Special operations forces are playing a key role in the Iraq conflict, albeit a covert one given the secretive nature of these units. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said on April 4, 2003, that the war in Iraq is supported by the largest special operations force since the Vietnam War. U.S. Special Forces The soldiers of the U.S. Army Special Forces, the "Green Berets," are among the military's most versatile. Special Forces units not only train and advise troops in other countries, they also conduct combat operations. According to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, the units are able to perform five principal missions: foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, reconnaissance, direct action and counter-terrorism. Army Rangers As with all special operations forces, the Rangers report to the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, when in hostile or war situations. They are organized into the 75th Ranger Regiment, consisting of three battalions based at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Rangers are kept at a high level of readiness and can deploy anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. Rangers are trained in rapid infantry assault and night Delta Force While the military acknowledges the existence of special mission units like Delta Force, it does not specify what they are called or their locations, staffing or organizational structure. Unofficially, Delta Force is considered one of the U.S. military's elite special operations units, its members drawn from all branches. Based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, its formal name is 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta. 'Night Stalkers' U.S. special operations forces are often supported by the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which specializes in night flying and is known as "The Night Stalkers." Based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, the Regiment consists of MH-6 and AH-6 light helicopters, MH-60 helicopters and MH-47 heavy assault helicopters. The regiment was formed after Desert One, the failed 1981 attempt to rescue hostages in Iran, when the Army determined it needed a special aviation unit trained in low-level night operations. The unit has served in a number of combat operations, including Urgent Fury in Grenada, Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Kuwait, Task Force Ranger in Somalia and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. SEALs SEALs, which stand for Sea, Air, Land, are the U.S. Navy's primary and most acclaimed special operations forces unit. Operating mainly in tight 16-man teams, SEALs train for missions in maritime environments, the desert, the jungle, in cold weather, and in urban surroundings. SEALs are trained extensively and rigorously in and around San Diego, California, and Norfolk, Virginia, to withstand and thrive in the face of personal, physical, environmental and other challenges. A final phase of their training is known as "Hell Week." SEALs trace their history to the frogmen of World War II, although new threats -- including terrorism -- have forced them to evolve substantially in recent years. Specially trained crewmen drive a variety of water craft to support SEALs and other special operations forces during maritime missions, and conduct unconventional small boat operations such as coastal and river patrols. Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen Special Boat Teams (SBTs) are part of the U.S. Navy's Special Warfare Command and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. SBTs are composed of Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC), which are specially trained coxswains who employ, operate and maintain a variety of surface combatant craft to conduct and support special operations, including maritime interdiction missions, insertion and extraction of Navy SEALs and other U.S. special operations units, direct action missions, and special reconnaissance. According to the Navy, Virginia-based Special Boat Team 20 assisted in the capture of the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr and played a role in securing oil delivery stations along the Iraqi coast. SBT 20 detachments also conducted several leadership interdiction operations to prevent the escape of suspected Iraqi regime members. Air Force Special Operations Forces While not as widely known as the SEALs, Army Rangers or even the mysterious Delta Force, the Air Force Special Operations Forces transport and provide close air support as an integral part of any special operations mission. Air Force SOF consists of uniquely equipped fixed and rotary wing aircraft operated by highly trained aircrews whose missions include insertion, extraction, re-supply, aerial fire support, refueling, combat search and rescue, and PSYOPS -- psychological operations. Aircraft flown by Air Force SOF include the AC-130 gunship, the MJ-53J Pave Low helicopter, used by other special operations forces for covert infiltrations, and the EC-130E Commando Solo, which is used for psychological operations. Air Force SOF also includes the Special Tactics Group. This group includes combat controllers who coordinate and direct airstrikes, para-rescuers who conduct combat search and rescue operations, and combat weathermen who operate expeditionary airfields and provide support for combat rescue missions.
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