Small Wars Journal

Special Operations Forces: Let SOF Be SOF

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 1:58pm

Special Operations Forces: Let SOF Be SOF by Kristen R. Hajduk, Center for Strategic and International Studies


Thus far, the incoming Trump Administration has expressed interest in easing restrictions and White House oversight on military decision-making. A willingness to place more agency in the hands of operators could provide breakthrough opportunities and flexibility for Special Operations Forces (SOF) as they continue to combat terrorism.

Bottom Line

The future of global security—from both non-state and state actors—will depend on preventing slow-burning and asymmetric threats from sowing instability abroad. Fully supporting the roles and resources of special operations is the best, most effective way to ensure America retains its strength and security.


The U.S. Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM) direct action missions provide immediate response capabilities during violent conflict. This includes counterterrorism (CT), high-value targeting, countering weapons of mass destruction, personnel recovery, and hostage rescue operations. These direct operations buy time for longer-term indirect approaches—including civil affairs, building partner capacity, information operations, and special reconnaissance—to take effect. Indirect operations address the sources of terrorism or instability by increasing partner nations’ resilience and rule of law.  

Military and civilian leaders have responded to the evolving threat of terrorism by emphasizing direct action missions. In 2006, USSOCOM was named as the lead command for all operations against al Qaeda (AQ). It was successful in severing AQ from its sources of power: people, money, and influence. This success and continued demand for special operations have led to slightly increased personnel numbers and larger budgets.

As USSOCOM became increasingly involved in CT operations, the demands on SOF created historically high rates of deployment. During any single year, SOF are deployed to nearly 75 countries around the globe, with some operations requiring up to a dozen raids each evening. The resulting demands on SOF have led to concerns for the chronic neglect of indirect missions and the future of SOF readiness. The following recommendations are designed to give the Department the flexibility to engage, support, and deploy SOF effectively and efficiently.

Recommended Changes

Equalize funding, resourcing, and personnel between direct and indirect SOF missions. SOF’s value has equal footing in direct action and indirect activities in support of Geographic Combatant Command (GCC) missions. Whereas direct action may effectively target terrorists, indirect operations support stability and counteract sources of instability, preventing conflict or enabling host-nation forces to prevent or address conflict themselves. Without equal emphasis on indirect missions, SOF will fall back on an unending target list—perpetually repopulated with new individuals—without any off-ramps to stabilization and political reconciliation.

Today, the DoD Unified Command Plan gives USSOCOM responsibility to lead direct operations for combating terrorism, however, the command has no formal authority to coordinate the indirect DoD activities that counter the sources of instability. This gap should be closed, with the Secretary of Defense naming USSOCOM as the DoD operational lead command for all indirect activities in support of CT. USSOCOM could then develop a template for long-term, indirect operations based on past successes with partner countries.

Decrease deployment rates to support the long-term readiness of the force.  Return SOF personnel to 1:2 dwell time (also referred to as “days at home”). SOF personnel have not achieved sufficient dwell rates since before 9/11, and SOF senior leaders have observed the force “fraying around the edges” since that time. Deploying at these historically high rates withholds much needed time for them to recuperate between deployments, receive additional training, and spend much-deserved time with their loved ones. Allowing for reasonable dwell time provides opportunities for operations to devote time to develop intellectual capital, maintain and improve foreign language skills, and generally foster a force of strategically-minded leaders. Leaders must not sacrifice the strategic readiness of SOF for short-term tactical or operational gains.

Leverage the Army and U.S. Marine Corps to serve greater roles in indirect GCC operations. The size of SOF cannot be quickly surged. The force can reasonably grow at a rate of 3-5% each year without sacrificing quality. Adding to this burden are GCC requirements for SOF, which continue to grow exponentially in order to meet the demands of their respective operational environments. Therefore, the best way to preserve the high quality of the SOF while meeting the increasing GCC demands is to leverage the conventional forces to fill non SOF-specific requirements. To provide this support, the Services may have to resist the singular focus on high-end warfighting at the expense of the urgent need for indirect operations.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Army proved its ability to adapt conventional units to civil affairs missions with relative rapidity and ease. The Army’s manpower, organizational reach, and historical experience can support this partnership by increasing the number of active duty civil affairs units and conducting the bulk of civil affairs operations and some information operations overseas.

The USMC can draw upon its historical role in small wars, doubling down on USMC cultural and structural attributes that make them more efficient at indirect missions.

Similarly, leverage the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) to support building partner capacity and security cooperation activities. The USMC unit structures could be a substitute for USSOCOM’s small-unit, indirect operations with host nations. The USMC already has manpower and resources—such as air, naval, amphibious, ground capabilities—integrated down to the tactical level. The USMC can draw upon its historical role in small wars, doubling down on USMC cultural and structural attributes that make them more efficient at indirect missions.  

SOF operational planning and synchronization should be pushed down to the Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs). Each GCC has a TSOC responsible for meeting theater-unique special operations requirements. TSOCs should serve a greater role in operational planning in support of GCC-wide strategies and help coordinate activities with the U.S. embassies within the area of responsibility. They should ensure alignment of country-level planning across the various SOF units assigned within the GCC. TSOCs can be powerful influences within the GCC—especially when the GCC headquarters are not located within the GCC for security reasons—like U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command. USSOCOM can realize the potential of TSOCs by ensuring the highest-performing personnel in command of and deployed to TSOCs.

Strengthen SOF personnel and operational oversight. Seek statutory adjustments to combine the responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict with the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence into a unified Under Secretariat for Special Operations and Intelligence (USD(SO&I)). This will allow for more collaboration between covert and overt activities conducted by the Department. It will also create one point of contact for coordination of paramilitary activities between SOF and the intelligence community. Last, increase the manpower and resources that support the ability of USD(SO&I) to provide independent assessments and departmental oversight of USSOCOM, information, and intelligence activities.

The future of global security and the fight against counterterrorism—from both non-state and state actors—will depend on preventing slow-burning and asymmetric threats from sowing instability abroad.  Fully supporting the roles and resources of special operations is the best, most effective way to ensure America retains its strength and security.

Download the Full Report.


Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/26/2016 - 1:42pm

Very, very good reading about evolution of Finnish deep operations.

The work is based on Doctor of Military Sciences, Lieutenant Colonel Marko Palokangas' dissertation entitled Rjhtv tyhjyys, which was published in 2014. In his research, Palokangas analyses the importance of guerilla-type activity as a part of the Finnish art of war. Although the dissertation covers the time period between 1918 and 1983, it focuses on the post-world-war-two era. You can read the publication here.…
pdf is downloadable from this site

Finnish version with illustrations is available here.

Exploding Wilderness is already the 20th publication in the series published since 1990. The previous Finnish Defence Studies was published in 2012.
All publications in the series are available for download at

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:54am

In reply to by Bill M.

Poles tend to go overboard..when one talks about Russia..but have a point.....

BTW..during the Cold War in the early 80s we would watch the Warsaw Pact Polish special purpose troops like a hawk...even then they were head and shoulders above GDR or Soviet same type units....

The Polish SF were called in the Cold War days ...the black SF based on their black uniforms...were extremely professional and often were inside the then Western Europe as inland riverboat barge captains and or drivers for the Polish PKS long haul trucking company.....

At any one time Poland had roughly 600 inland riverboat/barges underway throughout Europe and over 100 long haul trucks on the go as well...and if only 10% were being piloted and or driven by Polish SF officers that was an average of 70 Polish SF officers inside NATO everyday...conducting surveillance of NATO units and strategic targets....

NOW could CF do that? Not really....

Example ...during 1984 we had a hijacking of a Polish LOT aircraft come into Berlin.......actually when the aircraft was taxiing to a parking area the rear door opened up and out jumped this individual who went into an immediate combat firing stance with his pistol and was firing into the air making the air marshal think he was returning fire...he never once endangered the plane and or passengers once the aircraft had stopped the USAF APs surrounded this individual and arrested him.

It took us awhile to get the air marshal to leave the aircraft.....

During the interview of the wounded individual he handled himself in a way that reminded me of SF....even in pain with the foot wound that occurred in the shoot out he answered all questions...but never one word more than what was needed....when I asked him questions about his potentially being a member of the Polish black SF he went quiet....

He continued to say little even during his hijacking trial and was sentenced even though I was able to place him intel wise in an actual Polish Presidential protection SF unit....he could have easily claimed political asylum but did not .....he served his 1.6 years and then "disappeared"...some later said when I checked up on him ....into the US on a US passport issued by the US Berlin Consulate.......

Strange times in those days.......

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/25/2016 - 3:10pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill...the skill sets I learned then and up to 1971 I still use today with my company in the line of work we do....that is just how good the UW training was in those days and how well it prepared me to interrogate in Iraq and years of strategic debriefing in Berlin during the Cold War days....SF training in the mid 60s to early 70s was around the concept of a "mindset".....once you learned that "mindset" you never ever lose it....

This unit I was in was the height of UW and SF never was allowed to say that until 2014....our TTPs and mission sets are still largely highly classified......

Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army's Elite, 1956-1990
by James Stejskal

It is a little-known fact that during the Cold War, two U.S. Army Special Forces detachments were stationed far behind the Iron Curtain in West Berlin. The existence and missions of the two detachments were highly classified secrets.

The massive armies of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies posed a huge threat to the nations of Western Europe. US military planners decided they needed a plan to slow the juggernaut they expected when and if a war began. The plan was Special Forces Berlin. The first 40 men who came to Berlin in mid-1956 were soon reinforced by 60 more and these 100 soldiers (and their successors) would stand ready to go to war at only two hours’ notice, in a hostile area occupied by nearly one million Warsaw Pact forces, until 1990.

Their mission should hostilities commence was to wreak havoc behind enemy lines, and buy time for vastly outnumbered NATO forces to conduct a breakout from the city. In reality it was an ambitious and extremely dangerous mission, even suicidal. Highly trained and fluent in German, each man was allocated a specific area. They were skilled in clandestine operations, sabotage, intelligence tradecraft and able to act if necessary as independent operators, blending into the local population and working unseen in a city awash with spies looking for information on their every move.

Special Forces Berlin was a one of a kind unit that had no parallel. It left a legacy of a new type of soldier expert in unconventional warfare, one that was sought after for other deployments including the attempted rescue of American hostages from Tehran in 1979. With the U.S. government officially acknowledging their existence in 2014, their incredible story can now be told.

Meet the Author
James Stejskal served for 23 years with Special Forces, including two tours in Berlin, retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer 4. He then served 13 years with the CIA as a senior Operations Officer (Case Officer) in Africa, Europe and Asia. He is now a military historian and conflict archaeologist. This is his second book.

Casemate Publishers
Publication date:

ALL proceeds go to support SF families

BTW.....this little known secret...while Desert One failed....the unit was highly successful getting into and out of Tehran in 1979...using everything they were trained to do......thus proving we would have succeeded if war had broken out......
This is what SF has to urgently get back to as it is the indirect answer to the Russian non linear warfare.......

BTW...the debate around whether CF can do the SF mission set....trained over 41 BCT staffs and went through their deployment training at the NTC with them...Big Army can never ever replace what SF does....yes they have the manpower...yes they have the planning abilities...BUT BCTs simply do not have the "mindset"....

Bill M.

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 10:46pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

SF is still SF, but it isn't the SF that was conceived by its founders. I'll defer to you on what year that happened. When I came in we still had a lot of Vietnam Vets on the teams who provided great mentorship, but the culture above the ODA was corrupted by conventional army processes and bureaucracy. LTG Guest attempted, and perhaps did, save SF from further cuts by what was then called unilateral Strategic Recon (now special recon) and Direct Action. The Army saw that as value added for their Fulda Gap scenario, while the big army ignored the numerous actual shooting wars taking place around the globe in developing nations sponsored by the USSR that were part and parcel of the Cold War. The failure of Iranian Mission and neglected SOF writ large is what led to the formation of USSOCOM. Unfortunately, USSOCOM tended to focus on one mission area, which was never to see a repeat of the failed Iran mission. That was certainly appropriate, Congress was holding them accountable to fix that capability gap, but it shouldn't have been SOCOM's only focus. We now see a need for more UW capability (not capacity, we can always grow numbers), and yet we neglected it for years.

SF can relatively rapidly develop their UW skills again, and arguably they still have most of them. The bigger challenge will be changing our excessively conventional culture. In my view, it was our culture that separated us from others more so than our skills. To a point you made in other posts, it does seem SF was more effective when it worked for the CIA. Conforming to the Army's conventional planning and command and control processes doesn't work for UW, and trying to make UW mesh with these processes destroys UW as a valuable operational approach. At least in my opinion.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 5:39pm

Hate to simply say this...SF has not been a true SF since 1973 and the manpower drawdown in SF with their exiting from VN...

We seem to forget it was the decision of BIG Army to drawdown SF after VN....and yet we see some of the same "battles" being fought again now inside Big Army as to it's role and the role of SF.....

There has never been an open and frank analysis of why Big Army drew down SF......and just how long it took to rebuild the current SF to the manning numbers of say 1972.....

Understand the reasons then and you will understand the problems now....history has a bad habit of repeating itself.....

J Harlan

Tue, 12/27/2016 - 9:13am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Unity of command is essential. Nothing should happen within an AOR without the commander's agreement. Having SOF reps sit in on some briefs is not enough. This of course is not what SOF want but if "special operations" are so common that they can't be bothered to coordinate with the AOR commander it's just more evidence that they're not so special.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/27/2016 - 2:07am

In reply to by J Harlan

Here is the core problem if one decides to use CF as a sort of SOF within a defined AOR....was never in AFG with a BCT....BUT during the critical years of Iraq 2005-2008 a BN AOR could and was never fully under physical control of a BN....their AORs were so large the entire BN would have to have been literally on the road 24 X 7 to provide a little feeling of security actually one BCT handled a critical AOR that normally should have been handled by two BCTs...that is how badly stretched they were...

While the BCT BN conducted normal AOR security ops...SF teams assigned into their AOR would work directly against AQI and are identified Baathists.....and or normal Iraqi insurgents...

Some BCTS resolved internal SF/BCT conflicts in each others battle space by having a SF rep sit in on the morning BCT Cmdr briefs....

BUT when one is fully honest...SF had their mission set and the BCT it's mission set and the two never fully meshed...because of the differences in the mission sets...

J Harlan

Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:08am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I was talking about the use of SOF to conduct operations within or very close to infantry battalion AORs. What's even worse about the use of SOF to conduct ops that should be done by the infantry is the lack of unity of command which leads to operations being done at cross purposes.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/26/2016 - 2:58am

In reply to by J Harlan

I am reminded of the following in this debate of CF vs SF....let's not even get into the term SOF....which includes units not SF trained and equipped such as Rangers..airborne units..and MARSOC etc.

Big military ie regular CF have their firm place in the conventional fight and yes can do other things because of their size but a unit built on getting in and out using UW and or not "embarrassing anyone"....such as SF...Delta and Seal Teams are of a far different mindset than CF.

PLUS the use of does one "deny" a 3000 manned BCT or Marine unit of the same size???

Sometimes mission sets could appear to the CF to be "suicidal" but are still conducted by true SF units...can you image the uproar in a BCT staff is they were told it was maybe just a little "suicidal".....and their planning cycle proved that???

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From his letters while in Gestapo prison 1945 and before his execution.

J Harlan

Sun, 12/25/2016 - 3:17pm

In reply to by Bill M.

If the raid had been in Afghanistan them a USMC platoon would have been fine so the reason for SOF is to cover the POTUS from embarrassment in case of a disaster for domestic political reasons. That's not a good enough reason to weaken the main force at great expense.

Bill M.

Sat, 12/24/2016 - 2:58pm

In reply to by J Harlan

Moving beyond the propaganda posters where young Marines are slaying Dragons with their sword, lets face the reality that your average Marine rifle platoon is very young, not that well trained, and with the exception of the Gunny, the leadership is not seasoned. The same holds true for an Army infantry platoon. Neither of these groups is specially selected, trained, or equipped for this type of mission. You have an outstanding guys, and you have your fair share of losers. That is reality.

Take a Direct Action SOF unit, you have more senior officers and NCOs that go through a demanding selection process (both psychologically and physically), then undertake months of advanced training to do missions like this, and have years of experience doing so.

Now you're in the White House, you decided to launch a raid versus doing a drone strike (wise move) to kill UBL. You're going into a denied area, with less than perfect information, and failure will equate to a political disaster at home and increasingly strained relationships with Pakistan for an extended period. Less strained if you actually kill UBL, which puts Pakistan on the defense. Who would you send? A Marine or Army platoon or a unit that is uniquely qualified to do this type of mission?

You also have to consider if things go bad, beyond the loss of the helicopter, and SOF with advanced SERE training (part of the extended specialty training) are much less likely to embarrass our country if detained by the Pakistan military or police. The list goes on and on, but doing a sensitive direct action mission like this is not in the infantry's lane. Doing raids within Afghanistan and Iraq are another matter.

J Harlan

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 11:07pm

In reply to by Bill M.

"The direct action mission to kill UBL could not have been conducted by Marine or Army Squad for a variety of reasons."

I'd like to hear the reasons. The pilots took the SEALs to the objective which was located by the CIA. The "defending force" consisted of a couple of guys with small arms. The mission wasn't "clandestine" if by that you mean people were in disguise etc. How a rifle platoon given time to properly prepare could not have executed that mission isn't apparent. Would they have been unable to break in doors or measure a corpse?

Bill M.

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 10:27pm

In reply to by J Harlan

J. Harlan,

I think your comments are off base in a couple of regards.

First, we're actually fighting the most capable adversary we have fought since the Vietnam War. There are elements of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, etc. that have proven to be superior to the Iraqi Army (Desert Storm or OIF), Panama's military during Just Cause, or the Cubans in Grenada. If you mean they don't have advanced armor, artillery, or an Air Force then state that, but man for man some of these fighter are quite good, and are able to go toe to toe with our forces in many cases even though we dominate the air domain and have superior technology.

Second, comments about hyper conventional operations are off base and frankly inaccurate. The direct action mission to kill UBL could not have been conducted by Marine or Army Squad for a variety of reasons.

Special Operations are best described versus defined, and they're described broadly as operations that require unique modes of employment by operators that are specially selected, trained, and equipped. These operations are often conducted in hostile, denied, and/or politically denied areas (Pakistan was denied and politically sensitive). They may be clandestine, low visibility, possibly conducted with indigenous forces that requires regional expertise (language and culture), and a high degree of risk.

The direct action missions to kill UBL, rescue hostages in Somalia, etc. are clearly special operations, just as the Special Forces UW missions conducted during the initial part of OEF-A, OIF, and now in Syria are special operations. Special Operations is not limited to UW or FID, so while some of our folks in the ranks may not understand that, Congress does.

However, if you changed your comment to refer to the numerous raids conducted by SOF in Afghanistan and Iraq during OIF to take out low level IED cells (as an example) was something that conventional forces were more than capable of. That is a standard infantry mission, and we should get to the point that we defang our infantry forces and rely on SOF to conduct conventional raids (they weren't conducted in denied areas, they weren't clandestine, there were no special skills required beyond good infantry skills, etc.).

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 6:46pm

In reply to by J Harlan

J Harlen: What should be clear is that FID is so much more than military training of an infantry company. Yes regular forces have a large role in FID but FID is so much more than military training such as remote area operations which is a primary SF mission that is informed by SF’s UW capabilities. Below is an excerpt from traditional FID doctrine as well as the description of FID from the joint doctrine encyclopedia. The problem we have today is that people think FID is simply military training.

FID Remote Area Operations: Remote area operations are operations undertaken in insurgent-controlled or contested areas to establish islands of popular support for the HN government and deny support to the insurgents. They differ from consolidation operations in that they are not designed to establish permanent HN government control over the area. Remote areas may be populated by ethnic, religious, or other isolated minority groups. They may be in the interior of the HN or near border areas where major infiltration routes exist. Remote area operations normally involve the use of specially trained paramilitary or irregular forces. SF teams support remote area operations to interdict insurgent activity, destroy insurgent base areas in the remote area, and demonstrate that the HN government has not conceded control to the insurgents. They also collect and report information concerning insurgent intentions in more populated areas. In this case, SF teams advise and assist irregular HN forces operating in a manner similar to the insurgents themselves, but with access to superior combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) resources.

Joint Doctrine Encyclopedia. From 197 since the encyclopedia is no longer published.


Foreign internal defense (FID) programs encompass the total political, economic, informational, and military support provided to another nation to assist its fight against subversion and insurgency. US military support to FID should focus on assisting host nation (HN) personnel to anticipate, preclude, and counter these threats. FID supports HN internal defense and development (IDAD) programs. US military involvement in FID has traditionally been focused on helping another nation defeat an organized movement attempting to overthrow the government.

US FID programs may address other threats to an HN’s internal stability, such as civil disorder, illicit drug trafficking, and terrorism. These threats may, in fact, predominate in the future as traditional power centers shift, suppressed cultural and ethnic rivalries surface, and the economic incentives of illegal drug trafficking continue. US military support to FID may include training, materiel, advice, or other assistance, including direct support and combat operations as authorized by the National Command Authorities (NCA), to HN forces in executing an IDAD program. FID is a principal special operations mission. When it is in the interests of US national security, the US may employ all elements of national power to assist a friendly nation in conducting IDAD programs. For FID to be successful in meeting an HN’s needs, the United States Government (USG) must integrate efforts of multiple government agencies. Ideally the FID program will incorporate all elements in a synergistic manner that supports HN requirements and US national policy and interests in the most advantageous way.

Such integration and coordination are essentially vertical between levels of command and organization, and horizontal between USG agencies and HN military and civilian agencies. In addition, integration and coordination requirements may extend to allied nations participating with the United States in multinational FID efforts. As is evident in the figure below, the lines of organization and command and control in a FID situation are interwoven and often unclear. This factor, combined with the breadth of potential FID operations, makes complete integration and coordination of all national FID efforts a daunting challenge.

Combatant commands with geographic areas of responsibility (AORs) are responsible for planning and executing military operations in support of FID in their regions. Other unified commands play a supporting role to those combatant commanders by providing resources to conduct operations as directed by the NCA. The combatant commander has the responsibility of coordinating and monitoring all the military activities in his AOR in support of FID programs. The priority and importance of the FID mission will depend on the individual theater; however, in certain areas FID may represent the combatant commander’s most important peacetime mission. Organizing for military operations in FID will vary, but there are fundamental principles that apply when planning or executing FID operations as shown in the following examples:

• Military activities in support of FID are an integral part of the long-range strategic plans and objectives for the command’s AOR. These plans must reflect national security priorities and guidance.

• Although planning and executing military operations in FID require a coordinated staff and interagency effort, responsibility and accountability remain with the designated planning and operations section.
Related Terms
Source Joint Publications
JP 3-07 Joint Doctrine for Military Operations Other Than War
JP 3-07.1 JTTP for Foreign Internal Defense (FID)

J Harlan

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 1:22am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

It should be clear except for UW all the roles you list should be done by the army- especially if you intend to replay nation building on a large scale. Take FID. If you're talking creating rifle companies then SF are OK (but not great) but anything larger or more complex is a task for the conventional force.

One aspect of SOF that has rarely been mentioned is the negative effect it has on morale. At every step conventional units are treated as third class(maybe fourth depending on how you grade the "Tiers"). They have many of their most motivated people removed. Those remaining spend a great deal of effort on getting out of their units. People are promoted beyond their level of competency. You also have a large number of good soldiers who've been told they're not good enough. I've heard this called the "selection-destruction cycle" and it is a major negative aspect of building large SOF.

Perhaps in the modern army many of the people in SOF would just quit if they had had to stay in an infantry battalion so it serves as a retention and recruiting tool (along with airborne)to get people to join the infantry in the hope of going SOF. It might fill Bradleys.

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 5:16pm

In reply to by J Harlan

But J Harlan you are only describing one small aspect of SOF, the hyper conventional raiding force, though arguably the most visible. The author is talking about improving the diverse aspects of SOF that conduct UW, FID, Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations and that provide support to political warfare.

J Harlan

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 4:10pm

It's curious that as we fight the least effective enemy we've ever faced we need more and more special forces to attack them- even as we usually expect them to be at home sleeping while our various night vision, communication, surveillance and navigation means remove much of the fog of war that bedeviled special ops in the past. It has never been easier to conduct this type of operation but we increasingly need specialists to do it.

Example. What did Seal Team 6 do in the raid to kill bin Laden that a marine rifle platoon could not do? Should not be able to do? The old pre-9.11 hallmarks of SOF ops- discriminatory shooting, CQB, explosive entry etc are now SOP for the infantry.

The answer to not having enough SOF people is to task the infantry to do what it should do and leave real (rare) special ops to specialists. A raid on a house in your AOR isn't a special op. Training on a friendly air base isn't a special operation. Attaching limpet mines to a freighter is. Kidnapping a guerilla leader from a hostile city is. We should be clear what Spec Ops really are and limit SOF to those missions.

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 3:17pm

Pretty powerful BLUF here. While I am a little bit partial to SOF I do have to say that there is no one force or one capability or one instrument of national power that is a war winner (or war preventer) by itself. I do worry that there are some (not this author of course) who view SOF as a silver bullet or a substitute for using other tools when they may be more appropriate to include large scale employment of conventional forces. To me the solution to the "problem" of employment of SOF lies with strategists and campaign planners and the requirement to employ the right forces for the right missions.

QUOTE The future of global security—from both non-state and state actors—will depend on preventing slow-burning and asymmetric threats from sowing instability abroad. Fully supporting the roles and resources of special operations is the best, most effective way to ensure America retains its strength and security.

QUOTE Recommended Changes:

Equalize funding, resourcing, and personnel between direct and indirect SOF missions.
Decrease deployment rates to support the long-term readiness of the force.
Leverage the Army and U.S. Marine Corps to serve greater roles in indirect GCC operations.
SOF operational planning and synchronization should be pushed down to the Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs).
Strengthen SOF personnel and operational oversight.

Some important recommendations but I have a few quick comments:

I disagree with the use of the word equalize in terms of funding. I think that the special warfare and surgical strike missions should be correctly resourced. That does not necessarily mean they should be equal.

Decreasing deployment rates is necessary but I worry too much that the pendulum will swing too far. Soldiers join SOF to deploy overseas. What we need is the correct priority placed on deployments - they must support campaign objectives and strategies and not simply a deployment because someone wants to io They want to do this and if they are deprived because they have to be "rested" based on some arbitrary time criteria morale will suffer. Effective Special Warfare (which includes UW and counter-UW and supports Political Warfare) is counter-intuitively characterized by slow and deliberate employment – long duration actions and activities, relationship establishment, development, and sustainment. These are long term activities and required investment in people and commitment of time.

I chuckle (respectfully) at the comment about Marine history and small wars. I remember the pull between small wars and amphibious operations and Major Ellis' work in the interwar years. I think a similar tug of war exists in the Corps today and one also in the Army between large scale military operations versus engagement, building partner capacity stability operations and counterinsurgency.

Yes, TSOCs should be the focal point for SOF campaigning in theater. If they cannot be properly resourced(with personnel and forces) for campaigning then they will require long term and continuous augmentation from the SOF CONUS base.

The 2017 NDAA is going to codify the oversight function with the establishment by law of the Special Operations Policy Oversight Council and the insertion of the ASD SO/LIC into the ADCON chain of command giving ASD SO/LIC a service like responsibility and authority. This may be a major inflection point for SOF.

Lastly I wonder if this is not a Freudian slip: :-)

QUOTE The future of global security and the fight against counterterrorism—from both non-state and state actors—will depend on preventing slow-burning and asymmetric threats from sowing instability abroad. Fully supporting the roles and resources of special operations is the best, most effective way to ensure America retains its strength and security. END QUOTE

Are we fighting against terrorists or are we fighting against the overemphasis on the counterterrorism mission?