Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command

Image of Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command
Release Date: 
September 1, 2015
St. Martin's Press
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“The history of America's most elite fighting force is told with panache and critical analysis . . .”

The United States is winding down a decade of war, and no organization has contributed more to that fight than the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the U.S. military's most elite fighting force, combining the Army's Delta Force, the Navy's SEAL Team 6, and various Army and Air Force special mission helicopter and aircraft squadrons; however, their missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and other locations have remained shrouded in secrecy.

In this book, Sean Naylor, an award winning former correspondent for the Army Times and author of a bestselling book on Operation Anaconda, America’s first major combat in Afghanistan, has peeled back this shroud to detail the good, bad, and ugly of America’s most elite fighting force.

Naylor gets around the highly classified nature of many of these missions by masterfully weaving available primary and official sources with interviews of participants and the growing body of memoirs written by soldiers that participated in some of the most dangerous military operations of the last decade.

The result is a highly readable book that is part military history and part Tom Clancy novel, drawing the reader into tales of bravery and sacrifice on a sometimes unimaginable scale.

But Naylor does not mince words in his critique of the personalities and military bureaucracy that shaped JSOC into the fighting force it is today. JSOC grew out of the disastrous attempt to rescue the Iranian Embassy hostages in 1980, and was not initially accepted by the more conventional military hierarchy. Elite forces have been historically viewed with some distrust by regular military officers and JSOC was no exception. Only the active interest of senior members of Congress pushed through the legislation legally creating the command and delineating its mission and budgets. The command had many growing pains as different services learned to plan, organize and conduct missions of increasing complexity and risk.

Naylor critically recounts the trials and tribulations of the new organization through operations in Central and South America, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, and the minimal role it had in Operations Desert Storm. In spite of the massive American military operation to liberate Kuwait in 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf initially relegated JSOC to the sidelines until the need to find and destroy Iraq's Scud Missiles in the vast western deserts of Iraq gave the force its first major campaign.

JSOC as a military command went through many changes in the late 1980s and 1990s, becoming part of the Special Operations Command, a four-star organization that eventually assumed command of all the special forces and special operations forces of the entire US military, including Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Green Berets, and various Air Force special mission squadrons.

September 11, 2001, marked an operational turning point for the JSOC as the organization was quickly mobilized for what became a world-wide conflict against Al Qaeda. Very quickly, the developing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan soon stretched the command to its limits and Naylor highlights the challenges JSOC faced in allocating scarce resources between the two theaters. 

Besides resources, the command faced a greater challenge in determining its mission and how best it could contribute to the overall war effort. Initially sent to Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and the remnants of Al Qaeda after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the command was soon refocused on Iraq in 2003, initially to hunt and secure WMDs, then refocused in 2005 to hunt down the leadership of the burgeoning Sunni insurgency. 

This mission became JSOC's forte and Naylor recounts in great detail how JSOC commander Stanley McChrystal combined Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 operators with dedicated intelligence analysts to create a lethal machine that decimated the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) during the surge of 2007–2008.

Finally, Naylor brings the history of JSOC up to date with short passages on the operation that tracked down Osama bin Laden and recent operations in Syria and Somalia.

Throughout his critique and analysis of JSOC leadership, strategy, and the policy decisions to utilize these elite troops in politically charged missions, Naylor's admiration of the heroism of these troops is unmistakable. He uses veteran interviews to the maximum extent, giving the reader the “I was there” perspective that makes this such an outstanding book when combined with his use of primary and secondary sources.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down for the American military, this is a very timely book. The history of America's most elite fighting force is told with panache and critical analysis, making this one of the must-read military history books of the year.