Special Forces as Military Observers in Modern Combat by Captain Rick Chersicla, Modern War Institute
An Army Special Forces Officer, having been embedded with a Ukrainian infantry company only days earlier, arrives at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, to give a presentation to a conventional Army brigade preparing for a rotation to Europe. He lectures on the latest anti-tank tactics and counter-drone techniques being used against Russian proxy forces. Across the country, an experienced special operations Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) briefs members of the airborne community at Fort Bragg on the what he observed alongside French paratroopers in Mali, following up on the secure teleconferences that occurred previously while he was still in Africa. These scenarios are hypothetical, but plausible. The situations described are examples of “what could be,” if Special Operations Forces (SOF) were used as military observers in modern combat.
Once a widely practiced tradition, professional soldiers are no longer commonly embedded as official military observers during war. This discontinuation can be attributed to reasons ranging from risk aversion, to feasibility, to military culture. An overview of the insights (and the overlooked, potential indicators) from military observers during the last two centuries indicates that modern militaries may be denying themselves an opportunity for critical insight. By embedding officially sanctioned and uniformed observers with belligerents, countries have the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of conflict without being actively engaged in combat. The networked nature of modern militaries means that reports, pictures and videos can be beamed across the planet in near-real time. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are the best candidates to fulfill this overlooked, but not obsolete, practice.
Before expanding on why SOF can best fulfill this role, a better explanation of how military observers can contribute to increased effectiveness and preparation for future conflict must be offered…