for prioritizing thousands who have worked over decades one over the other. What Relentless Strike to hone JSOC into the sharpest of spears. seems to prove is that investing and using both is the key to continued success on the Shawn Brimley is the executive vice president current and future battlefields. of the Center for a New American Security, a naThird, the implications of an organiza- tional security think tank in Washington, D.C. tion like JSOC, what Naylor calls "an in- From 2009 to 2012 he served at the Pentagon formation age warfighting machine," are and at the White House.

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