This is not new news, but it’s a little-talked about part of history that is covered in a book called Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite 1956-1990. In the book, author James Stejskal claims to have been part of a detachment of US troops called the Berlin Brigade, which also had British and French members, during the cold war. The troops had a frightening mission, should war kick off, the unit was instructed to kill as many forces as they possibly could before they were annihilated, and it was a forgone conclusion the troops would not survive the mission.
Had the Cold War turned hot, there would have been no escape for the U.S. garrison in West Berlin. Marooned in a city more than 100 miles inside Communist East Germany, the U.S. Berlin Brigade—and the British and French garrisons as well—would certainly have been overwhelmed by Soviet and East German troops. Their presence helped keep half of Berlin free from Communist rule. But it was no secret that theirs was a suicide mission.
Yet there was a unique American unit with an even more hazardous mission: a small Special Forces detachment whose job it would during wartime to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Soviets and their puppet armies. That sentence bears repeating: Deep inside East Germany, in the midst of a vast Soviet military and secret police apparatus, a small group of U.S. commandos would attempt to blow up Russian supply depots and lead local resistance groups.
The phrase “suicide mission” doesn’t even apply.
The unit had many names over the Cold War. But as James Stejskal, a veteran of the detachment, describes in his book Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite 1956-1990 , they always knew what they were getting into. “They were aware of the odds against them and the threat posed by the Warsaw Pact forces stationed just kilometers away. Despite that, no one wavered in their commitment to face and deter the Soviet war machine.”
The U.S. Army’s Special Forces (SF) was born in 1952, and by 1956 SF units were deployed to Berlin. “The unit would first conduct sabotage attacks on vital targets such as rail marshaling yards, bridges, military command and control systems, communications, petroleum oil and lubricant (POL) facilities, power plants, and inland waterways,” Stejskal writes:
Most of the rail targets were on the Berliner Aussenring, a 125-kilometer [77.7-mile] rail line that circled West Berlin just outside the city and would carry the overwhelming majority of Soviet traffic westwards to the front. Once those targets were destroyed the teams would then conduct the CINCEUR’s [Commander-in-Chief Europe’s] mission of unconventional warfare behind the lines of the Warsaw Pact armies, the so-called ‘stay behind’ mission. It was also prepared to arm and direct civilians inside Berlin against an occupation force—there were 10,000 weapons in the Brigade’s Emergency Arms Reserve stored specifically for that purpose.
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Now ask yourself this question as you ponder the claims made here. If true (and I have little doubt not to believe these claims), how is the mission of this brigade any different than the mission of groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, that we call terrorists? To the degree to which people intentionally target civilians, yes, there’s a bit of a sliding scale on the ‘terrorist’ charge, but, even if they are not deliberately targeting civilians, if they’re only targeting the military and strategic points (as many of these ‘terrorist’ groups do in the regions where the US is currently engaged), what makes them different than the groups we call terrorists?
I don’t give countenance to these groups, but I do ask you to think beyond the labels and ask yourself, if it was your country, and you were facing what looked like an occupation of your land by a foreign power, would you find yourself planting IEDs along the side of the road to target those foreign occupiers? Would that, alone, make you a terrorist?