Small Wars Journal

Why Does Special Forces Train and Educate for Unconventional Warfare?

Sun, 04/25/2010 - 7:10am
Why Does Special Forces Train and Educate for Unconventional Warfare?

Why is it Important?

A Quick Response to Robert Haddick

by Colonel David S. Maxwell

Download the full article: Why Does Special Forces Train and Educate for Unconventional Warfare?

There is tremendous emotion, misunderstanding and just plain baggage surrounding Unconventional Warfare (UW). Most discussions revolve around the definition itself with little understanding of the breadth and scope of what UW entails. However, since most who discuss UW are only concerned with the words in the definition and do not delve into the intellectual foundation of UW, this short paper will seek to explain and interpret the words in the definition and answer the questions in the title. The USSOCOM approved definition for UW is:

"Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area."

Since this will be a discussion of a doctrinal definition it may be instructive to recall the words of LTG (RET) John H. Cushman writing in his 1993 pamphlet "Thoughts for Joint Commanders" in which he recalls some historical admonitions on doctrine:

"A 1950 definition called doctrine 'the compilation of principles and theories applicable to a subject, which have been developed through experience or by theory, that represent the best available thought and indicate and guide but do not bind in practice.'" (emphasis added)

"Doctrine is basically a truth, a fact, or a theory that can be defended by reason."

"Doctrine cannot replace clear thinking...under the circumstances prevailing."

This is wise counsel for anyone who wants to narrowly interpret doctrine. Doctrinal "purism" is unhelpful particularly when faced with the complex, ever evolving characteristics of war in the 21st Century. Doctrine can be used to train, prepare, and guide but it is effective strategy with campaign plans for implementation that are required to achieve objectives in the national interest.

Download the full article: Why Does Special Forces Train and Educate for Unconventional Warfare?

Colonel David S. Maxwell, U.S. Army, is a Special Forces officer with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and is a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University. The opinions he expresses in this paper are his own and represent no U.S. Government or Department of Defense positions.

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.


Bill M.

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 5:44am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.

I agree with your overall thoughts, but I think there are many instances where we could, doesn't mean we will, employ UW to achieve limited or major objectives. While there were UW like activities conducted that supported the overthrow of Kaddafi it happened so quick there was little time to prepare a political structure/shadow government to quickly assume control after he fell. For insights read "Sandstorm" by Hilsum. According to her the countries conducting UW to help overthrow Kaddafi were principally Qataris, British and French. The tactics she talks about are same ones we're trained in. UW certainly isn't unique the U.S., and in many ways we're among the poorest performers due to the way our government works. If you want to study multiple U.S. UW failures read "The Brothers" by Kinzer. You'll understand why the CIA got the nickname Clowns in Action. I think we're all wiser now, but we don't have a good legacy to refer to.

Not unlike our failure in Iraq where we conducted sterile military operations in hopes that some other agency would then exploit military success to achieve our political ends, the examples in "The Brothers" are examples of a military focused approach to UW versus a political approach. Honestly I don't know if we can do it, since our training is very focused on using guerrillas to target legal military targets which in UW are largely a side show and not decisive. We won't win that way, and even if the targeted government collapses like Kaddafi's did then what follows?

In my opinion this is where the communists were superior to us when it comes to UW, they infiltrate and organize politically before tossing the government out, so they have a plan in place for the day after to consolidate control. Kilcullen talks about competitive control theory in his book, down from the mountain and that is a very important theory for UW. One we don't grasp, or if we do we can't implement because of our desire to form a democracy which inherently is chaotic and sacrifices control. In our desire to be just we add chaos on top of chaos (destroy one form of government, and then fail to control the populace and tell them to vote for a government in hopes it will be viewed as legitimate).

The communists didn't play that way, and while I'm certainly not advocating we use their methods which included purging those who didn't conform, we do need to impose a form of governance and maintain it until the nation is ready to form a functional government. We're in a rush to get out, and in our rush we end up creating a self-imposed quagmire and get stuck in our own failure.

My hope is we modify our UW national level doctrine (first we have to have one) to focus on building the replacement government (establish a shadow government and the objective of military force is to replace the existing government with the shadow government, not defeat the adversary's military).

In the end if you're right and our political system is not receptive to employing UW, Dave is absolutely right when he wrote that the skills we learn related to UW are still highly valuable and enable our soldiers to understand how our adversaries are operating which makes us more effective at counter-UW. Many of us think counter UW will likely become increasingly important and encompasses more than FID.

Bill C.

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 3:49pm

In reply to by Bill M.

My "self-determination" argument stated -- or looked at -- in a different way:

Definition of unconventional warfare: "Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area?"

Understanding, as we certainly do today, the potential consequences of, the follow-on responsibilities of and the enormous tasks associated with "coercing, disrupting and/or overthrowing an existing government," I have a hard time seeing the United States, today or in the near future, intervening in the manner described in the paragraph immediately above.

Herein, I believe that we will work more with and through existing governors/governments (however oppressive and/or odious they may be) -- and less with inept/unreliable/incapable populations -- to achieve the political objective outlined in the second paragraph of my comment above.

Thus, and for the reasons that are now obvious to us, I do not see the United States, today or in the near future, seeking to achieve its desired ends via (1) "a resistance movement" and/or (2) an "insurgency."

This understanding, indeed, begging the question posed in the title of this thread.

Bill M.

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 5:05am

In reply to by Bill C.

First off doctrine is NOT effective strategy, and anyone that confuses doctrine with strategy is marching down a road named failure. Second, we don't have an overarching strategy to transform outlier states using military power. This myth you tend to cling to is based the public statements of a very naïve Bush Junior administration. We certainly have a foreign policy that promotes democracy, free markets, and human rights, but we will not go to war with a state that doesn't threaten us to impose these upon them. Hopefully we learned how difficult, or in some cases impossible that is in some locations based on enduring cultural conditions we won't be able to change.

We have always balanced our ideology (self-determination) with reality when developing our foreign policy objectives, so there is no simple answer to your question, it depends upon the situation each and every time. However it is critical we understand the political objective, and if military force is required, how it will be applied to achieve that end versus strictly a narrow focus on targeting which is what we have defaulted to.

Do we still need to train our forces to do UW? Absolutely, as Dave pointed out in his article the skill sets and more importantly the mindset associated with UW have wide application beyond UW, and we still need to retain the ability to conduct UW as an option.

Clearly our national policy does not preclude the options associated with UW as described above. Fortunately we haven't been in a situation where we had to employ it in many years, just as we haven't felt compelled to employ nuclear weapons in several years, but we still want the option.

Our UW doctrine doesn't quite address the how of how to integrate political and paramilitary efforts, it focuses largely on the warfare piece so it is still wanting, but many of our adversaries have a very sophisticated UW doctrine (which they probably just call warfare because they don't see it as unconventional) that does just that. It can be a much more sophisticated and comprehensive form of political warfare than that promoted by CvC, or at least how his wisdom is popularly perceived.

"Doctrine can be used to train, prepare, and guide but it is effective strategy -- with campaign plans for implementation -- that are required to achieve objectives in the national interest."

Given our overarching foreign policy objective (to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western lines and to incorporate these states and societies more into the western sphere of influence):

a. Where is the effective strategy that COL Maxwell calls for? And

b. Where are the campaign plans for implementation of this strategy that COL Maxwell notes is critical?

Let us consider these questions -- and the idea and utility of unconventional warfare -- in light of what appears to be our new "self-determination" world-view and strategy.

As per its suggested name, this new world-view and strategy:

a. While acknowledging our desire to transform and incorporate other states and societies as per Paragraph 2 above,

b. Also recognizes that these such decisions must, ultimately, be made by these states and societies (examples: Russia, China, Iran and their neighbors) themselves.

(This new world-view and strategy also acknowledging that the transformation and incorporation of not EVERY outlying state and society is needed to provide for our national interest.)

This new understanding, and the strategy based on same, thus, tending to preclude the use of our military forces (in any way, shape or form) to achieve our desired ends. (Such seeming to blatantly violate the idea and principle of "self" determination.)

The question then becomes: Based on this new "self-determination" concept and strategy, do we still need to train and educate our special forces as to: "Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area?"

Herein -- and because of our new "self-determination" view-point and strategy -- would not our campaign plans specifically preclude such features/options/activities as are identified with "unconventional warfare" as described in the paragraph immediately above?

Bill M.

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 11:55pm

I don't think I saw this piece by Dave when it was published. Overall I agree with it, but at the end of the day these largely internal to SF discussions on UW do little to move the ball forward down the field where the goal is to effectively employ UW as a policy option.

Colin Gray in "the American Way of War" accuses us of being apolitical, astrategic, ahistorical, culturally ignorant, and technology/firepower dependent. I find it hard to argue with his conclusions, which doesn't sit well for the potential future of UW as a way to achieve a policy objective for the U.S.. Those of us in the Special Forces community need to do much more to make UW a viable option for policy makers. Moving forward, I think we need to make some bold changes to advance the future utility of UW. Some recommendations for consideration follow:

1. First we need to remove it from the shadows and realize it is not a form of warfare solely conducted by Special Forces. To be effective it must be a whole of government and joint military effort, otherwise is little more than an isolated tactical approach to no particular end. We need to promote joint and interagency doctrine/policy for UW. Furthermore UW needs to be addressed as an option in key joint publications like JP 5-0 (plans) and JP 3-0 (operations). Fortunately the joint UW doctrine is under development, but if planners in the Geographical Combatant Commands (GCCs) don’t know how to integrate it into their schemes it will be for naught.

2. Send some of our best SF officers (COLs, CW5s, MSGs/SGMs) to work in the GCC J5s to ensure UW is considered as an option for all relevant contingencies the GCCs are looking at. I know the counter argument is that is why we have Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), but the ground truth is most TSOC J5s have limited SF qualified officers, and they're busy 85% of the time responding to TSOC and SOCOM requirements. We need SF officers specifically at the GCC to maintain that persistent presence, develop relationships based on trust (you're part of their team, not the TSOC), and over time effect cultural change that is receptive to UW options.

3. Ensure SF planners embrace a strategic mindset, which may mean ditching the military decision making process which focuses on dumbing down complex problems to provide clarity for tactical action at times to really think through a complex problem, and how we could employ UW to achieve a policy end, and equally important being savvy enough to realize when it is not appropriate. We need to shift our mindset from targeting so called centers of gravity, to exploring how we can shape conditions that are aligned with U.S. interests. In simple terms putting policy first, and tactics a distant second. One point I somewhat disagree with Dave’s article is where he wrote something along the line of “foremost the underground is about providing intelligence to facilitate operations,” but I think if we are thinking strategically the underground is first and foremost about day after victory, which means a focus on establishing a shadow government that can effectively assume control when the adversary government collapses. Of course they can and need to provide intelligence also, but this gets back to putting policy first and tactics second. CvC wrote something about war being an extension of politics, yet in our system we tend to execute war at the tactical level with little consideration of achieving a better peace. This mentality of, oh we created a bit of a mess, time for the State Department and USAID to react to it, but at least we did our job.

4. We need to stop perpetuating the myth that we need a "long time" to prepare an area to conduct UW. Historically this has been disproven on numerous occasions. It does take a long time to prepare our forces to conduct complex UW operations, but we will seldom have the luxury of knowing where we may need to conduct UW in advance in the current age. Our UW doctrine and historic practice (mostly training) is largely based on the Cold War paradigm where SF teams would focus on a particular country for UW in case the balloon went up. With a few exceptions those days largely don't exist anymore. For example, if we choose to do so we now have an opportunity to conduct UW in Syria, Crimea, and other locations that we didn't foresee until the local political and social events unfolded. Uncertainty if the new norm, and that is what we need to prepare for. We unnecessarily take an option off the table when state we need a long time to prepare. We need the ability to respond to opportunity when it arises, and that means our community needs to focus on how to be more flexible and agile and yet still deliberate in our planning for UW. We’re not there yet, partly because we have a tendency to cling to the past we’re comfortable with.

5. We need to return to a culture of lifelong learning in SF ranks. We can claim to be UW experts all we like, but the reality is the scope of UW is so complex no one can be an expert. Embrace humility and constantly strive to improve. A learning culture means ODA leadership giving reading assignments, and then having team discussions on a particular topic. This means getting away (and I believe we have in SF) from the dumbing the force down by forcing them to focus on testing 10 common army per year as part of validation, and instead engage in learning that actually matters. We need to deconventionalize our force and quit mimicking conventional army training models that are directed to adapt to the lowest common denominator. That methodology is fine when we’re training soldiers in developing nations, not for developing a UW force that must be capable of integrating operations, intelligence, politics, psychological operations, etc. in a very complex environment.

6. Finally we need talented SF soldiers who separated or retired from the service to run for Congress and seek positions in OSD and other locations where their influence can challenge existing strategic paradigms that are excessively conventional.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 7:29am

In reply to by RantCorp

RC---if you look at the 8 Phase steps of the Russian New Generation Warfare the current Force is not configured nor programed to handle any of the UW activities if they were involved with a country that is struggling as it the Ukraine---just look at the DATE training scenario----even on force on force it is tailored for a "near peer" not the current professional Russian Army units sitting on the borders with the "fight" being carried by irregulars and criminal gangs covered/shielded by civilians. USASF has the capability for counter UW but they need to urgently get back to their UW roots of the 50/60/70s and drive a strategic counter UW.

My concern is that both the senior military leadership and the NCA is not prepared for this both effective and relatively simple strategic UW as it is being tied to the political warfare being exercised against the Ukraine by Russia.

David/Robert/Bill M are headed in the right direction---my question outside of them when will the rest of the senior leadership wise up and smell the coffee---COIN took us completely in the wrong direction for the coming events in the 21st century if the Ukraine is an example.


Tue, 05/06/2014 - 7:12am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

We need to resurrect the proverbial "old WW2 mine" and blow the gas pipelines. Putin's centralized Soviet mindset has not factored in the reality that he does not control access to the whole pipeline as was the case in the Soviet time.

Starting with the one under the Baltic into northern Germany. This will deflect/absorb the political heat cowering most European leaders. Basically they will express deep regret to Mr Putin and his supporters at this unfortunate 'accident from WW2' but we will have to seek a more reliable source of energy for Western Europe before the next winter sets in.

'And good luck with the repairs.....all of them. We know you are a keen scuba diver so that should help. Sorry we can't help but our efforts to establish a more reliable second source is very expensive.'

The Swedes know something and they are not sharing it with Joe public. But for them to act the way they are it must be serious. Their widely aknowledged neutrality makes them the ideal spearhead for the second source.


Outlaw 09

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 2:22am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

David---this article is more interesting for another reason---the Sec of State recently showed his frustration with the Russian FM ---it goes to the authors' comments on the Russian drive to have things done in a manner that is "legal" ---is something that has to be paid high attention to when dealing directly with Russians regardless of level and agency. The author spent some time on this topic in the article. We have seen this with their holding up the Maidan 21 Feb agreements as binding "even" though they never officially signed them---the point to it over and over.

Example---when we dealt with them for the Atlas Vision 12/13 planning sessions and during the AV exercise LL'd they would want them in a PPT format and then signed by the senior officer during the event from both sides. Their explanation was that since there was no inter military treaties they acted as a "legal" document---and then they would hold to every single point on the PPTs and anything mentioned in those discussions would also be used later to extract compromises on our sides.

Secondly-the SecoS has not be raised academically in the area of dialectic materialism something the Russian FM and Putin have been trained in thus the reason black can be white and red can be blue.

Thirdly--if you take the Phases and layer them over the new Russian military decision making process as practiced currently by their professional army units and SOF and is being taught in their National Military Academy then the Phases take on a whole new meaning.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 5:11pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

David---now take the Phases and one can overlay them on the exact hour by hour events in the Crimea, eastern and southern Ukraine and then watch the entire information operations unfold, the use of irregulars on the ground reinforced by intelligence officers and Spretnaz coupled with the Russian public political maneuvering ie 21 Feb agreement, Geneva, and Putin calls to US/EU leaders which really led nowhere but gain time and you have the perfect learning module for why one needs now a national level strategic UW strategy in order to counter political warfare or in this case what the Russians are calling New Generation Warfare.

And along the way do not forget the use of criminal elements and the oligarchs as part of the concept layered over by an ideology called ethnic nationalism.

Then watch our responses which have not even begun to answer the individual Phases the Russians are running through in a steady fashion---worth a doctorial thesis.

Question is what would Lind call it --4th or 5th generation warfare as it is a quantum leap forward and a leap we as a Force are not prepared (including senior military leadership/WH) for as we have gone in an entirely different direction misguided by COIN.

Robert might have some interesting comments on this as it drifts into his comments on war and peace---actually the Russian concept is to avoid war and gain peace as they define peace---they are as close to Sun Tzu as one can get in their thinking.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 4:54pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Thanks Outlaw 09.

One of our students from Finland passed this on to me last week and it is getting a lot of press.

A very timely and informative (and I think potentially very important) report from the Latvia - the National Defence Academy of Latvia and the Center for Security and Strategic Research.

The PDF of the report can be downloaded at this link:
Note the excerpted figure one below for the assessment of Russia's view of the changing character of armed conflict. Also of note below that are the eight phases of the new generation of war.

I think this is a good analysis of the Russian version of unconventional and political warfare and we should study this so that we can develop the strategy to counter these forms of unconventional warfare and political warfare.

Russia’s New Generation Warfare in Ukraine: Implications for

Latvian Defense Policy

Janis Berzi#š


Russia considers Ukraine (and Belarus) as part of itself, something that was lost with

the collapse of the Soviet Union. As Henry Kissinger put it, in an open editorial in the Washington

Post, “to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country.”1 Moreover, it is considered,

together with Belarus, to be a guarantee of Russia's territorial integrity. This is a very

sensitive issue. Historically, one of Russia's most important defense strategies is “depth”.2 This

explains why it expanded its borders to the West as far as possible. For Russia, it was already

difficult to accept the Baltic States becoming NATO members in 2004. Moscow claims the

West guaranteed that former Soviet republics and satellites would be left as a neutral buffer

zone. True or not, the fact is that nowadays NATO's border is approximately 160 km from St.

Petersburg, instead of 1,600 km during the period of the Soviet Union. In the hypothetical case

of Ukraine joining NATO, the city of Belgorod that was deep inside the USSR would be on the


Since for Russia, Ukraine is supposed to be a close ally or, at best, neutral, it considers

the involvement of the United States and the European Union in Ukrainian internal affairs to

be a direct confrontation to its regional interests. Moscow is rightly convinced that the United

States and the European Union were working to attract the Ukraine to their sphere of influence,

ignoring Russia's natural right to the region. Russia's goal has always been to make

Ukraine a friendly and subordinate partner. For Russia, after the West’s interference, this

seems to be further out of reach than ever.

Still, notwithstanding the fact that the Russian government is convinced that the West

has been financing the Ukrainian opposition and many organizations like NGO’s with the objective

of destabilizing the Yanukovitch government, it signed an agreement led by the European

Union and mediated by the foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany, to end the

protests on 21st February. The deal included restoring the Ukrainian Constitution as it was between

2004 and 2010 until September, when constitutional reform was expected to be com-

pleted; early presidential elections no later than December 2014; an investigation of the government’s

violence to be conducted jointly by the opposition government, and the Council of

Europe; a veto on declaring a state of emergency; amnesty for protesters arrested since 17th

February; surrendering of public buildings occupied by protesters; the confiscation of illegal

weapons; new electoral laws to be passed and the establishment of a new Central Election


Inline image 1

The phases of new-generation war can be schematized as (Tchekinov & Bogdanov,

2013, pp. 15-22):

First Phase: non-military asymmetric warfare (encompassing information, moral, psychological,

ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures as part of a plan to establish a favorable

political, economic, and military setup).

Second Phase: special operations to mislead political and military leaders by coordinated

measures carried out by diplomatic channels, media, and top government and military agencies

by leaking false data, orders, directives, and instructions.

Third Phase: intimidation, deceiving, and bribing government and military officers, with the

objective of making them abandon their service duties.

Fourth Phase: destabilizing propaganda to increase discontent among the population,

boosted by the arrival of Russian bands of militants, escalating subversion.

Fifth Phase: establishment of no-fly zones over the country to be attacked, imposition of

blockades, and extensive use of private military companies in close cooperation with armed

opposition units.

Sixth Phase: commencement of military action, immediately preceded by large-scale reconnaissance

and subversive missions. All types, forms, methods, and forces, including special

operations forces, space, radio, radio engineering, electronic, diplomatic, and secret service

intelligence, and industrial espionage.

Seventh Phase: combination of targeted information operation, electronic warfare operation,

aerospace operation, continuous airforce harassment, combined with the use of highprecision

weapons launched from various platforms (long-range artillery, and weapons based

on new physical principles, including microwaves, radiation, non-lethal biological weapons).

Eighth Phase: roll over the remaining points of resistance and destroy surviving enemy

units by special operations conducted by reconnaissance units to spot which enemy units

have survived and transmit their coordinates to the attacker's missile and artillery units; fire

barrages to annihilate the defender's resisting army units by effective advanced weapons; airdrop

operations to surround points of resistance; and territory mopping-up operations by

ground troops.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 4:35pm

David---this link goes to what you have been writing about having a UW strategy and in the light on the Ukraine events, the cancelling of the Russian/Lithuanian Confidence Building treaty, and the new Russian Attack Helicopter Bde flight exercises along the Estonian border.…

The article goes to heart of the new Russian strategy referred to as the New Generation Warfare.

There is a 15 page pdf explaining the current Russian doctrine in this new UW strategy.

Pol-Mil FSO

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 11:38am

Maybe a way to socialize the importance of UW, as well as SF capabilities in this area, would be to bring conventional types, and maybe even the interagency, as observers of Robin Sage? Or create some videos of the exercise for viewing by appropriate audiences? Just a thought.

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 11:23am

Colonel Maxwell, that is a fantistic article but what concerns me is just how much SF has gotten away from it's orgiinal mission. Somehow SF became an international SWAT instead of what they were created to be.
Also how come SF stopped publishing Special Warfare magazine? They haven't come out with a new issue in like 6 months. Thats all skint up and stuff!

Bob's World

Fri, 12/03/2010 - 8:24am


Thanks for this. The SF community needs to "lift the skirt" on topics like this to facilitate understanding of complex and controversial topics. UW is clearly such a topic.

Mine has been a lonely voice for several years now to attempt to shape perspectives on the value of seeing AQ less as a "Terrorist" organization, but more as a "UW" organization. There is little value in defining an organization by its tactics, as that only results in a counter-tactic approach. CT and GWOT are a coutner-tactic approach. By defining AQ by their mission we can then shape a more holistic mission to neutralize the problem. A "Counter-UW" perspective provides a framework into which a broad family of activities (COIN, FID, CT, Civic Action, etc) can be built into; and provides a clearer perspective as to balancing and directing the same.

One area you did not touch on in this great piece that I personally think is critical in SF being built upon a foundation of UW is that the study of UW is the study of insurgency. SF soldiers are specifically selected for those with certain physical and mental toughness as all SOF, but uniquely selected for those with an aptitude for insurgency. It is the selection that makes SOF Special; the training is the icing on the cake. Icing without cake is what one gets without such selection.

It is this inherent understanding and thinking process on insurgency itself that, I think, makes US SF the effective force it has proven to be over the years, in peace and war, across the spectrum of the wide range of missions you lay out in your diagram.

(On a related topic, it the lack of this inherent understanding and thinking of insurgency in FM 3-24 that contributes most to that sense that many have that the manual is not quite right, but that they can't put their finger on. We can't let USAJFKSWCS sit out on the re-write as they did on the original)

Nice job.


I couldn't agree more with you. Lots of people just don't understand what Special Force Units are trained for.
Also, it's a pleasure to read your posts. I also post on the similar topic. I write about Navy SEALs and Delta Force. Please have a look when you have time.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 04/26/2010 - 4:36pm

Cannot the logic for the continued training and education of the Special Forces for unconventional warfare also be found in the new US foreign policy direction -- which is focused on transforming weak and failed states and better aligning these "loose cannons" with the United States' strategic interests?

Certainly when contronted with the requirement to (1) transform as per our orders and (2) align specifically as to our interests, the potential for resistance by the governments of these weak and failed states is highly likely.

Therefore, preparations for dealing with the numerous potential rebellions of these various governments may need to be planned and prepared for; this, so as to cause our new foreign policy initiative to have sufficiently credible "teeth" with which to back up its demands.

It seems logical that (1) an exceptionally robust and credible unconventional warfare capability will be needed to (2) help execute and carry out our new "weak and failed states" foreign policy direction and initiative.

As such, should there not be even greater emphasis placed on unconventional warfare training and education of US Special Forces today -- in light of our new foreign policy direction?

Robert Haddick (not verified)

Sun, 04/25/2010 - 10:54am

Col. Maxwell:

An excellent essay, the conclusions of which I fully support.

In my essay, to which you are responding, I noted (as did Col. Witty in his essay) that UW campaigns can be politically problematic. That does not seem to be a controversial conclusion. But it also doesn't mean that USSOCOM and the rest of the U.S. government shouldn't also prepare for UW. In fact, in my essay I predicted that "the appeal of unconventional warfare as a policy option is likely to rise" and "[t]he job for Witty and his special operations colleagues is to make sure policymakers have a usable [UW] option should they call for it." I believe this matches the conclusions you arrive at in your essay.