Special Forces units are often charged with going into unfamiliar, remote and potentially dangerous areas to gather intelligence and conduct operations independent of external support.
Quite often, they are dropped into situations where the enemy situation isn’t clearly defined and it’s up to them to figure it out and report what they find to their higher headquarters for further analysis. Thus, the role of the Special Forces intelligence sergeant on an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) is critical to processing intelligence, providing intelligence to support unit-level operations and reacting rapidly when local information reveals itself as operationally actionable.
Recognizing the importance of improving these capabilities, members of the Slovak 5th Special Forces Regiment (5th SFR) approached U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) intelligence leaders to provide a forum for them to build upon their own detachment level intelligence capacity.
To enhance the 5th SFR’s intel capacity and build interoperability between the nations, the SOCEUR J-2 Intelligence Directorate developed an intel-focused program of instruction (POI), and over a nine-month period beginning in January 2010, conducted several tactical intel seminars to provide a basic understanding of the unit-level requirements that a Special Forces intelligence operator would need in a tactical environment.
“In our opinion it starts with the development of the Special Operations intelligence sergeant who supports a 12-man ODA,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mark Steliga, the SOCEUR J-2 lead officer for Partner Nation Development.
In the past, a Slovak 5th SFR ODA consisted of only ten men, however because the 5th SFR wanted to follow NATO SOF standards for the composition of an ODA, they decided to create two additional intelligence sergeant positions.
“We decided the intelligence sergeant was something we needed,” said an operations officer assigned to the 5th SFR. “We specifically requested that SOCEUR teach us everything a Special Forces intelligence sergeant needs to know.”
The POI was divided into four one-week blocks with three held at the 5th SFR headquarters in Zilina, Slovakia and the final culmination exercise held in Stuttgart, Germany from Oct. 18-22. All of the seminars were instructed in English and real world intelligence was used whenever possible.
SOCEUR requested that course participants be junior commissioned and more experienced noncommissioned officers – the right mix of personnel who would be in the field to support unit-level tactical operations. In addition, the participants were required to be available for the entire duration of the nine-month long period.
The first seminar focused on intelligence basics and tools. The operators were given a BICES overview and classes pertaining to how that system is being used in Afghanistan right now. BICES stands for Battlefield Information, Collection, & Exploitation System, and is a NATO secret-level computer network that is increasingly being used both in Afghanistan and throughout Europe between NATO allies. The instruction also included an ISAF operations brief to give the Slovaks better situational awareness as they prepared for future missions in support of ISAF.
“We started with the very basics – giving the Slovaks the tools necessary to conduct intelligence support for tactical level operations,” Steliga said. “We used the methodology of ‘you need the tool before you can apply it.’”
The second seminar developed the Slovaks’ intelligence processes and methods. This block utilized the exact same applications currently taught at NATO SOF Headquarters and included introductory classes on different types of intelligence, methods to process this intelligence, and different ways to utilize this information to support the planning and execution of unit-level operations.
The third seminar expanded upon processes and methods, but also focused on the duties and responsibilities of a Special Forces Intelligence Sergeant. Students were then given the opportunity to apply themselves to vignettes, and tactical “on the ground” situations. Steliga stressed that this block used real world intelligence from events currently happening in Afghanistan.
“This was where we wanted them to really start thinking about what you need to do to support real world operations and come up with the products critical to mission success,” Steliga said. “The block was focused primarily on Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace (IPB), which is one of the most important processes a Special Forces intelligence sergeant must know.”
U.S. Army Field Manual 34-130, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield states that IPB is a systematic, continuous process of analyzing the threat and environment in a specific geographic area. It is one of the best processes intel analysts have for understanding the battlefield and the options the battlefield presents to friendly and threat forces.
In learning the IPB process, the students were instructed that IPB was critical prior to and during the commander’s initial planning for an operation, but they must also perform a variety of intelligence tasks during the operation itself.
The fourth and final seminar tied everything together and focused on techniques normally thought of as detective skills. During this session, the Slovaks were introduced to biometric and forensic analysis as well as more advanced methods of finding and exploiting evidence.
“More and more, operations in Afghanistan are focused on military assistance and partnering, where criminal evidence that can be used in an Afghan court of law is critical to the success of an operation,” Steliga said while explaining the importance of this block of instruction.
To complete the final exercise, the Slovaks had to produce a complete target intelligence package, bringing together such information as target description, threats and vulnerabilities as well as demographics and cultural information. They then had to brief their results, in English, to senior leaders from the Slovak General Staff and senior members of the SOCEUR Staff.
Steliga mentioned that building intel interoperability with his Slovak counterparts was key to preparing them to operate both within the ISAF theater as well as with other global NATO operations.
“Every piece of equipment that we used during this process is a piece of equipment that they will utilize in Afghanistan. This includes computer applications they’ll use while deployed and at the NATO schoolhouse in Belgium,” Steliga said. “Secondly, a lot of the course work that we used throughout these evolutions is taught at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, so it is extremely familiar to U.S. intelligence operators. There is a lot of commonality between how they operate now and the way a U.S. Special Forces intelligence sergeant would support his guys.”
According to Col. Mike Faruqui, SOCEUR’s Director of Intelligence, the opportunity to support SOF intelligence personnel is of vital importance to both U.S and its allies. As part of SOCEUR’s role in working with and supporting its European SOF allies, the seminar provided an academic arena to enhance coalition SOF capacity and also build networks within the SOF community.
“SOF has a very unique role and this type of engagement is essential to what we’re trying to do for our collective national security interests,” Faruqui said. “The tactical operations that SOF conducts; 90 percent of the time have strategic implications.”
Commenting on the significance of the seminar, a general staff member of the Slovak Ministry of Defense said, “We all know operations are intelligence driven. So from where we were nine months ago, this is a major difference. We now have the capability to provide better solutions and intel support to deployed units.”
Adding more relevance to the role noncommissioned officers provide in analyzing and synthesizing information, the Slovaks received much of their instruction from SOCEUR’s lead Partner Development Program Intelligence noncommissioned officer, who is a staff sergeant. He attended the second, third and fourth iterations of the seminar and quickly earned the respect and admiration of his Slovak counterparts.
“From the minute I walked in the door, I was welcomed” said the U.S. intel sergeant. “Within the first week, we developed great rapport and trust, and from that point they had no issues communicating with me and asking for further guidance when they didn’t understand something.”
Having spent seven months travelling back and forth to Zilina, he believes the seminar provided a glimpse of why the intelligence sergeants are critically important to a Special Forces team.
“The Slovaks have put some serious thought into the way they want to operate and feel the 12 man team will best compliment their operations – particularly the intelligence sergeant’s role and responsibilities,” said the U.S. intel sergeant. “They want to model themselves according to the NATO SOF standard where sergeants are empowered to make critical decisions as part of a Special Forces team.”
After completing the seminar, one of the Slovak intelligence sergeants had high praise for the instruction he learned over the nine-month period.
“I wanted to learn new intelligence techniques; new ways to do my job as an intelligence sergeant so I can be better in my mission,” he said. “We were very receptive to this course and were very impressed with what we were learning. Everything was so useful and it opened our eyes to the way intelligence preparation on the battlefield was critical to our commanders.
“I feel more relevant as to what I can provide for my guys. In the past, we could not have been such a valuable asset to the commander.”
He also praised his American counterparts.
“It was great to work with the Americans,” the Slovak intelligence sergeant said. “To see how skillful they are; they are very knowledgeable and I am impressed with them. It was important to us to hear from them how they conduct intelligence operations. They served as role models for us as we strived to become better intelligence sergeants.
Speaking proudly on behalf of the Slovak intelligence sergeants after they received their diplomas, the 5th SFR operations officer expressed the significance of how the seminar has enhanced his regiment’s intelligence gathering capabilities.
“Today is a big day for the 5th Special Forces Regiment,” he said. “The intelligence sergeant is the brain of the Special Forces Detachment. In the past, our sergeants were not considered for such a mission, but now these sergeants will bring this knowledge back to the regiment.”