Archive: 2016

Dec. 21, 2016

Letter to the Editor

Regarding the article "Special Operations Doctrine: Is it Needed?" by Charles T. Cleveland, James B Linder, and Ronald Dempsey (PRISM, Volume 6, No 3),[link below] I am struck by the curious absence of reference to the long established and mature body of Joint Special Operations doctrine. The authors write as if there was no special operations doctrine until Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3-05 came along in 2012. They opine as to the various reasons for this, including accusing "...the general military doctrine community (of holding) a myopic view of U.S. special operations capabilities." In truth, their contention is not factually correct, as follows:

Dec. 7, 2016

Need Authorities for the Gray Zone

As we strive to confront enemies operating in the Gray Zone—the fog-filled twilight zone between war and peace, where state and non-state actors employ threats, coercion, cooption, espionage, sabotage, political and economic pressure, propaganda, cyber tools, clandestine techniques, deniability, the threat of the use of force, and the use of force to advance their political and military agendas—U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) forces are often frustrated by a lack of authorities to act. Short of war and beyond the parameters set by the 2001 Congressional “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” (AUMF) we may judge our Title 10 authorities1 inadequate to the task, or at best a remarkably poor fit.

Dec. 7, 2016

Special Operations Doctrine: Is it Needed?

On a cool, crisp morning in early April 2012, American and Afghan special forces struggled up the steep and rugged slopes of Maholic Mountain.1 The mountain overshadows the former home of the deceased Taliban leader Mullah Omar on the northern outskirts of Kandahar City, Afghanistan. This band of men completed the challenging ritual each week as a way of building camaraderie while not out on missions. Upon reaching the top of the mountain, one can view the humidity rising off the ground in the distance creating a mirage-like effect. Looking further out, one can see Kandahar City with its vast collection of mud huts (qalats), strip malls, mosques, and two and three story buildings. Resting on top of a boulder, with a bead of sweat running down the side of his head, one special forces soldier sipped coffee from his thermos as he reflected on a recent experience in Northern Kandahar.

Dec. 7, 2016


As the commander of United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), I welcome you to an issue of PRISM dedicated to special operations. SOCOM is responsible for the critical dual missions of providing the U.S. Geographic Commands with trained and ready special operations forces (SOF), as well as synchronizing their actions—we are uniquely created by law to perform both service-like activities and serve as a functional Geographic Combatant Command. In addition, SOCOM serves as the coordinating authority for the Department of Defense National Military Strategic Plan to Counter Trans-Regional Terrorist Organization (NMSP-CTTO). In light of the complexity of today’s security environment, SOF are spread broadly across the spectrum of conflict. As a SOF enterprise we continually strive to be ready, and I am confident we are postured to address today’s trans-regional challenges by virtue of our global perspective and authorities. Nevertheless, we must push ourselves to transform to meet evolving challenges, which entails leveraging developmental technologies and critically revisiting our structures and processes, while at the same time adjusting our tactics, techniques, and procedures to enhance effectiveness.

Dec. 7, 2016

The Limits of Special Operations Forces

In the early 1980s, the future of U.S. special operations forces (SOF) looked decidedly grim. The Vietnam-era boom in SOF had long since expired and the 1970s ended with the debacle of the attempted SOF-led rescue of U.S. hostages in Iran. After two decades of rebuilding, SOF were much more capable on the eve of the September 11, 2001 attacks, but were still only used sparingly and in the shadows.1

Dec. 7, 2016

Context is King

The Special Operations Forces (SOF) community is exceptional and unique in the broader institution of the United States military. The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) states as chief among the “SOF Truths” that “people—not equipment—make the critical difference” in the success of special operations.2 Although clearly referring to the highly trained members of the SOF across the service branches, this truth also reflects the importance of people (or “the human domain”)3 in SOF missions. The factors of the human domain are “the psychological, cultural, behavioral, and other human attributes that influence decisionmaking, the flow of information, and the interpretation of information by individuals and groups.”4 It is hard to overstate the importance of these human factors to the special operator.

Dec. 7, 2016

Regional Understanding and Unity of Effort

The convergence of popular wars, ethnic and religious conflict, ideological extremism, and competition over diminishing resources are “messy” scenarios that defy prescriptive solutions. Yet this messiness is what increasingly defines today’s operating environment, requiring adaptive combinations of knowledge and action within a unified interagency framework. In this context, Special Operations Forces (SOF), to include Information Operations and Civil Affairs, plays an increasingly active and necessary role. To this end, “the global SOF network vision consists of a globally networked force of SOF, interagency allies and partners able to rapidly respond to, and persistently address, regional contingencies and threats to stability.”1 The success of both the conventional military and the global SOF network requires sustained regional expertise for success in future operating environments, as well as institutionalized relationships with interagency partners born from mutual respect, common interests, and a shared understanding of the operating environment. This article proposes an increased emphasis on understanding both the institutional and geo-cultural operating environments. In theory, this is nothing new, but in reality, it requires a shift in the ways we look at military education, senior leaders, and strategic expectations.

Dec. 7, 2016

Special Operations Forces and Conventional Forces Integration, Interoperability, and Interdependence

In mid-2003, then Major General Ray Odierno, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division (ID), had a short meeting with incoming and outgoing special operations leadership. The topic: how to capture Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who had slipped out of Baghdad prior to the coalition conquering the city. Intelligence sources of the 4th ID scoured the areas around Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, gathering information but not developing any solid leads. The staff proposed another approach: Operation Red Dawn, a combined special operations forces (SOF) and conventional forces (CF) intelligence and direct action effort to find and capture Hussein. The SOF-CF team developed an intelligence collection strategy that focused on five families with ties to Hussein, rapidly narrowing the search to the deposed leader’s trusted confidants and family members. Relying on SOF network-mapping capabilities and direct action skills integrated with 4th ID intelligence processing and mobility assets, the SOF-CF team jointly conducted raids, interrogations, and rapid analysis that led to one key individual with direct connections to Hussein. On the evening of December 13, 2003, the 4th ID’s 1st Brigade Combat Team joined with SOF to raid a small farm on the outskirts of Tikrit, eventually discovering a small “spider hole.” When the troops pulled the cover off the spider hole, a haggard-looking bearded man raised his hands and said, “I am Saddam Hussein. I am the President of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate.” The SOF leader calmly replaced the cover on the hole and replied, “President Bush sends his regards.

Dec. 7, 2016

Reaching Forward in the War against the Islamic State

Just like any other night… The Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Ground Force Commander surveys the farmland in front of him. His unit of ISOF soldiers has just captured two ISIL Commanders (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) at a house 50 kilometers from Baghdad—far enough away to put this unit in danger of being overrun if ISIL fighters respond quickly. He knows that his enemies must have received the call to arms only minutes ago, and are on the way to his location.

Dec. 7, 2016

Thinking Dangerously

Imagine if there were no United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Department of Defense (DOD) needed to create a new military entity to provide non-traditional military capability to support U.S. national security interests now and into the future. Escaping from the bonds of past experience and organizational identity, would today’s SOCOM be envisioned or would it be something much different in terms of mission space, operational approach, organization, and culture?