Small Wars Journal

Thoughts on the Future of Special Operations

Thu, 10/31/2013 - 3:44pm

Thoughts on the Future of Special Operations: A Return to the Roots - Adapted for the Future

David S. Maxwell

As the post 9-11 era of the War on Terrorism winds down, the Services are rightly looking to the future.  With the severe fiscal constraints, drawdown of personnel, and an uncertain future of threats there is a debate on whether the military should focus solely on traditional war fighting and deterrence or sustain and further develop the capabilities to deal with the unconventional warfare threats posed by state and non-state actors from the Iran Action Network to North Korea’s Department 39 to Al Qaeda.  The Special Operations community is having this debate as well and it has resulted in controversial visions for the future including establishing a Global SOF Network (GSN). 

The purpose of this paper is to briefly argue that the future of Special Operations rests in a thorough understanding of its fundamental and traditional missions and then adapting sound, tried and true, and still relevant historical doctrine, mission sets, and tactics, techniques, and procedures for the uncertain future operating environment.

In summary this paper will briefly highlight six specific points.

  1. The U.S. faces national security threats in three fundamental forms of warfare: nuclear warfare, conventional warfare, and unconventional warfare.
  2. The future is characterized by the need to conduct unconventional warfare (UW) and to be able to counter unconventional warfare.
  3. The U.S. has the greatest surgical strike capability in the world but it needs to prioritize and resource equally our special warfare capabilities. 
  4. The U.S. needs Strategists and Policy makers who have a deep understanding of and value the strategic options of UW and Counter-UW.
  5. Effective Special Warfare is counter-intuitively characterized by slow and deliberate employment – long duration actions and activities, relationship establishment, development, and sustainment.
  6. SOF will always have a role in hybrid conflict and conventional warfare. 

Unconventional Warfare

Unconventional Warfare is defined as “activities to enable a resistance or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power through or with an underground, auxiliary and [or] guerrilla force in a denied area.”  This is not an exclusively U.S. centric definition but in fact describes the activities from Al Qaeda to the Iran Action Network.  There are myriad resistance movements around the world including but not limited to the Free Syrian Army to the Uighurs in China to the FARC in Colombia, Boko Haram in Africa and both Moro Islamic organizations and the New Peoples Army in the Philippines just to name a few.  It may be in the U.S. strategic interests to either support some of these movements through unconventional warfare or counter the unconventional warfare efforts of others.

The current doctrinal definition above does not describe the full range of unconventional warfare conducted by the U.S.  There is controversy over the definition and many do not agree with it even in the Special Operations Community.  One seemingly slight controversy is that the definition reads “underground, auxiliary, AND guerilla forces” implying that to conduct UW all three elements are required.  Some, as I do, argue that “and” should be replaced with “or” because a guerrilla force is not always necessary and in fact most people seem to get think the unconventional warfare equals guerrilla warfare.  In the 21st century effective unconventional warfare does not require a guerrilla force and certainly not one in the “traditional” sense as in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam.  Undergrounds and auxiliaries can be much more sophisticated elements of a resistance movement and employ terrorist tactics to achieve their political aims.  Rather than focus on the terrorism conducted, we should really consider how such organizations are actually conduct a form of unconventional warfare to achieve their strategic aims.

Therefore, it is important to look deeper into the meaning of unconventional warfare particularly since here is no agreed upon theory of unconventional warfare and certainly nothing to balance with theory of special operations put forth in Admiral McRaven's seminal work on special operations raids and direct action with his important principles of how small special operations forces can defeat larger ones.  The no longer published 1997 Joint Doctrine Encyclopedia is that last time that UW was fully described in non-SOF military publication.  This excerpt provides a foundation for the concept of UW that remains relevant today:

UW is the military and paramilitary aspect of an insurgency or other armed resistance movement and may often become a protracted politico-military activity. From the U.S. perspective, UW may be the conduct of indirect or proxy warfare against a hostile power for the purpose of achieving U.S. national interests in peacetime; UW may be employed when conventional military involvement is impractical or undesirable; or UW may be a complement to conventional operations in war. The focus of UW is primarily on existing or potential insurgent, secessionist, or other resistance movements. Special operations forces (SOF) provide advice, training, and assistance to existing indigenous resistance organizations. The intent of UW operations is to exploit a hostile power’s political, military, economic, and psychological vulnerabilities by advising, assisting, and sustaining resistance forces to accomplish U.S. strategic or operational objectives.

When UW is conducted independently during military operations other than war or war, its primary focus is on political and psychological objectives. A successful effort to organize and mobilize a segment of the civil population may culminate in military action. Strategic UW objectives may include the following:

• Undermining the domestic and international legitimacy of the target authority.

• Neutralizing the target authority’s power and shifting that power to the resistance organization.

• Destroying the confidence and will of the target authority’s leadership.

• Isolating the target authority from international diplomatic and material support while obtaining such support for the resistance organization.

• Obtaining the support or neutrality of the various segments of the society.

Although this is from 1996 it offers a description of the kind of activities that SOF can conduct “to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power” in support of U.S. strategic objectives and is as relevant at the time of President Kennedy as it is at the time of President Obama.  It also can describe what organizations such as Al Qaeda and the Iran Action Network are doing today.

Since 9-11 we have reinvented numerous terms and concepts from counterinsurgency to irregular warfare to describe what many thought were new phenomena. John F. Kennedy and Barak Obama each articulated the enduring threats that we faced in the 1960’s and that we still face in the 21st century with these two quotes:

President Kennedy 1962 West Point Graduation:

 “This is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origins - war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of combat; by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It requires - in those situations where we must encounter it - a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore, a new and wholly different kind of military training.” 

President Obama 2009 Annapolis Graduation:

“History teaches us that nations that grow comfortable with the old ways and complacent in the face of new threats, those nations do not long endure.  And in the 21st century, we do not have the luxury of deciding which challenges to prepare for and which to ignore.  We must overcome the full spectrum of threats – the conventional and unconventional; the nation-state and the terrorists network; the spread of deadly technologies ad the spread of hateful ideologies; 18th century-style piracy and 21st century cyber threats.”

Both Presidents describe similar threats for their times and each includes elements of unconventional warfare.  This is a timeless activity that evolves over time.  As one simple example today undergrounds and auxiliaries (these exist in some form even if the resistance organizations do not use this terminology) make extensive use of modern communications for recruitment, political mobilization and activities, psychological warfare, and for planning and coordinating operations.  Although some call UW an anachronism because their view is limited to World War II style resistance operations, a thorough study will reveal that UW is widely practiced in various forms today and has adapted to modern conditions, and thus the U.S. must be prepared to both practice it and counter it in accordance with its strategic interests.  It is imperative that the U.S. military and strategists and policy makers have a deep understanding of unconventional warfare and the requirement to counter it in the coming years.

Surgical Strike and Special Warfare

Although Title 10 of the U.S. Code in Section 167 lists the ten special operations activities in so far as they pertain to the conduct of special operations, all Special Operations can be described in two broad categories, Surgical Strike and Special Warfare.  These two categories should be useful to policy makers and strategists because these terms can broadly characterize “the yin and yang” of special operations which has variously been described has direct and indirect approaches or hard and soft power.  As yin and yang imply, SOF is most effective when there is the proper balance among its capabilities but that balance constantly shifts as conditions change.   Most importantly, the capabilities are not mutually exclusive but instead are mutually supporting and reinforcing when they are integrated to support national policies, an integrated strategy and comprehensive campaign plans.

Surgical strike as defined in ADRP 3-05, Army Special Operations is “the execution of activities in a precise manner that employ special operations in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments to seize, destroy, capture, exploit, recover or damage designated targets, or influence adversaries and threats.”  The Title 10 missions that fall within this category are counter terrorism, direct action, special reconnaissance (including all the advanced surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities developed to support SOF since 9-11). Although not designated in Title 10, counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would require support from the surgical capabilities resident in SOF.  The U.S. has developed a surgical strike capability that is the envy of the world.  It has a capability to find, fix, finish, exploit and analyze (F3EA) that has captured and killed numerous high value targets as well as disrupted and destroyed networks and cells conducting or threatening to conduct operations against U.S. interests.

Special warfare as defined in ADRP 3-05 3-05 Army Special Operations is “the execution of activities that involve a combination of lethal and nonlethal actions taken by a specially trained and educated force that has a deep understanding of cultures and foreign language, proficiency in small-unit tactics, and the ability to build and fight alongside indigenous combat formations in a permissive, uncertain, or hostile environment.” 

The Title 10 activities that fall under special warfare include unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, civil affairs and military information support operations (formerly psychological operations).  There are three other activities listed in Title and these include humanitarian assistance, theater search and rescue, and such other special activities designated by the President or Secretary of Defense.

Special Warfare has been the traditional mission of the majority of U.S. SOF.  It can be seen in the traditional names of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Special Warfare magazine that dates from the 1960’s and the Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Command.  In the 1962 edition of the Special Warfare Magazine special warfare consisted of three distinct and overarching missions: Unconventional Warfare, Psychological Warfare, and Counterinsurgency.  A similar construct is useful today with the recognition that surgical strike is a mission of co-equal importance to special warfare.

Some today argue that the use of “warfare” in the name is counter-productive due to perceived (and I would suggest unwarranted) sensitivities with other U.S. government agencies.  Some offer judgments that Ambassadors do not want military personnel coming to their country team announcing that they are there to conduct special warfare.  We should keep in mind that the credibility of SOF lies first and foremost with its combat prowess across the joint SOF force and the ability of every SOF operator to fight and win across the spectrum of conflict.  There should never be an apology for the fact that SOF operators are fighters first who possess special skills and training that allow them to conduct the myriad missions of special warfare and surgical strike.  SOF should never run from its reputation and failing to recognize both its roots and its capabilities by jettisoning special warfare would compound the mistake that was made by eliminating psychological operations for military information support operations.

Strategists and Policy Makers well versed in UW

As I have written previously I do not believe UW belongs exclusively to Special Forces despite the fact that Special Forces remains the only force in DOD that is organized, trained, educated, equipped and optimized to work through and with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.  Yes, the tactical mission belongs to Special Forces and is shared with its interagency partners but the U.S. campaign belongs to Theater Special Operations Commands serving the Geographic Combatant Commands. The strategic mission of UW belongs to policy makers and strategists at the national level.  As is true with all our military forces, SOF possess outstanding tactical capabilities but we need to continue to develop our campaign capabilities at the theater level and our policymaking and strategy development expertise for UW at the national level.  There are three modest actions that should be considered to improve UW campaign plan and strategy development.

The first step is to re-establish the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) that operated in the 1960’s and was located within American University.  SORO was the intellectual center of special operations providing scholarly works to help understand revolutions and insurgencies, the legal aspects of unconventional warfare and the human factors in undergrounds.  Expertise in the so-called “human terrain” resided in SORO and the organization not only provided academic support to special operations but also to the rest of the military in the form of area and cultural studies. 

SORO published a casebook of 23 revolutions and insurgencies that laid the foundation for the study and practice of unconventional warfare.  Recently the U.S. Army Special Operations Command commissioned Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory to update the original studies and add 23 new case studies from the modern era.  Rather than establishing National Capital Region headquarters which has generated much controversy within Congress, the U.S. Special Operations Command should consider re-establishing SORO to provide national level policy makers and strategists the intellectual support necessary to develop and implement UW and counter-UW strategies.

The second and third steps are even more modest.  The graduate schools that policy makers attend should incorporate courses on UW and counter-UW to ensure the development of future strategists and policy makers who can understand the value of UW and counter-UW and are able to be as proficient in this area as they are with the other instruments of national power. 

Finally, professional military education (PME) must educate non-SOF personnel in UW and counter-UW as a matter of routine and not a one-off.  To do this SOF and non-SOF personnel should be fully integrated in PME institutions.

Special Warfare is Long Duration

While surgical strike can be characterized by rapid progression from alert to planning and movement to actions on the objective and then exploit analyze and move to the next target, truly successful operations can be best built on a foundation of effective special warfare.  This requires special operations and intelligence personnel in potential conflicts areas developing relationships and situational understanding in order to facilitate both peacetime conventional and special operations, support to war plans and other special operations that may include surgical strike.  While the discussions of the Global SOF Network has generated much push back within congress and at the Geographic Combatant Commands, there may be other ways and means to conduct persistent engagement with the illusive light footprint. 

There are five historical SOF organizations that may be more acceptable that the GSN.  There organizations existed in the 1960’s through the 1980’s and one continues to exist today.

The 8th Special Action Force (SAF)) in Panama and the Special Action Force Asia (SAFASIA) in Okinawa were both organized based on the 1963 U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Forces with a Special Forces Group as the centerpiece.  However, they were actually excellent examples of what the 2012 U.S. Army Capstone Concept describes as conventional and special operations forces interdependence.  These historical organizations integrated the unique capabilities resident in conventional and special operations forces to provide a force that was easily task organized for specific long duration small footprint operations, that included rotary wing aviation, medical, engineer, intelligence, civil affairs, psychological operations and logistics companies and an infantry building all assigned to a special forces group.  This doctrine could provide a possible framework for a theater organization that would be able to support the GCCs with special warfare capabilities to support theater campaign plans.

The 46th Special Forces Company in Thailand was a small permanently deployed organization that could conduct a range of training and advisory operations in support of UW or counter-UW missions.  It also provided an operational base to support operations by rotating forces that could exploit the expertise and long-term relationships of the permanently assigned personnel.

DET-A in Berlin was one of the premier unconventional warfare and intelligence organizations with the mission to prepare for operations behind the lines in Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War.  This very small organization possessed capabilities and expertise that allowed it to accomplish missions that could be conducted by no other force in DOD.

Finally, Special Forces Detachment Korea (SFD-K and now known as SF DET 39) was established in 1958 and remains assigned to the Korean theater today.  This small detachment consisting of less than 20 senior Special Forces non-commissioned officers and one officer is charged with advising and assisting Korean Special Forces brigades and ensuring interoperability between U.S. and Korean forces.  While the main effort is focused on supporting the Korean theater war plan, this unit has also been responsible for assisting Korean Special Forces prepare for operations in East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  It also assisted in training the Korean navy SEALs in preparation for the very successful counter-piracy operations conducted in the vicinity of the Horn of Africa.

There is one more non-SOF historical organization that should be considered for revival.  That is the Joint U.S. Military Advisory and Assistant Group (JUSMAAG).  Today there are numerous security cooperation organizations working for the Chief of Mission on the country teams.  These are focused on supporting Title 22 security cooperation activities.  However, transitioning existing organizations to a JUSMAAG structure would provide the Chiefs of Mission with an operational headquarters that would be able to plan, conduct, and command advisory assistance operations and provide a command and control headquarters for the various SOF organizations outlined above as well as other military organizations deploying to the host nation to conduct theater missions.

There is also a training organization that should be considered for conventional and special operation forces. The Joint Staff’s Decade of War Report recommended the Military Assistance and Training Advisor course originally taught by Special Forces at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare and School (formerly the Institute for Military Assistance) during the Vietnam War be re-established in order to train both conventional and special operations NCOs and Officers and increase the interoperability during operations requiring these critical advisory and assistance skills. 

The common characteristic of all these organizations is that no two are identical.  Each was developed based on a thorough understanding of the local conditions as well as a determination of the best way to support achieving strategic objectives in a fiscally constrained environment.  The other common trait of these organizations is the critical importance of non-commissioned officers. NCOs were executing operations that for whatever reason must now must be executed by officers.  As an example, Each Korean SF Brigade commander has a senior US special forces NCO as an advisor.  Most other situations would require an officer based on today’s military culture. . 

Rather than establish a GSN with temporary rotating forces, USSOCOM should consider re-establishing modern examples of the above historical organizations to achieve today’s strategic objectives.  These types of organizations could overcome many of the personnel management friction and allow for long-term continuous presence of the right people so they can build relationships and develop the local knowledge to facilitate operations in support of the Chief of Mission, the theater commander or national authorities as required.

SOF in Hybrid Conflict and Conventional Warfare

While the 21st Century has been characterized by unconventional warfare with terrorism as the critical and visible tactic, there is still the possibility of large-scale state on state conflict.  SOF will play an important supporting role in these years of conflict supporting both unconventional warfare before and during major combat operations as well as countering UW during the stability operations phase.  SOF is particularly well suited to conduct operations against hybrid threats.  While a war with either Iran or North Korea will be focused on major combat operations and conventional warfare or even nuclear warfare, defeated enemy forces will rapidly transition to asymmetrical or hybrid threats for which U.S. SOF must be prepared to address.


The future of U.S. SOF should rest on its historical foundation while adapting traditional missions for the conditions and character of conflict of the 21st Century.  Unconventional warfare could very well be the dominant form of warfare.  While the U.S. may not choose to conduct UW often, it is imperative that the U.S. has the capability to counter it.  U.S. SOF by virtue of its training, organization and experience is well suited to make a major contribution to the U.S. efforts to counter UW.

However, to be effective U.S. SOF must achieve the proper balance between its surgical strike and special warfare missions and ensure they are mutually supporting and reinforcing.  U.S. SOF must consider establishing new organizations based on historical examples rather than create new concepts that may not gain acceptance.   Such structure and organizations permanently assigned to critical overseas locations in conjunction with a revived JMAAG concept would provide the small footprint long duration presence that would enable the full range of special warfare activities while always being in place to support surgical strike as required.  Lastly, the only way that U.S. SOF will be able to adapt for the future is to have policy makers and strategists with the knowledge of and appreciation for UW and counter UW operations.  A revived SORO would assist in developing such expertise among policy makers as well as support PME to educate conventional military leaders as well.

Like the military as a whole, U.S. SOF must determine its way ahead and how best to support achievement of U.S. strategic objectives.  To find the way ahead USSOCOM should look to its successful past and consider reviving organizations and concepts properly adapted for the 21st Century operating environment.

About the Author(s)

David S. Maxwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Previously he was the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.


Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 10/11/2014 - 3:07pm

From the article:

<blockquote>UW is the military and paramilitary aspect of an insurgency or other armed resistance movement and may often become a protracted politico-military activity. From the U.S. perspective, UW may be the conduct of indirect or proxy warfare against a hostile power for the purpose of achieving U.S. national interests in peacetime;....</blockquote>

DC often likes to use this activity, or its appearances, to flank or block domestic critics. And I am deeply skeptical of the official narratives on our use of proxies in Afghanistan during the 80s. By that I don't mean the standard left critique of blowback, I just don't buy the narratives of success because so many in the intelligence world that wrote about it after the fact benefitted personally and professionally from the narratives of American success in pressuring the Soviets. There is too much misinformation out there for it to serve as the epitome of American success in covert activities, IMO, but who knows? The truth is not available to the citizens of this Republic.

From Richard Bonin's <em>Arrows of the Night</em>:

<blockquote>The finding was essentially calling for regime change. But as far as Anderson was concerned, that opportunity had come and gone three months earlier, when Bush decided to limit the military's mandate to the liberation of Kuwait....To him, it was all too familiar: cloaking policy failure in the trappings of a hush-hush covert operation. "In Washington,"Anderson told me, "when an administration realized that it can't stay in power if they tell the truth, that they can't make something happen, they come up with this as an option. It fit into the pattern of what I call political masturbation characteristic of most covert actions programs, and that is "We can't do anything about Saddam, so we're gonna do some covert thing that accomplishers nothing but makes us feel good."</blockquote>

Just as Chalabi and regime change proponents got into our system via this early 90s effort, who got into our system now, with the Syrian covert operations, and what will be their long-term decades effect on American foreign policy?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 12:55am

In reply to by Bill M.


So, maybe it needs to be the other way around as more than one article around has suggested. The policy shops should have their policy shoppers work through the actual nuts and bolts of any military action proposed. Peter J Munson had an article at WoTR about this:…

I think there was a back and forth between Peter and the other author, someone from NDS (?), is all, hey, it's not MY job to figure out how to topple Assad! Just do it! He is taken to task a bit in that comments section.

The whole thing reminded me of this old Brady Bunch episode:

<blockquote>Mike worries over a newspaper horoscope, which predicts that a strange woman will enter his life. That woman is a fussy perfume heiress, his firm's latest client who wants her perfume factory impossibly designed to her specifications.</blockquote>

Hilarious. First, she wants a pink factory. Then, she wants a pink factory shaped like a powder compact. Then she wants a pink powder compact factory with a roof that opens up like a compact. Folks, I give you DC!

"Remove Assad, but not with too many boots on the ground, but without empowering jihadis, make sure it doesn't spill over into Iraq, what's that? It's not my job to think about things like logistics or manpower or the rest of it. Just make it so!"

Bill M.

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 8:09pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu our education system certainly addresses unintended effects, but often by their nature they're frequently effects that can't be logically predicted. Clearly the long term effects of most, if not all, of our UW efforts have had unintended and negative consequences.

At the end of the day it is a policy decision, and those in uniform are obligated to provide their best advise to the policy makers.

My personal opinion is that fomenting long term conflicts has detrimental impact on societies that are not easily overcome, and this has been under appreciated in research in my opinion. Acting decisively generally means U.S. military action to quickly achieve the military objective. The impact on society is transient, but our leaders rightfully so are hesitant to do this unless critical national interests are threatened. UW and similar activities provide policy makers with another tool to pursue objectives. If that effort leads (or continues to facilitate an ongoing conflict) to an extended conflict (years), then it appears we generally see a country that run by warlords and organized criminal groups. I could be off base, but when I look at the situation throughout Central America, Afghanistan (during the Soviet occupation), Iraq, etc. where our support prolonged regional conflicts (provided enough support to keep one side from winning, but not enough to facilitate a quick victory).

Now that I think it about it, it does seem we're hesitant to win.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 4:50pm

From the article:

<blockquote>UW is the military and paramilitary aspect of an insurgency or other armed resistance movement and may often become a protracted politico-military activity. From the U.S. perspective, UW may be the conduct of indirect or proxy warfare against a hostile power for the purpose of achieving U.S. national interests in peacetime; UW may be employed when conventional military involvement is impractical or undesirable; or UW may be a complement to conventional operations in war.</blockquote>

When you consider doctrine, do you also consider the potential negative effects of these sort of actions on American interests? What I mean is that for, say, medicines, you have the intended effects and the unintended side effects, and any decision on treatment balances these factors.

Does the same happen in your military educational system? Or is the entire focus on only the potential positive effects? DC Policy makers and PhD think tank intellectuals of an activist bent focus almost entirely on the positives of action rather than on balance calculations of action.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 11:35pm

<blockquote>Working closely with small groups of officers under Kingston in Tampa, ISA formed two special detachments focused on Iran. Detachment E operated undercover out of the nine-story I.C. Farber building in Frankfort, West Germany. The 1930s structure housed the U.S. Army V Corps headquarters as well as the military's counterintelligence and clandestine operations for Europe and the Middle East. That detachment targeted exile and resistance groups within Iran, and soon expanded another office in Pakistan from which it controlled operations and agents inside Iran.</blockquote> The Twilight War: The Secret HIstory of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran, David Crist.

I was actually interested in reading something about William Odom and this turned up.

Wonder how the 80s history of this sort of thing affected our Afghan--and Iraq--campaign? You'd be sort of institutionally "wired" for confusion and mixed psychological and cognitive impulses, I'm guessing. Can't help but wonder. Certainly the Bush administration would have had trouble given its general foreign policy focus.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 5:27pm

Dave----did you ever get any direct feedback from the SF side on the article?

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/08/2013 - 1:49pm

<blockquote>An annotated listing is presented of all SORO publications through December 1965, divided into three main sections: Social Science Research, Foreign Area Studies, and Rapid Response Information and Analysis. The bibliography is indexed by author and by country or area.</blockquote> - Google Books

There are at least four sections on India, I'll have to go look those up. I sometimes think I will call my new SWC thread "The Insurgency They Would Not Study," and, at other times, I think, "The US Military and South Asian Analysis." I've spent too long in academia even though I always sucked at writing papers (just didn't want to do it, give me a Boydian whiteboard any day of the week!), haven't I?


Mon, 02/24/2014 - 9:04am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

very interesting and unbiased view,with intense dialogue ,of someone who's been there and done that!Really like your. authoritative outlook on military and operatinal command objectives.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 3:40pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

The Army bureaucracy in about 1965.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 3:36pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave---which bureaucracy and when?

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 3:31pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave---finished today their case study on the Algerian Revolution 1954-62--an excellent read by the way and this following para really stands out---kind of sounds like the Taliban/AQ schools in Pakistan in 2013.

"The Ulema were able to undermine the position and authority of the Marabout and to win over the hitherto faithful to their own school of
thought. Their teachings ("Islam is my religion, Arabic is my language,
Algeria is my country." ") were expounded in their madaresm
(religious schools), which were located in most cities and villages.
By stressing the unique and distinct qualities of Islam and Arabism,
these madare a became a "breeding ground of young nationalists."
With the conclusion of the tacit alliance with the PPA, Islam became
an ideological component of Algerian nationalism."

One could change the slogan to read "Islam is my religion, Arabic is my language, Iraq is my country" to describe the IAI/JTRN and AQI.

So if Islam was on a roll in 1958--what surprised us in Iraq in 2003.

I might agitate some with this comment----why did the Force reinvent the wheel with Human Terrain Teams at a cost of millions and whose products were iffy at best when SORO had produced at a lower cost products used by Special Forces A teams in their preparation for deployments AND whose products have stood the test of time.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 9:26am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09: SF did not eliminate SORO. That was the bureaucracy. For a good history on SORO I recommend this just published book Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Research During the Cold War (Cornell University Press, 2013) by Dr. Joy Rohde.…

Here is an excerpt on SORO from the official Army Operations Research History:

Source: History of Operations Research
in the United States Army
Volume I 1942-1962
Charles R. Shrader

Special Operations Research Office

The global responsibilities assumed by the United
States in the postwar period, stemming from the Cold War
with the Soviet Union and, particularly, the emergence of
Communist-inspired “wars of national liberation” in the late
1940s and early 1950s, spurred U.S. Army interest in area
studies, guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency techniques,
and psychological operations. That interest led directly to the
establishment in the Army Staff of the Office of the Chief of
Psychological Warfare on 17 January 1951.254 The chief in
turn led efforts to establish a research organization to study
psychological warfare and special operations.255

Early ORO work, such as Project MAID (which included
political, economic, and social assessments of various
potential candidates for U.S. military aid) and Project
POWOW (on psychological warfare), demonstrated the
utility of systematic studies of foreign countries and psychological
operations, but there was a growing sentiment in the
Army Staff that such studies should not have to compete
for funding with the more-elaborate studies of weapons systems.
That view was reinforced by the Harlow Committee
appointed by Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens in
1955.256 The Harlow Committee recommended that a separate
agency designed for the purpose address psychological
warfare and special operations research.

Already in 1954 the Department of the Army had contracted
with the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) of
New Haven, Connecticut, to prepare area handbooks to support
special warfare operations, but HRAF could not meet
Army needs and the contract was canceled.257 At the request
of the Army, in 1956 The American University (AU) in Washington,
D.C., established the nonprofit SORO to support the
Army’s psychological and unconventional warfare operations.
SORO was managed by AU under the terms of contracts
with the Army that called for SORO to “conduct non-materiel
research in support of the Department of the Army’s
missions in such fields as counterinsurgency, unconventional
warfare, psyops, and military assistance programs.”258
The SORO was an integral part of AU, and its director
reported to the president of the university through the dean
of faculties for everything except business matters, which
were handled by the AU treasurer and business manager.259
All SORO employees were considered AU staff members
and participated in the university’s insurance, pension, and
medical programs.260 SORO professional staff members
were eligible for faculty rank without tenure at AU.261
Initially, SORO was organized with the usual supervisory,
administrative, and support elements and two techni-
cal divisions—the Research Division and the Foreign Area
Studies Division (FASD)—each of which was governed by
a separate contract and reported to a different agency of the
Army Staff . As of 1 March 1962, the Research Division was
organized with a director, two branch chiefs, and six interdisciplinary
research teams, and was responsible for conducting
research on a broad range of topics, including psychological
operations and guerrilla/counter-guerrilla warfare.262 The
activities of this division were overseen by the Office of the
Chief of Research and Development on the Army Staff , in
accordance with AR 70–32: Special Warfare Non-Materiel
Research, dated 3 April 1957.263 Support for the division
came from the Army Research and Development/Test and
Evaluation funds under Contract DA–49–092–ARO–7,
amounting to $225,000 in FY 1957, $300,000 in FY 1958,
$380,000 in FY 1959, $400,000 in FY 1960, and $350,000
in FY 1961.264

The Research Division work program was based on requirements
submitted by Department of the Army agencies
and approved by the chief of research and development (later
by the director of the Army Research Office). By 1964, the
SORO Research Division had produced some fifty research
reports and a wide range of “quick response” studies and
advisory services.265 Among the SORO projects were the
development of tested appeals and symbols for communicating
propaganda messages to specific audiences in selected
countries (Project PROSYMS), a study of word-of-mouth
communications in selected countries (Project PROPIN), a
study of the psychological operations vulnerabilities of the
Soviet Union (Project EXPLOIT-USSR), and publication
of A Casebook on Revolutionary Warfare and A Selected Bibliography
on Counter-Unconventional Warfare.266

The Foreign Area Studies Division became part of
SORO on 1 July 1958.267 FASD was organized with a division
chief, two deputy chiefs, and four interdisciplinary
research teams, plus several historians and geographers and
an editorial staff .268 The division was responsible for the
preparation of country and regional studies that included
material on political, economic, sociological, and military
matters. In accordance with AR 70–8, FASD activities were
overseen by the chief of psychological warfare (later the chief
of special warfare, and after 1958, the director of special
warfare in the Offi ce of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Military
Operations). Funding for FASD was provided from
Operations and Maintenance–Army funds under Contract
DA–49–083–OSA–2427, and it amounted to $430,000 in
FY 1958, $340,000 in FY 1959, $400,000 in FY 1960, and
$420,000 in FY 1961.269 The FASD goal was to produce six
to eight new or revised area handbooks each year, and, as of
1 March 1962, it had completed forty-seven special warfare
area handbooks.270

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 8:14am

Dave---took the time to dig out on the web the SORO case study done on Algeria 1954 to 1962 and it is a slog of 149 pages BUT it is amazing to read the study and some of the insights missed when many use Algeria as a COIN model.

Especially the reasons that the locals rose up over ie the clash between Islam, the Koran, pan Arab vs the French culture. So actually AQ does not have a historical hold on the use of Islam for revolutions.

For those that push the COIN theory---a thorough read of the 149 pages might be well worth their time.

And a second thought is in order---of just why did SF eliminate SORO? ---if this study was a reflection of the work they were doing---sad that there was nothing similar done on Iraq before we rolled in.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 7:25am

In reply to by Train wreck

Train wreck---while an interesting and positive shift in thinking---two comments are due;

1. Volckmann was a guerrilla leader/trainer/fighter in what is known historically as guerrilla warfare.

2. I really get leery of articles had contain the word COIN which to my knowledge has been largely discredited especially after the recent resurgence of AQI now ISIL in Iraq where everyone took credit for a successful COIN campaign and in AFG where the Taliban are just as active today as they were four years ago--even in the face of strong JSOC degrading efforts.

Might be though an interesting development if coupled with the resurgence of UW/CUW thinking/training within SF as well as at the strategic levels.

The old days of SF in the 60/70s could handle the Volckmann program as the basis of SF then was built on UW---current SF is not built on UW so there would be a disconnect automatically built in if SF pushes to Volckmann without having the UW piece in place.

Without the UW piece Volckmann becomes a plum overseas embassy assignment for a select few and would have no impact on AQ or any other insurgent activity under whatever name.

G Martin

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 7:18am

In reply to by Bill C.

Agree with this- we want our cake and we want to eat it too.

In my Sublime article I made the point that the "human domain" was an attempt to avoid large-scale U.S. force presence overseas. Since my audience for that article was largely within SOCOM and especially USASOC- I have to caveat it based on your great points, Bill: the human domain HAS to include knowledge of "self"- and thus as we come to grips with the concept we should (in theory) know ourselves better as well- and we should be expecting and willing to change just as much based on our relationships with others as we would like them to change (values, systems, etc.).

This, however, clashes with our Positivist philosophy- that philosophy that argues we (the Western scientific method-following all-knowing elites) are at the pinnacle of current human achievement and thus there should be no logical reason NOT to follow our cultural, social, economic, and political lead...

One way in which we haven't articulated the Global SOF Network well in my opinion is the possibility of emergent forces emanating from many small SOF teams in contact with local forces around the world in a sustained way over time- much like, as Dave has pointed out before, SOF has done since it was established. So, although we can't logically follow it or describe it beforehand and we will have a hard time measuring it- there is the potential for goodness to come about through learning about others- and them learning about us- through micro contacts between SOF and foreign entities (civilian and military) over long periods of time. The trick will be to get our bureaucracy (political and military) to acknowledge this and make the investment without hard scientific data to both prove it and measure it.

Bill C.

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 12:10am

(I have changed this somewhat from my initial submission.)

Let me suggest a potential problem with both Admiral McRaven's Global SOF Network proposal and the UW status quo anti proposal that COL Maxwell has offered -- as these relate to US policy objectives.

Both the Admiral's and the Colonel's proposals would seem to rely on developing and maintaining excellent, long-term relationships with "different" governments but, more-importantly, with "different" populations.

Today one should not expect, however, to be able to as easily develop -- much less maintain -- such excellent, long-term relationships; especially if one's WOG (and one's private sector also) have -- via global communications -- been shown to be working to undermine, eliminate and replace (with our models) the way of life and way of governance of outlier states and societies.

(And one should expect, as always, to meet with the knife if one is seen as challenging the time-honored and, at times, "sacred" values, attitudes and beliefs upon which these ways of life and ways of government often are based.)

Yet this "transforming," along modern western lines, of outlier states and societies is the highly visible political objective -- and activity -- of the United States today.

How do we reconcile these matters? I think that we cannot.

I believe we must either fish or cut bait:

a. If we wish to develop and maintain excellent, long term relationships with other countries and other peoples, then I think we have to abandon our activities to "transform" them -- sooner rather then later -- along modern western lines.

b. If, however, we believe it is more important to undermine, eliminate and replace (with our models) the current way of life and way of governance of these outlier states and societies, then I believe we have to realize that we cannot expect to develop and maintain excellent relationships as we do this. Such an idea, on its very face, would seem impossible.

Bottom line: Both Admiral McRaven and Colonel Maxwell's proposals would seem to rely heavily upon the development and maintenance of long term relationships with indigenous personnel. But such relationships will be much more difficult to achieve in an environment such as we have today, wherein -- via modern communications and networking -- the world sees the West acting aggressively, and with all its instruments of power, to undermine, eliminate and replace the way of life and way of governance of "different" states and societies.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 1:50pm

In reply to by slapout9

I believe that if you look at the 1963 Army doctrine on COIN Forces you will find that the Special Action Force (SAFASIA in Okinawa and the 8th SAF in Panama had MP companies as part of the TO&E along with medical, intelligence, aviation, and engineers and an infantry battalion.


Wed, 11/06/2013 - 1:13pm

In reply to by huskerguy7


I do know that during the 1960's there was a Special Forces Military Police Company formed to address some of the issues you bring up. How this all turned out I don't know.

As for my opinion I would look at recruiting from existing LE in the target country and then train them as a para-Military force. The other way would be to take part of the Guerrilla force and as part of demobilization then train them as LE.

I would try to find the detailed history of the SF MP company and find out how well they did or didn't do. I was lucky enough to find out they existed couldn't do much else with it. You probabaly know people who could help with that.

IMO I would always focus on creating a counter organization as opposed to simply following some theoretcial doctrine. Cause once the enemy knows your doctrine just like a criminal knows your Department SOP they will change up on you.


Tue, 11/05/2013 - 6:05pm

In reply to by slapout9


That article was interesting, but I think the second to last paragraph is the 'golden nugget.'

Regarding LE, how are you defining this? Do you mean a federal, gendarme/paramilitary style or more localized, municipal-type force? Or, a less organized local militia?

I agree with you, and think that many in this community do as well, but the problem is training a capable, reliable, and skilled LE force. In addition to being better equipped (than normal LE bodies) and trained to fight in high risk environments (like their military counterparts), LE institutions must be trained in all of the other areas that separate a LE organization from a purely military organization. This is clearly challenging and if done improperly, results with an incapable force unable to fulfill its mission.

It would be interesting to explore more ways in which SOF could engage foreign LE organizations to assist with CounterUW.


Wed, 11/06/2013 - 1:21pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


I have always thought CI had much more to offer as far as techniques to handle the situation we are facing today then the standard COIN manuals. The CI manual even in it's older form is aexcellentnt collection of manhunting or organization hunting techniques.

The CIA was originally formed to do Intelligence,Counter-Intelligence and Covert Action which I think is often a much better way to handle situations we today and will continue to face.....Do it quietly.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 3:14pm

In reply to by slapout9

slapout9---the CIA article out of the early 60s is extremely interesting for the simple reason that the Agency places in the article massive emphasis on CI in counter guerrilla operations.

So why did the Army totally fail to deploy any CI personnel with the BCTs literally from 2003 until about 2010?

When Army offensive CI operations were run out of a specific location the results were amazing---but CI was only run from that single location.

It still eludes me why Army CI personnel were never assigned to deploying BCTs.

There were HUMINT teams but they lacked the skill sets and offensive field experience.


Tue, 11/05/2013 - 9:13am

In reply to by slapout9

I appreciate all of the comments on here and will try to contribute myself.

For SOF and SF to achieve the goals that Col. Maxwell outlines, I think it is critical for policymakers to understand SOF's and SF's mission and capabilities (essentially, the UW aspect as the direct action capability has been publicly showcased for the last decade). The last two wars have demonstrated the importance of strong civil-military relationships when attempting to craft a strategy in a rapidly evolving complex environment (probably at least of the third of the articles on this site discuss problems partially caused by poor civil-military relations). Thus, policymakers must understand how to properly leverage the capabilities of SOF in addition SOF recognizing when their mission can be utilized to help pursue a certain grand strategy. Although familiarizing policymakers of what SOF's mission entails is difficult and even tedious to some extent, it is necessary for success IMO.


Mon, 11/04/2013 - 4:41pm

So here is my next question/comment. I have re-read Col. Maxwell's paper last night and it still makes a lot of sense to return to what used to work with some modern day adoptions. Question? In the end will it matter if SF regenerates but the rest of our senior leadership to include foreign policy doesn't make a lot of changes?

SF worked well to start because oEisenhower'ser Policies of 1-Strong National Economy 2-Strong Nuclear/Conventional forces 3-Robust Covert Action capabilities. (to include SF Capabilities).

So can you fix/adjust SF withfirstirts fixing the Larger Government System in which it is going to operate?

Fabius Maximus

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 10:19am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09,

You might be correct about current manning levels of SOF. I know zip about that, which is why I cited those who do. These articles describe an ever-widening geographic footprint, an increasing rate of use of SOF, and increasing range of missions.

But the size and organization of SOF was a secondary point. Has anyone evaluated the effectiveness of SOF by mission type and circumstances? Perhaps, very loosely, like the Strategic Bombing Survey after WW2 -- or the studies about COIN I cited.

COIN is an esp sobering history, as we employed it without bothering to assess its past record of success when applied by foreign armies. And when the studies were done, they were not just ignored -- but loudly ignored.

My guess is that the challenges of the 21st century will not allow us the luxury of such behavior. Certainly it did not work for us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we have an opportunity with SOF, to learn how to be use this powerful tool.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 2:23am

In reply to by Fabius Maximus

Fabius---if one looks at the current strength based on the growth demands for Iraq and AFG---one would notice the same manning levels that we had at the end of VN.

Our growth demands during the 60/70s were really driven by the high casualty rates from VN and the requirements to halfway man the following groups; 1,3,5,6,7,8,Det A, and the 10th.

Would bet that the current manning levels are enough to match against future requirements---core problem is the reshift in thinking.

Another core issue is to defend the current numbers against big Army desire to shift some of the standard SF operations to the GPF as an excuse to then reduce SF numbers.

Fabius Maximus

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 2:05am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Thanks for the clarification of your position about expansion of SOF. My comment was unclear. I should have said <b>DoD's leadership</b> appears to intend that SOF continues to grow.

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Report called for continued growth of SOF. The 2014 QDR, expected early next year, might change that. Since the geographic scope and range of missions for SOF continues to grow, stopping their growth will force soemthing to change.

A few articles about this:
<li>Growth: "<a title="RAND" href="…; target="_blank">The Future of U.S. Special Operations Forces</a>" by Linda Robinson (Senior International Policy Analyst), RAND Corporation, April 2013</li>
<li>Growth: "<a title="WaPo" href="…; target="_blank">Special Operations wins in 2014 budget</a>" by By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, 11 April 2013</li>
<li>Growth: "<a title="NYT" href="…; target="_blank">A Commander Seeks to Chart a New Path for Special Operations</a>", New York Times, 2 May 2013</li>
<li>These conflicts are described in "<a title="FAS" href="; target="_blank">U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress</a>" by Andrew Feickert (Specialist in Military Ground Forces), Congressional Research Service, 18 September 2013</li>

Now, at the conclusion of our two wars, seems a logical moment to assess the results from SOF. The results might influence -- for the better -- decisions about SOF organization, missions, and size. DoD history shows a reluctance to do such assessments, a luxury we can no longer afford.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 4:16pm

In reply to by Fabius Maximus

Fabius Maximus. I do not think I have advocated expanding SOF. Just to be clear it is my personal opinion that we are at a point that we cannot and should not expand US SOF, particularly as US military end strength declines in the age of austerity.

Fabius Maximus

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 2:42pm

Has there been research to determine the utility of special operations? The history should be long enough for a baseline to evaluate the success of the major types of special operations activities, esp looking back to WW2 (e.g., the UK's Long Range Desert Group).

This might be done from several perspectives. Not just accomplishment of the mission (degree of success, cost), but also larger effects. What would the late John Boyd (Col, USAF) say of our operations in Pakistan, or SF training of Latin America security forces?

This seems especially important after our experience with COIN. Despite the long history of failure when used by foreign armies, it was only in 2008 that systematic evaluations were done to show this (which would have been good to know in both Iraq & Afghanistan in 2003).

Some examples of the research on COIN that should be done on special operations before expanding and reorganizing:
<li>Chapter 6.2 in Martin van Creveld’s <em>Changing Face of War</em> (2006):</li>
<li>“<a title="AFJ" href="; target="_blank">Lies, damned lies and counterinsurgency</a>“, Robert W. Chamberlain (Captain, US Army), <em>Armed Forces Journal</em>, May 2008</li>
<li> “<a title="RAND" href="; target="_blank">War by Other Means – Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency</a>“, David Gompert and John Gordon et al, RAND (2008). In Appendix A Martin C. Libicki examined ”Eighty-Nine Insurgencies: Outcomes and Endings”.</li>
<li>“The Perils of Third-Party Counterinsurgency Campaigns”, Doctoral dissertation by Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard, 17 June 2010 (available through <a title="Proquest" href="; target="_blank">Proquest</a>).</li>

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 10:14am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Have sent you a message. Thanks!

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 11:43am

In reply to by SWJED

I would like to--not sure how Robert or Bill think though.

BUT my one big concern is that and Robert was right we are a slowly disappearing group of grey beards that bridge four wars since 1966 in my case.

I have paid with injuries in three of those wars, and had my fights with the VA and even with the past I came back in 2005 to assist the intel side because of an extreme shortage of good interrogators and from there it was onto to trying to ramp up BCTs in preparation for Iraq deployments for over fours years at the NTC.

Here comes the big BUT along the way I had assumed that this current generation of military officers would be interested in what I/we have to say--but in the last eight years I can count the fingers on one hand who intently listened and "got it". Surprisingly a number of younger officers will agree with me--they are a hand full and are fed up with the culture that exists and are leaving.

The rest and that is a lot had a saying "been there done it and have the three T-shirts to prove it AND I am not about to listen to what a civilian especially a civilian who does not wear the uniform has to tell me".

What this particular group failed to understand is that some of us have been in the terrorism and insurgency fight (chasing down Che)long before most of them were ever born and some of us have been places and done things that will never see the light of day nor be mentioned in the history books and some of us have even been players on a long list of historical events since the 60s.

Those that listened understood this---four in eight years.

I am not convinced this generation of officers want to and or can listen.

I am willing to give it another try but I am convinced not many will listen---it seems that only SF listens.

They inherently understand mission command.


Tue, 11/05/2013 - 5:42am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw, I'm interested in getting you to blog here at SWJ. Dave and Bob too.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 2:00am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave---just checking in to see if you are still interested to correspond?

Will 18 Series

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 8:43pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

If UW is to be the way of the future, how do we account for the significant education and experience gap in the force? How can our senior SOF leaders sell UW to policymakers when we don't really have a force that has any real UW experience outside of Robin Sage?

Outlaw 09

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 12:13pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave---currently residing in Berlin Germany, finally getting a chance to actually see some of our old target sets in the former East Germany/Poland and providing consulting to several German corporations on cyper secuity.

Working as well on a book of key passages taken from the personal journal from the leader of the Islamic Army in Iraq and how they reached phase two by January 2004 using their own words---especially their RC IED development by Feb 2004.

Would be great to speak with you---your article is something that I have often wondered about---why the current SF did not make the shift earlier to what worked. Maybe it was the structural defense of DA/strat recon that made the shift so hard?

Can be reached all the time under---will then pass you my cell number;

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 11:26am

I would like to thank everyone for some excellent comments and discussion. I think that the conversation Robert Jones, Bill M and Outlaw 09 are having is illustrative of the type of thinking and analysis that can occur among those who have a deep understanding of and appreciation for unconventional warfare. A UW and Counter-UW framework that Bob mentions can be very useful in understanding the threats that we face now and in the future and those like Bob, Bill M and Outlaw 09 can bring a different critical view to the analysis of those those threats. (and Outlaw 09 I wish I knew who you really are as I would like to correspond with you in more depth for some other work I am doing). UW (and counter-UW) is not a panacea for addressing the threats of the future but it should be included as a strategic option and thinking through the UW aspect of threats may present us with more options.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 5:21pm

In reply to by Jason.T

Jason----a couple of items---yes in fact AQ drove on a UW strategy which they published a number of times in open source over the years. Have to dig out the title of one of their strategy documents.

Both IAI and AQI published via the internet their Iraqi named campaigns with campaign goals for all to see and actually when you understood their campaigns you could see for a mile the tactics and techniques coming at you. Much as a BCT had a campaign plan and LOOs tied to a higher strategy.

In fact AQI was a proxy--- supported and funded by a non state actor just as the IAI was being funded and armed by the Saudi's as a counterbalance to the Shia/Iranian green crescent containment strategy.

If you look at Syria AQ there it is surprisingly being armed and funded by the Saudi's again as a counter balance to the Iranians and the Shia.

If you looked at the central make up of the AQI core there was an equal mix--many of the FFs were used after 2005 as suiciders.

What was more interesting than FFs was the division of labor between the AQI and the other Sunni groups ie 1920s, Ansar al Sunnah, IAI. On a number of complex attacks all the groups fought together--AQI funded, IAI planned, 1920s had the foot soldiers and AAS led the attacks.

Many myths were tied around the concept that the groups did not fight together due to their differences---but a strategy tends to overcome most differences.


Mon, 11/04/2013 - 4:59pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Sorry, I am respectfully not in agreement with you on the statement that FFs equaled Iraqi AQI -- I was there, too, and it sounds like we were doing some of the same things in the same circles. At best, FFs represented 10-15% of the detained population after 2005 and several principals in AQI were Iraqis -- Muhammad Khalaf Shakara, Umar Hadid, and Abu Umar al-Kurdi -- who possessed ties to other Iraqi groups. 50/50 would be a gross overstatement. You're correct on the 1920 Brigades and Islamic Army of Iraq; I don't recall a single FF with significant involvement. AQI also incorporated FRE that were willing to go along with its aims.

But, more centrally, AQI was not a UW campaign. By this, I mean that it was not a proxy backed by state means. Using the filter of UW/CUW to assess AQI would mean missing many of the causes of the insurgency against U.S. occupation and the Iraqi state.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 1:32pm

In reply to by Jason.T

Jason---a couple of comments;

SF as a Titel 10 organization performed countless missions within the confines of UW that can never spoken about from 1956 through to 1995-and then again starting after 9/11 and it continues until today.

Secondly the number of AQI flowing through Abu G and on to Bucca from 2005 through to 2009 were equally Iraqi and FFs.

The core Sunni insurgent groups Islamic Army in Iraq, 1920 Brigades and Ansar al Sunnah had far more former members of the ISI and Iraqi Army than did AQI.


Mon, 11/04/2013 - 1:08pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I don't know that I agree with your statement, "A counter UW framework provides a much more effective starting point than either CT or COIN (The first is focused on a user of a tactic; the second is truly best thought of as domestic program and inappropriate for foreign application." Juxtaposed against CT and COIN, 'counter-UW' has similar issues of separating the operational phenomenon from the strategic environment. Counter-UW seems to presuppose an effective foreign influence in shaping the enemy's UW campaign. I find it ironic that you cite as an example of effectiveness the U.S. targeting of foreign fighters; despite distinct successes against FFs between late 2004 and mid-2006, I seem to recall a pluralized insurgency that seemed capable of sustaining itself. The vast majority of AQI detainees were Iraqis - often former regime - and focusing only on the 'foreign' component of the insurgency would lead you to the wrong ultimate assessment about the nature of the enemy. What we faced in Iraq was a multifaceted insurgency against U.S. occupation and the emerging post-Saddam Iraqi state. In this lens, 'counter-occupation' might provide the broadest, general characterization that would more genuinely serve as a frame of reference for assessment.

I could equally make an argument that counterintelligence -- the countering of terrorism, espionage, sabotage, and subversion -- is principally what you tend to mean when talking about counter-UW. Yet, I know this is a fallacy -- all the services have weakened their CI capabilities beyond salvage.

I think you could strengthen your argument by clarifying two points. First, by providing clearer historical examples of how UW enabled the achievement of operational and strategic objectives would serve to inform the discussion. There are such examples -- prior to the India-Pakistan War of 1971, India engaged in a nearly year-long UW campaign within East Pakistan that directly enabled a decisive victory by Indian forces. Second, championing UW during a period of time when other agencies have the upper hand in terms of authorities and precedent will be difficult. Title 10 provides little provision for UW; legal precedence provides even less. For better or worse, as you note, another government agency has the cog for activities that would fall under UW. In this manner, UW has gone the way of CI, probably for similar reasons (tradecraft, need for control, and concerns of sensitivity).

Outlaw 09

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 12:42pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert---a well written summation---an great example of what you are writing.

The BCT commander who mentored me on BCT operations and who I mentored on UW-- was a true soldier and a great leader highly respected by his officers and enlisted personnel as he asked them to do no more nor less than what he was doing---he took the same patrol risks and had the same number of TICs as his infantry had.

I had him sit in on the Ansar al Sunnah interrogations and he asked all the questions that he could think of---he came out with a far different understanding of what we were seeing in Baqubah and Diyala and the fight took on a really different look and feel and even the Sunni insurgents took notice ---the BCT then took on the nationalists and the Sunni insurgents and the ODAs working our area took on AQI and they were hurt badly---a true division of labor playing to the strengths of both units.

Results---in the first six months the BCT nailed not a single HVT on their top 20---when we got untracked and refocused all 20 were captured in under 5 months---they were on a roll when he finally understood the environment and they were already dealing with the ethnic cleansing at the same time.

Diyala province calmed down massively until they handed it off to the 4th ID who had no interest in continuing what had been achieved and the 4th lost ground and when the 1st Cav replaced them they got hammered with unusually high loses---the 4ID caused the Cav to take loses and their inattention to the insurgency cost the Army 2 yrs in Diyala and AQI regenerated itself.

Something else that no one pays attention to is the concept in UW of perception---for the locals it is all about perception---who is winning and who is losing----the locals will always sit on the fence watching all unfold until they are sure who is truly winning before their throw in their support.

Example---in March 205 there was a major coordinated attack by AQI/Ansar al Sunnah and 1929 Brigades on an Iraqi Army headquarters that the US had just built and turned over.

The building was totally damaged with holes in all places, the Iraqi Army took losses and were driven off and the combined insurgent force lost no one.

When one spoke to the BCT about the incident they viewed it as a victory for the Army as they felt they had driven off the insurgents with their QRF---response from the insurgent side was What?---they hit our ambushes and IEDs as they drove in and we were long gone and we defeated the Iraqi Army.

Two views-two perceptions--one truth---Iraq was to a degree a war of perceptions.

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 9:06am

I hope others reading these posts are appreciating as much as I am the education that comes from sitting around the team room, or a table at the GB club, (virtually in this case) and listening to the insights born of years of operations coming from a pair of grey-bearded SF operators of the likes of Bill Moore and Outlaw. These guys don't typically write books, but if you are willing to put up the cost of a cup of coffee or a beer or two, and just shut up and listen, one can learn volumes.

One thing that should be clear is that in a conflict where everyone looks and acts in similar ways, and all may be working together or separately to violently motivate you to leave the place where your own government has sent you, it is hard to find a clarity of mission and purpose that allows one to address the problem in a manner most likely to produce enduring results. Far easier to lump "the threat" by more superficial characteristics and engage them as a whole under some simplistic formulae of "Capture/kill" CT, or "clear-hold-build" COIN.

When LTG Flynn came out 3 years ago and said the intel guys needed to evolve, from simply developing pattern of life for effective CT and to begin understanding the environment he only got it half right, IMO. Read the nuances laid out by Bill and Outlaw here on this page and one gets to that other, more strategically important half of what we need our ops/intel community to more effectively appreciate.

One can have insurgency without UW, but one cannot have UW without insurgency. AQ did not exist in Iraq until we created an insurgency among the Sunni population through our invasion. The Shia, on the other hand already had powerful conditions of insurgency against Saddam's governance, but were well suppressed; waiting for an opportunity to rise rapidly to a natural state of revolution once the opportunity finally arrived. Iran was there conducting UW with them. Again, we brought that opportunity with our invasion. Finally the Shia could act upon their long suppressed grievance. Likewise with the Kurds.

From chaos, opportunity. From great chaos, great opportunity. We certainly brought great chaos - and what followed was both natural and predictable.

But once one sets so many complex pieces in motion, how does one sort out the parties and then in turn focus Intel properly and design operations that apply a sophisticated mix of approaches tailored for each unique part of the problem? Easier to get simplistic, and that is what we did with Big COIN and Big CT and the surge. Simplistic can suppress, but simplistic cannot resolve such a dynamic and diverse brew of conflict.

A counter UW framework provides a much more effective starting point than either CT or COIN (The first is focused on a user of a tactic; the second is truly best thought of as domestic program and inappropriate for foreign application). Under a counter UW framework I appreciate that first them must be insurgents, and that they will be a mixed bag. I need to sort that bag out. Which are revolutionary? Which are resistance? Which are Separatist? Under each of those headings, continue to break it down by region, population, culture, history, geography, etc., until the picture begins to clarify. I must understand primary purpose for action, as well as the relationships between the parties before I can begin to devise programs with any hope of facilitating a durable stability.

Next, where insurgencies exist, those outside parties who seek to exploit such energy for their own interests will come. Like a field of nightmares, we built it, and they came.

The beauty of distinguishing who the UW operatives are and who the foreign fighters are they often bring with them, is that one can actually target these nodes fairly violently with little risk of rising too much higher order ire among the population. This is why CT was so effective in Iraq, and much less so in Afghanistan. In Iraq it focused primarily on this group. In Afghanistan we lumped the Taliban into the group, and the results were again, both natural and predictable. There is no long-term good that can come from killing some subordinate or "partner" or "ally" insurgent population for on their behalf. Likewise when we set out to "build partner capacity" to simply kill their own insurgent populations we do ourselves few favors either. We need to learn this.

General P says the number one goal is to "protect the populace." Fair enough, but never forget, the insurgents are part of the populace too. A good FID program designed to operate under an overarching Counter UW strategic framework must remember that our goal is not just to protect populations supportive of the government from insurgent fighters, but also must seek to protect populations those insurgent fighters emerge from from the government. We don't help much when we simply pick a side and dedicate ourselves to preserving some broken system of governance as is. "As is" and our presence to either create or protect "as is" are often the primary causal sources of insurgent energy to begin with! We too often dedicate ourselves to protecting and feeding the energy source with one hand, while attacking the symptoms of those efforts with the other hand.

We get to clearer understanding and more effective operations when we can set our doctrinal, institutional and relationship-based bias aside and look at these things with clear eyes. Counter UW help provide a framework to do such analysis in a much clearer way than CT or COIN.



Dave Maxwell

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 11:31am

In reply to by jleeblogger

The ROK/US Alliance may not have a choice but to "duke it out" with nK SOF as nK SOF will play a prominent role in war and if the regime collapses they will likely lead the resistance of the remnants of the "Guerrilla Dynasty" (credit to Adrian Buzo for the term). And yes, SOCOM, as do ALL US combatant commands, has plans to address cyber warfare and CBRN threats. These are a fact of life in the future of warfare and all military forces have to be able to operate with those threats in mind.


Sun, 11/03/2013 - 8:48am

I don't know if the US-ROK alliance would have anything to gain by duking it out with the Inmin'gun special forces commandos. Surely, those hardcore warriors will fight to the death and do some serious damage.

In any case, since the article has addressed hybrid warfare, I am curious to know if the SOCOM has made any provisions or plans to combat cyber warfare or CBRNe threats.


Mon, 11/04/2013 - 4:33pm

In reply to by former_0302

former 0302,
I have not read the book but I did look at the reviews. However I can tell you I was present during the rebuild in the 1980's during the Reagan Administration when the CIA stopped recruitingg and hiring Communists indoctrinatedd College educated idiots and began to recruit heavily in Law Enforcement (Detectives with language skills). Which evidently led to several major successes during that period. Perhaps they (CIA) need to go back to that and so does the military. Trained by people who have been there and done that....not PH,D Professors. Just thinking out loud.


Mon, 11/04/2013 - 4:45pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

For starters, I'm not arguing a role for CIA -- they've already asserted themselves in these roles, securing the funding, and securing the authorities for UW. USSOF did not robustly seek the roles which, by doctrine, they lay claim to in the realm of UW. This is, in large part, because of the T10 vs. T50 issues and the way in which they've been interpreted over the years. I don't think you can effectively and robustly do UW in a contemporary environment without engaging in a discussion about T10 vs. T50. Although related, I view FID and UW as extricable in a lot of cases with the former fitting pretty neatly into a T10 role.

I'm personally for a realignment of authorities and mission sets. I don't think it really benefits the intel community to have a contracted special operations force run out of one of the agencies. That said, the combination of necessity, authorities, and initiative made that so. It's time to address the authorities issues - after all, authorities are appropriations. A re-evaluation of former DNI ADM Blair's "Title 60" might be a logical next step to break down some rice bowls, preserve relevant capabilities, and better align resources to skill sets.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 2:36pm

In reply to by Jason.T

Jason---so do you want the CIA carrying out FID in say in the hunt for M23 or say currently working with the Philippine Army.

There are cases in history where the CIA hung SF out to dry.

The CIA built their own version of an armed force replicating SF shooters as a way to build an empire so when the drawn down came they were be positioned for future funding---the drawn down is now here.


Mon, 11/04/2013 - 1:41pm

In reply to by Bill M.

While I agree that members of Congress often have priorities that reflect a different set of responsibilities and motivations than the agencies that rely on them for funding, I don't believe that the difficulty in redefining authorities is necessarily a simple dichotomy of a 'agency/DoD vs. Congress' issue. At some point, you also have to surmount the 'Agency vs. SOF' issue. As noted in Mark Mazzetti's recently published, "The Way of the Knife," Team Langley transformed itself rather effectively (arguably) to fill operational voids left by the DoD/USSOF, gaining an enlarged budget and enlarged backing within the beltway. It holds the high ground both operationally and in terms of authorities, able to selectively integrate U.S. military capabilities as required/desired. It's far more flexible, too, and carries a fair amount of favor in DC circles. Woodward's "Obama's Wars" provides other insights that are worth revisiting in this light. Has the emergence of a militarized force at Langley, and the precedence established under T50, obviated the need to grow or refine such forces within USSOF?

Outlaw 09

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 2:42am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill-ironic is it not that those very politicians who wave the flag and claim to support the military are in fact the very same people driving sequester and only use DOD as a pawn in their discussions to drive further cuts.

This sad state is supported by a large silent majority who literally has no skin in the game and is not impacted so they really do not care and the politicians pushing the cut agenda knows this so they will continue to force cuts on DOD that are both not healthy and will set the Army back about 20 years to what it was in 1993.

All the while claiming to support the Force---they also do not care about foreign affairs as that is both hard to spell and tough to do.