Special operations

Special operations (S.O.) are military activities conducted, according to NATO, by "specially designated, organized, selected, trained, and equipped forces using unconventional techniques and modes of employment".[1][2] Special operations may include reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, and counter-terrorism actions, and are typically conducted by small groups of highly-trained personnel, emphasizing sufficiency, stealth, speed, and tactical coordination, commonly known as "special forces".

U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Commandos training in Jordan

Use and efficiencyEdit

United StatesEdit

The decade 2003–2012 saw U.S. national security strategy rely on special operations to an unprecedented degree. Identifying, hunting, and killing terrorists became a central task in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Linda Robinson, Adjunct Senior Fellow for U.S. National Security and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that the organizational structure became flatter and cooperation with the intelligence community was stronger, allowing special operations to move at the "speed of war".[3] Special Operations appropriations are costly: Its budget went from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $10.5 billion in 2012.[3] Some experts argued the investment was worthwhile, pointing to the raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Indeed, that raid was organized and overseen by Admiral William H. McRaven, who was both a student and practitioner of special operations, having published a thesis on them in the 1990s. McRaven's theory of special operations was that they had the potential to achieve significant operational, political, or strategic effects. This potential required such units to be organized and commanded by special operations professionals rather than being subsumed into larger military units or operations, and required that "relative superiority" be gained during the special operation in question via characteristics such as simplicity, security, rehearsals, surprise, speed, and clearly but narrowly defined purpose.[4]

Others claimed that special operations' emphasis precipitated a misconception that it was a substitute for prolonged conflict. "Raids and drone strikes are rarely decisive tactics and often incur significant political and diplomatic costs for the United States. Although raids and drone strikes are necessary to disrupt dire and imminent threats... special operations leaders readily admit that they should not be the central pillar of U.S. military strategy."[3] Instead, special operations advocates stated that grand strategy should include their "indirect approach", suggesting that "the ability to operate with a small footprint and low-visibility, invest time and resources to foster interagency and foreign partnerships, develop deep cultural expertise, and rapidly adapt emerging technologies" is vital for maintaining deterrence and countering aggression.[5] "Special operations forces forge relationships that can last for decades with a diverse collection of groups: training, advising, and operating alongside other countries' militaries, police forces, tribes, militias or other information groups."[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ North Atlantic Treaty Organization (13 December 2013). "Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations". NATO Standard Allied Joint Publication. Brussels: NATO Standardization Agency. AJP-3.5 (Edition A, Version 1): 1.
  2. ^ North Atlantic Treaty Organization (17 November 2015). "NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions (English and French)" (PDF). AAP-06 (Edition 2015). Brussels: NATO Standardization Agency: 2–S–8. Retrieved 18 September 2016. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d Robinson, Linda (November–December 2012). "The Future of Special Operations: Beyond Kill and Capture". Foreign Affairs. 91 (6): 110–122.
  4. ^ Wirtz, James J. (2021). "The Abbottabad raid and the theory of special operations". Journal of Strategic Studies: 1–21. doi:10.1080/01402390.2021.1933953.
  5. ^ Bilms, Kevin (2021). "Past as Prelude? Envisioning the Future of Special Operations". The Strategy Bridge: 1.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit