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Special ops deputy commander Kraft praises troops, MOAA

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: November 18, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — In a small town in Syria, the Islamic State prepared for the end of the world.

Dabiq, with a few thousand residents just south of the border with Turkey, had an importance that far outweighed the size of the town itself.

According to legend, Dabiq was to be the site of one last epic battle that would end in victory for ISIS and start the end of times.

But in the fall of 2016, more than two years after ISIS took control of the town, a group of more than 30 Special Forces soldiers and 150 tribal militants armed with AK-47 rifles systematically cleared Dabiq and the surrounding area of ISIS fighters in a little more than a month.

“It did not cause the end of days,” said Maj. Gen. James E. Kraft Jr., who spent more than a year as commander of special operations forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Kraft, the current deputy commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, spoke of Dabiq and other recent operations involving Army special operators while visiting with the Cape Fear Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America on Friday.

USASOC – which includes Special Forces, civil affairs, psychological operations, Rangers, special operations aviation and a sustainment brigade – has several thousand soldiers in more than 70 countries, Kraft said.

But while those troops are engaged around the world, it’s groups like MOAA that fight on their behalf at home.

In the past year, the local MOAA chapter has raised thousands of dollars to support scholarships for youth, grants for local JROTC units and donations to organizations that support troops and their families at Fort Bragg.

Kraft praised the organization for its efforts and its advocacy in Washington to protect the benefits, pay and perks of active duty troops and veterans.

“I’m honored to be here with you all tonight,” he said, addressing not only the Cape Fear Chapter, but also leaders from all 16 chapters of MOAA across North Carolina. “Thank you for who you are and what you represent.”

Kraft told several vignettes about some of the roughly 34,000 Army special operators that make up more than half of the nation’s special operations forces.

Kraft said USASOC soldiers are in the Pacific and across Central and South America.

They are fighting in Afghanistan, where they have been since 2001.

“Every single night, to include I guarantee right now as we’re speaking, we have Special Forces teams in contact with the enemy,” Kraft said. “Against the Taliban and against ISIS. Right now.”

And they are in Africa, where groups like Al Shabaab and Boko Haram are trying to tear apart countries like Niger.

“We’re standing watch there,” Kraft said, referring to the country where four 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers were killed last month.

Kraft said the soldiers in Africa are living on the edge, where help is not always close by.

“It is inherently a dangerous business,” he said. “Our folks are out there on the edge every single day because if it matters to the United States, it matters to me, it matters to us and we’re going to be there.”

Kraft said USASOC soldiers are a special breed.

They are selected from the best the Army has. And often take more than two years to train up to the skillsets required of them.

USASOC solders are willing to sacrifice everything they care about in life for their country and the men and women that serve alongside them, Kraft said.

“You cannot put a pricetag on that sort of devotion,” he said.

And while USASOC accounts for just 1.4 percent of the U.S. military’s budget, Kraft said they have a far larger impact.

“That’s a heck of a return on investment,” he said.

The ongoing efforts in Iraq and Syria are a testament to that impact.

Instead of fighting ISIS head-on, Kraft said, USASOC soldiers are working by, with and through local partners that are fighting ISIS on their own turf.

ISIS is an evil enemy, he said, one that inspires devotion and a radical mindset whose adherents won’t rest until all in the United States are dead and the American way of life is destroyed.

“We have an uncompromising enemy. It’s total war,” Kraft said. “There is no negotiating. There is no surrender on an aircraft carrier.”

When fighting such an enemy, Kraft said, America could send in its own armies to destroy ISIS, losing U.S. “blood and treasure” in the process.

But that would likely inspire even more to join ISIS’s cause, he said. And victories may be hard to maintain without a strong local opposition to ISIS returning to power.

So instead, special operations forces are working to inspire others to take up the fight.

“They must do it themselves,” Kraft said. “We have got to find local solutions.”

Those solutions aren’t always as fast as some in the U.S. would like, he said. And they aren’t as decisive as tanks and rockets.

But so far, they have been successful.

Kraft noted the recent liberations of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria – the largest two cities formerly under ISIS control.

In the latter, Kraft said troops fought against a well-entrenched enemy, armed with sophisticated improvised explosive devices and unmanned aerial vehicles that could drop grenades – some containing chemical weapons – on allied forces.

Through the Syrian Democratic Forces – including Kurdish and Arab troops – Kraft said ISIS is being defeated in Syria.

The SDF and coalition fighters have killed more than 32,000 ISIS fighters, he said. And ISIS as a state or caliphate is nearly defeated.

“That war is going very, very well,” he said.

But it’s not over. And USASOC soldiers will be asked to continue to deploy to Iraq and Syria, as well as dozens of other countries around the globe.

“Business is good. Almost too good,” Kraft said.

USASOC soldiers account for the majority of the nation’s special operations missions. And while the force would prefer to be home three times more than they are deployed, Kraft said soldiers are currently spending only slightly more time at home than they are overseas.

That is causing problems with overuse and recruitment and retention, Kraft said.

In response, USASOC has full-time teams of strength coaches, nutritionists, chaplains and psychiatrists to try to keep soldiers ready and resilient for the missions.

He said MOAA’s efforts are an important piece of those efforts because they work to ensure families and troops are taken care of.

“Thank you,” Kraft said. “Thank you for having our backs.”

dbrooks@fayobserver.com

©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com
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In a July 28, 2017 file photo, Maj. Gen. James E. Kraft Jr., left, passes the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) colors to Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo, U.S. Army Special Operations Command commanding general, during a change of command ceremony. During the ceremony, Kraft relinquished command of 1st SFC (A) to Maj. Gen. Francis M. Beaudette.
U.S. ARMY

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