Dell Dailey: Soldier, Counterterrorism Warrior

(Melina Mara/twp - Twp)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

Dell L. Dailey's life has been one long string of secrets.

During more than 36 years in the Army, he led the Night Stalkers, an aviation team born from the failed 1980 hostage rescue attempt in Iran that flies secret missions, often at low altitudes, in the dark of night. He headed the Joint Special Operations Command, a unit shrouded in secrecy that runs the "black" military missions of the Navy Seals, Army Rangers and Delta Force. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he directed the new Center for Special Operations, the military hub for all counterterrorism. And he ran special ops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now, Dailey, who retired in April as a three-star general, has stepped out of the shadows to take on a job that carries far less physical risk but may be no less trying. As head of the State Department's counterterrorism office, he will coordinate diplomats, intelligence officials and the military in the world's largest global counterterrorism effort.

Dailey's new high-profile job surprised colleagues. "The State Department asking Dell to do that job boosted my estimation of the State Department," said a former Special Forces officer now in a senior position at the Pentagon. "It's surprising they'd take a guy who is that much of a warrior."

The State Department job was created in the 1980s, and its most recent occupant was another legend, the CIA legend Henry "Hank" Crumpton.

Dailey's first task will be to implement Crumpton's regional strategic initiative to improve counterterrorism efforts. In Lebanon, for example, Dailey said a coordinated plan would involve Defense Department aid in building the capacity of Lebanon's army, State Department support for police training in tracking extremist finances and a role for the Department of Homeland Security in border control training.

He will travel to embassies around the world next month to see what he faces.

Getting up close is Dailey's trademark. Even as he rose up the military ranks, Dailey continued to see action with younger troops. He led what became known as the "Dirt Mission" before Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait, when the Army feared its tank drive into Iraq might get stuck in soft soil. Dailey flew a Night Stalker mission from Saudi Arabia 250 miles into Saddam Hussein's Iraq on the path that the U.S. armored column would take.

"Although it was unheard of for a lieutenant colonel to go out personally, he always felt he needed to lead from the front. So Dailey took that mission himself and flew with two aircraft deep behind enemy lines to get Iraqi soil for composition tests," said Col. Andrew N. Milani II, who worked with Dailey. "We razzed him for putting himself at risk just to get some dirt."

Officers who served with Dailey tell other tales of derring-do -- infiltrating special forces behind enemy lines before war, plucking Air Force pilots who had ejected in hostile territory and rescuing covert operatives under fire -- without details because of secrecy oaths in the world of "black" special ops.

"He's a remarkable soldier. We'd be in a much more precarious position in the world without what he's done," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a classmate in the West Point class of 1971. "Throughout his career, all our classmates talked in reverential terms about him. If I could tell you what he did, you'd be amazed."

The only danger Dailey will discuss openly is running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, in 1979. "I ran the Estafeta, the narrowest part of the run," he said. "I did it for the excitement after reading 'The Drifters' by James Michener. I was a captain in Germany, and I drove there with my girlfriend. I ran with the bulls while Spanish guys were chasing the woman who became my wife," he said. "I learned a lesson about priorities."

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