Special Ops Will Remain Integral To Strategy
by Jim Garamone, DOD News
May 23, 2020
At a virtual conference on May 12, 2020 sponsored by the National
Defense Industrial Association, Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke said ...
U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is involved in three wars moving
forward ... the war of extremism, the war for influence and the war
for talent. They are all interrelated.
February 3, 2020 - As seen through night-vision goggles, Air Force special tactics airmen prepare to enter a building in search of a high-value individual during exercise Southern Strike 2020 at Camp McCain Training Center, Mississippi. Southern Strike is a large-scale, joint and international combat exercise, featuring counterinsurgency, close air support, en route casualty care, noncombatant evacuation and maritime special operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason Robertson)
While most Americans
only recognized the war of violent extremism when al-Qaida attacked
the United States in 2001, it has been going on much longer, and
SOCOM troops are the heart of that battle, Clarke said.
will go on much longer, he said, calling the struggle against these
groups a ''generational'' war.
But the main emphasis in the National Defense Strategy is the
return to great power competition with China and Russia. Special
operations forces by their nature serve a dual purpose of fighting
violent extremists and also countering Russia and China. The
presence of these forces in the Indo-Pacific region, Europe, Africa
and South America also serves to counter Chinese and Russian
influence, the general said.
The fight against these groups
will continue, but it will change, as well, Clarke said, noting that
capabilities cannot be aimed not only at violent extremism, but also
at larger enemies.
''As we look at the lethality, precision
and mobility requirements as examples, we absolutely have to develop
them so that they can compete and win with Russia and China, but
they could also work in a [counterextremism] fight, because the
environments we're going to be facing in the future are going to
challenge our communication. They're going to challenge our …
precision navigation. The unmanned aerial systems that our
adversaries are using now globally, we have to look at methods that
will defeat those and protect our forces.''
March 14, 2020 - Candidates assigned to the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School carry a simulated
casualty through a muddy trail during Special Forces assessment and selection at Camp Mackall, NC. Candidates who attended the three-week assessment and selection were evaluated on their ability to work individually and as a team. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens)
The war for influence is part and parcel of great power
competition, Clarke said. ''Great power competition is about
influence, and [special operations forces] have a unique impact and
valuable role in this,'' he added.
Special operations teams
are on the ground, and they are interacting with allies, partners
and indigenous peoples. While the physical partnerships are
important, Clarke said, the virtual world beckons and the
information space will be as important for the future. ''Working in
the information space can have the greatest impact in the coming
years,'' he said.
The general contrasted his time in
Afghanistan to what a company in that country does today. When he
was first assigned to the country, he spent 90 percent of his time
thinking about the kinetic fight, the raid, the mission, the kill,
the capture mission and the destruction of the enemy forces, he
During his most recent trip to Afghanistan, Clarke
said, he found that commanders now spend 60 percent of their time
working in the information space. Commanders think about how to use
the information space to influence the Taliban's thought processes
and how to influence the Afghan population. ''So, as we think about
the information, how we do this locally, but also think about it
regionally, it's, going to be critical to the U.S. ability to be
able to be successful in future fights.''
February 3, 2020 - Air Force special tactics operators fly to their objective in a C-130 Hercules aircraft while participating in exercise Southern Strike 2020 at Camp McCain Training Center,
Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason
This, again, means change. Special operators are going to need
artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, specifically for
information operations, Clarke said, and these have to be both agile
and quick to be relevant.
The war for talent will be a
crucial battleground for special operators, he said. ''We still need
the best men and women in the United States to come into SOCOM,'' he
said. ''We still need guys that can kick down the door, that can
shoot well, can jump out of airplanes, can fly our special
operators. We need all those men and women in our formations.
''But we also need coders,'' he continued. ''We also need
leaders who can apply [artificial intelligence].''
Discussions within the command underscore that the most important
person on a mission may not be the operator who kicks in the door,
but the cyber operator, Clarke said.
''We have to flip this
discussion about what we need in the future,'' the general said.
''We still need great people. But as we look at this, we have to
look at how we're recruiting talent and how we're bringing them in
Special operators have made tremendous
sacrifices over the history of the command, and they will remain a
bulwark of U.S. strategic thinking. But they will change to remain
relevant and to continue to win, Clarke said.
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