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Chapter 18


Special Operations Forces (SOF) serve four purposes that are increasingly important in the current international environment. First, they are critical to peacetime engagement and crucial to deterrence. Second, they expand the range of options available to decision makers confronting crises and conflicts below the threshold of war, such as terrorism, insurgency, and sabotage. Third, they act as force multipliers in support of conventional forces engaged in major conflicts, increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the U.S. military effort. Finally, they expand national capabilities to react to situations requiring regional orientation and cultural and political sensitivity, including military-to-military contacts and noncombatant missions like humanitarian assistance, security assistance, and peacekeeping operations.


Special Operations Forces have a dual heritage. They are the nation's penetration and strike force, able to respond to specialized contingencies across the conflict spectrum with stealth, speed, and precision. They are also warrior-diplomats capable of influencing, advising, training, and conducting operations with foreign forces, officials, and populations. One of these two generic SOF roles is at the heart of each of the following prioritized special operations missions.


To support the National Security Strategy, Special Operations Forces provide decision makers with increased options for achieving the national military objectives of promoting stability and thwarting aggression. To realize their full potential as strategic assets, SOF receive national level oversight to ensure their full integration into planning for conventional operations and interagency planning. Skillful integration with conventional forces allows SOF to be a force and diplomatic multiplier in conventional operations. DoD is improving SOF interoperability with conventional forces and ensuring SOF's inclusion in strategic planning, joint training, interagency exercises, and DoD educational curricula.

Special operations differ from traditional military operations in degree of political risk, often unconventional mode of employment, independence from friendly support, and their dependence on detailed intelligence and indigenous assets. For these reasons, some SOF missions carry an exceptionally high degree of physical risk. Because of the political sensitivities surrounding many SOF missions, where failure can damage national prestige, close coordination at the interagency level between DoD and other U.S. government agencies is necessary. Close interagency coordination maximizes SOF effectiveness in the political-military environment short of war.


Special Operations Forces are force multipliers for U.S. conventional forces combating regional aggression. SOF contribute directly to conventional combat operations, complicating enemy operations through assistance to indigenous forces allied with the United States and sealing the victory through post-hostility and restoration activities. In Operation Desert Storm, for example, SOF conducted extensive information preparation of the battlefield, special reconnaissance, direct action, and other missions behind Iraqi lines, contributing to deception operations that misled the enemy about the coalition's operational plan and facilitated coalition warfare. Psychological operations leaflets and broadcasts encouraged over 17,000 Iraqis to defect and between 50,000 and 80,000 to surrender. Active and Reserve component Civil Affairs units managed displaced person and refugee operations and distributed humanitarian assistance, supplies, and services. Active and reserve PSYOP, as well as reserve CA, also assisted Kuwaiti government ministries in planning and executing the immediate post-conflict restoration.

Because of their language skills and regional orientation, Special Operations Forces are particularly well suited to conventional coalition warfare. For example, in Operation Desert Storm, SOF personnel were deployed as liaison officers to multinational staffs under the tactical control of the Commander in Chief (CINC) of the United States Central Command. Their in-depth knowledge of the coalition members, language, and militaries allowed them to successfully link the CINC to each member of the coalition. General Norman R. Schwarzkopf referred to this contribution as the glue that held the coalition together. SOF performed similar tasks in Operation Joint Endeavor.


The proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons is one of the most serious security threats confronting the United States, its allies, and friends. When U.S. forces are faced with a theater NBC threat, SOF can assist in deterring, destroying, or defending against it. Psychological operations can support deterrence by communicating to foreign audiences a U.S. commitment and capability to prevent the proliferation and use of NBC weapons. SOF direct action capabilities contribute to deterrence and destruction options by providing a precision strike capability against weapons, storage facilities, and command and control centers. SOF special reconnaissance capabilities can contribute to the defense against NBC threats by providing real-time intelligence unavailable from other sources.


Special Operations Forces play an important role in low intensity conflict because of the unique capabilities resident in SOF and the special character of low intensity conflicts. Low intensity conflict is a particularly challenging area for the United States, because it encompasses a range of activities that weaken regional security and undermine the ability of the United States to accomplish its objectives. U.S. efforts to counter low intensity threats do not focus on traditional military objectives. They are not driven by the requirement to destroy enemy forces or capture terrain, but rather by the need to establish or reestablish an environment conducive to regional or international stability without resorting to the political, economic, and military risks of war. Terrorism, lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and coups d'etat will continue to be some of the principal means by which national and subnational actors carve out their places in the world. Such activities may be used to weaken regional security by undermining support for U.S. presence, reducing U.S. access and influence, complicating the coordination of collective defense efforts, or directly attacking Americans, allies, or regimes friendly to the United States.


Many of the skills in the Special Operations Forces inventory are directly applicable to support friendly, democratic regimes. With their linguistic ability and cross-cultural sensitivities, SOF can quickly establish an effective working rapport with foreign military and paramilitary forces and, when required, government officials. In this capacity, SOF is a force multiplier for U.S. ambassadors and country teams throughout the world. Specifically, SOF (especially civil affairs, psychological operations, and Special Forces (SF)) can assess appropriate host nation projects, conduct disaster or humanitarian assistance planning seminars, and assist interagency coordination, foreign liaison, and public information programs. Operation Uphold Democracy is a classic example of how unique SOF language and cultural skills can be successfully applied in the initial stages of a peacetime military campaign plan. In Haiti, SOF performed a number of key functions beginning long before the arrival of U.S. forces, causing a significant decrease in the desperate exodus of Haitians and preparing the Haitian population for the return of democracy and the peaceful arrival of U.S. forces. During the peak of the multinational force phase of the operation, there were approximately 1,350 SOF personnel operating in small teams, based in 30 population centers throughout Haiti. From those centers, SOF visited over 500 towns and villages, where they were essential in establishing a safe and secure environment. SOF supported the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) conducting Operation Joint Endeavor with approximately 1,350 personnel deployed to Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. SOF conducted CA, PSYOP, special operations command and control element support to conventional forces, liaison coordination element support to foreign forces, and air support for IFOR.

Some military units, especially combat support and combat service support units -- such as engineer or medical units -- and even some civilian agencies benefit from having civil affairs, psychological operations, or SF personnel attached for overseas peacetime missions. Prior to deployment, SOF personnel can train members in the cultural aspects of their projects and in dealing with local military officials and civilians with whom they may come in contact. During deployment, SOF can assist in coordinating with local representatives and populations.


The sensitivity of Special Operations precludes a discussion of most specific SOF activities in this report. However, examples of some recent operations include the following:

The most telling benchmark of SOF's 1996 operations is the extremely high operating tempo of overseas deployments. SOF conducted over 1,240 missions to 136 countries and five territories. This heavy deployment schedule accomplished tasks in mandated primary and collateral mission areas. Additionally, the average number of SOF deployed overseas per week was 3,175, reflecting a slight decrease from weekly FY 1995 average figures.


Special Operations Forces are prepared to operate worldwide and across the spectrum of conflict. Approximately 44,000 active and Reserve Component personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force are assigned to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). SOF are organized into three Service components and a joint command. In actual operations, Service component units are normally employed as part of a joint force by the theater CINCs through the theater Special Operations Command (SOC). The SOC normally forms a Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF), which may be employed independently or in support of a larger Joint Task Force (JTF). Psychological operations forces form a Joint PSYOP Task Force (JPOTF) to ensure a seamless blending of psychological operations supporting U.S. government policy. Civil Affairs units may be assigned as part of a JSOTF or a JTF, or as a separate Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force (JCMOTF).

Army Special Operations Forces include Special Forces (Green Berets), Rangers, Special Operations Aviation (SOA), PSYOP, CA, signal, support, and headquarters units under the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). Army Special Forces are organized into five active and two Army National Guard groups. The Ranger regiment consists of three active battalions, based at three locations in the United States. SOA consists of one active regiment in the United States and one detachment in Panama. PSYOP is organized into three groups, one active and two United States Army Reserve (USAR). The CA force structure consists of three USAR CA commands, nine USAR CA brigades, 24 USAR CA battalions, and one active duty CA battalion. Ninety-seven percent of the CA force is found in the USAR.

Naval Special Warfare (NSW) forces support naval and joint special operations within the theater unified commands. NSW forces are organized into two Naval Special Warfare Groups and two Special Boat Squadrons. Each Naval Special Warfare Group is composed of three Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) teams with 10 platoons and a SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) team. Also assigned to each of the groups are Naval Special Warfare Units, which are small command and control elements located outside the continental United States to support NSW forces assigned to theater SOCs or components of naval task forces. The Special Boat Squadrons and their subordinate Special Boat Units are responsible for operating and maintaining a variety of special operations vessels such as high speed boats and patrol coastal ships. The 82-foot Mark Five Special Operations Craft were delivered in August 1995; six (of 20 total) craft have been delivered. There are a total of 13 170-foot Cyclone Class Patrol Coastal ships in the Naval Special Warfare inventory. These ships provide long-range high speed craft capability in support of a variety of SOF mission areas, including coastal patrol and interdiction. Additionally, several nuclear attack submarines are configured to carry dry deck shelters for launching SDVs. Additional submarines are modified to host the Advanced SEAL Delivery System.

Air Force SOF are organized into one active Special Operations Wing, two active Special Operations Groups (one each in Pacific and European Commands), one Air Force Reserve Special Operations Wing, one Air National Guard Special Operations Wing, and one active Special Tactics Group. Within these units are Special Operations squadrons, some of which can perform long-range infiltration, aerial refueling, resupplying, or exfiltration missions deep within sensitive or enemy held territory. Some squadrons can conduct PSYOP leaflet drops, or broadcast radio or television signals, while other squadrons provide close air support, interdiction, and armed escort capabilities. These aircraft support both SOF and conventional forces.


The DoD Reorganization Act of 1986, as amended by the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987, mandated unique relationships for command, control, and oversight of SOF. The act directed the establishment of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)) to serve as the senior civilian advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and to the Secretary of Defense on matters pertaining to special operations and low intensity conflict. The act also directed the establishment of USSOCOM and assigned it several Service-like responsibilities, including those of program, budget, and acquisition. The policy and resource oversight responsibilities of ASD(SO/LIC) and the Service-like responsibilities of USSOCOM create a relationship which is unique within the Department of Defense. This relationship facilitates SOF's responsiveness and adaptability to the needs of the National Command Authorities in the changing national security environment.


Recognizing that the demand for forces to selectively respond to diverse regional concerns will be greater than ever, the following themes will continue to guide the SOF community:


Special Operations Forces are particularly suited for many emerging missions which will flow from the National Security Strategy. Many of these missions require traditional SOF capabilities, while others such as counterproliferation and information warfare are relatively new and are the subject of developing SOF doctrine. Recent operations have proven that SOF are invaluable as facilitators and peacetime operators, as well as strike troops. In order to be as effective as possible, SOF face two major challenges: they must integrate -- with conventional forces, other U.S. agencies, friendly foreign forces, and other international organizations (like the United Nations and Red Cross) -- yet they must preserve the autonomy necessary to protect and encourage the unconventional approach that is the soul of Special Operations. This flexibility will facilitate meeting the other major challenge of the 1990s. SOF will continue to be surgically targeted, timely, and global in scope. SOF's language capability and regional and cultural orientation will continue to make them a peacetime force of choice that is mature, discrete, low profile, and effective. Future defense budgets will demand cost-effective solutions. Because of its low cost/high payback ratio, SOF will continue to be called upon as the nation seeks to promote stability and thwart aggression.

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