The Worrisome Future of Special Operation Forces

by Daniel Pipes

I just had an opportunity to learn firsthand about the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., headed by the famed Admiral William H. McRaven.

I expected the focus to be on Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and their Air Force and Marine counterparts. I thought I would hear about the exploits of this 67,000-strong command operating in 84 countries, maybe even about the taking down of Osama bin Laden. But that was not to be. Instead, the command’s new mission, starting with the motto ”You can’t surge trust,” filled the time.

That new mission took some time to sink in because of SOCOM’s turgid language; here’s a key paragraph from the Operating Concept for special operations forces (SOF):

The Special Operations Forces Operating Concept captures the essence of the SOF heritage as it could be – as it should be in the year 2020 and beyond. The concept moves beyond the first decade of the 21st Century, when SOF primarily supported large-scale contingency operations by conducting counterterrorism operations to find, capture, or kill our adversaries. Although of great value to the Nation, these operations were never intended to be decisive. Operating through the Global SOF Network in support of our Geographic Combatant Commanders and Chiefs of Mission, SOF now have the opportunity to achieve strategic outcomes by working with and through interagency and foreign partners to understand and influence relevant populations.

Translated into English, this says:

Special Operations Forces used to be about capturing or killing America’s adversaries; its new mission is to shape public opinion.

Or, in the words of a bullet point in the Operating Concept, the goal is “elevating SOF non-lethal skills to the same level of expertise as lethal skills.” As radical a shift as this is, at least I could comprehend it. Not so the following graphic, “Strategic Appreciation – 2.0,” which not only makes no sense to me but has nothing to do with what special forces ostensibly do:

Does the special-operations leadership really believe this stuff or is it mouthing this to distract the public from discussing its real, and lethal, mission? If it’s sincere, I worry about our future defense.

And it’s a minor point, but am I the only one to find it incongruous that a killing machine has embossed cocktail napkins?

For further discussion, see the analog of this post on my website.

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