Small Wars Journal

Post-Afghanistan, Special Operations to Shift to Conflict Prevention

Wed, 07/31/2013 - 7:56am

Post-Afghanistan, Special Operations to Shift to Conflict Prevention by Steff Thomas, National Defense

After U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan ends, special operators will have to shift from fighting in conflicts to helping to prevent them, Special Operations Command leaders said July 29.
The ability to build relationships with partner nations will determine whether this shift from combat to prevention works or not, said Col. Stuart Bradin, chief of the global network operational planning team at the U.S. Special Operations Command...

Read on.



Thu, 08/01/2013 - 10:06pm

As a Vietnam vet on two A Teams, we were language trained and developed relationships but still had the long antennae. That was necessary to gain respect. Our counterparts really didn't care how bulked up we were. Even today, the firepower of the US must be at the end of that antennae. If we put people on the ground, everyone must know we are committed and prepared to back it up. At the cease fire in Vietnam I was a District Senior Adviser. We were down to two of us but with US Air available, we still had value. In my opinion, we need to move the Navy and Marines to the background in special operations. They operate with a strike force mentality. Like Army Rangers, I believe they would have difficulty with a defensive orientation in a manner that would add to a mindset of prevention.

Bill C.

Thu, 08/01/2013 - 11:01am

Always looking for context, I found this regarding analysis from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments:

"CSBA’s study, “Beyond the Ramparts,” reiterated most of these important, sober recommendations, but it added some intriguing wrinkles of its own. It agrees Special Operators need to emphasize training and advising friendly forces to fight al-Qaeda spin-offs, narco-terrorists, and the like. But it adds they must also “regain their readiness for major wars” against sophisticated nation-states such as China or, to a lesser degree, Iran ... "

"In an endearing display of nerdity, lead author Jim Thomas’s choice of historical analogy was not how nuclear-armed superpowers resorted to proxy conflicts during the Cold War but how Great Britain and France spent much of their effort fighting in their far-flung colonies, not in Europe, during the Seven Years’ War – which most Americans know as the French and Indian War ( anyway. His second analogy was the 19th century “Great Game” between the British and Russian Empires in the regions now known as Afghanistan and Pakistan, the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim."…

Thus, SOF deployed and employed to prevent/participate in both large and small wars.

The networked approach to prevention and operations that SOCOM's strategy (and the strategy outlined in the DSG and CCJO JF 2020)calls for is not what SOF was originally formed to do. I agree we're taking many of the original aspects of SOF, especially Special Forces, but we're blending them with new strategic and operational concepts to address both localized and transnational threats. It is an approach that has already proven successful in some cases, BUT

Not all our threats are globally networked, nor does one size or approach fit all. Most Headquarters prefer a cookie cutter approach because it easier to manage, but the world was never that simple. Perhaps after spending the last decade fighting terrorism, many assume the next decade will look the same across the globe, but the threats we face are much more diverse than terrorism. Terrorism will remain with us for decades, just like it was with us decades prior to 9/11, but that is only one of many security challenges that the military must address. Furthermore there are unique political and cultural aspects in each theater that will inform the best approach for that theater, so theaters must be able to tailor the strategic approach to fit the unique conditions within their areas. SOF more than GPF (I hope) should be flexible enough to provide tailored approaches to a wide array of challenges. God help us if we become like the GPF and an infantry Bn is an infantry Bn. This concept has a lot of potential if SOF remains flexible (not a cookie cutter approach), and it gets the right authorities and the interagency consensus needed to enable effective, collaborative partnerships.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 07/31/2013 - 8:45am

Another way of saying this is that we are going to see a return to the roots of SOF and in particular Special Forces. What is old is new again (at least to some people). We can wrap this up in a new package but what we are really talking about are traditional special operations activities.