Special Operations Forces in Iraq

Today marks a significant milestone in the history of Iraq in the 21st Century.  Today is the day when US forces begin to withdraw from Iraq’s towns and cities and hand-over day-to-day security duties to the re-constituted Iraqi military and public security forces.  30 June has also been declared a public holiday in Iraq – National Sovereignty Day.  Let’s also pause for a moment and remember all the soldiers and civilians who have died during the course of this war – surely their deaths are far more deserving of our attentions than a drugged-up, wacko, child-molesting, has-been pop singer.

Anyways, whether you agreed with the war or not, there is no doubt that through-out “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, and the ensuing occupation & counter-insurgency phases, Special Operations Forces of the US and its allies have seen plenty of action – and written an admirable legacy of achievements. Indeed, whilst Afghanistan has been nicknamed “The Commando Olympics” Iraq could justifiably called “The World Series of Special Ops”.  Just like the World Series in baseball, Iraq has been an overwhelmingly American operation, but some of the best spec ops units that the rest of the Western world has to offer have also been involved – quietly and professionally going about their business in the shadows away from the media.

Published as part of Osprey’s ELITE Series, “Special Operations Forces in Iraq” is the companion volume to “Special Operations in Afghanistan” and is written  by the same author; Leigh Neville.  Mr. Neville is an Australian national but appears to have very good connections within the American and NATO special operations community; therefore, he has been able to write a very-well researched, authoritative and concise overview of the missions and accomplishments of coalition spec ops from the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom up through the occupation until last year (2008).  That is to say, the stuff that’s been de-classified anyways.  Commendably, he also includes an appendix about Private Military Contractors.

The main sections of the book are as follows:

  • Introduction – reviews the organisation of the major US special operations Task Forces involved in the invasion
  • First Shots – covers the key operations of the early phases of the campaign
  • Task Force 7 & Task Force 64 – looks at the SR and SSE operations of the British and Australian SAS
  • Umm Qasr – covers the operation by the Polish GROM unit to secure Iraq’s most important deep-water harbour facilities
  • Task Force 20 – details the joint action by US SFOD-D and US Army Rangers to sieze the Haditha dam complex
  • Saving Private Lynch – covers the controversial POW rescue mission that was widely viewed as a PR action
  • Hunting WMD – covers the operation by TF-20 to conduct an SSE mission on the Al Qadisiyah Research Centre
  • Hunting HVT – takes you inside the missions to kill or capture Saddam Hussein, his sons, Zarqawi and others
  • Weapons & Equipment – provides a detailed look at the small arms and specialised vehicles employed by SOF units
  • PMC Appendix – gives a summary overview of the type of action that PMCs have seen in Iraq
  • Colour Illustrations – a good series of illustrations depicting the uniforms and equipment of coalition SOF troops, a couple of examples SOF modified ground mobility vehicles, and a diagram of a typical urban HVT raid

In addition to the superb first-hand accounts of the action, the depth of insight provided by recently declassified material, and the the detailed illustrations and their descriptions, the book also contains a number of unique photographs. 

All in all, its an expertly-written book and provides a superb level of information about the subject. However, if there’s a downside, its the quality of the illustrations, which aren’t up to the usual high-quality standard of other Osprey volumes – I can’t help but feel that Osprey skimped on the quality here.  Nonetheless, I highly recommend the book.

Further details can be found on Osprey’s website.

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