Special operations are performed independently or in conjunction with conventional military operations. The primary goal is to achieve a political or military objective where a conventional force requirement does not exist or might adversely affect the overall strategic outcome. Special operations are usually conducted in a low-profile manner that aims to achieve the advantages of speed, surprise, and violence of action against an unsuspecting target. Special ops are typically carried out with limited numbers of highly trained personnel that are able to operate in all environments, utilize self-reliance, easily adapt to and overcome obstacles, and use unconventional combat skills and equipment to complete objectives. Special operations are usually implemented through specific, tailored intelligence.
Use and efficiency
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.” Special Operations appropriations are costly: Its budget went from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $10.5 billion in 2012. Some experts argued the investment was worthwhile, pointing to the raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Others claimed that the emphasis on Special Operations precipitated a misconception that it was a substitute for prolonged conflict. “Raids and drone strikes are tactics that are rarely decisive 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.” Instead, Special Operations commanders stated that grand strategy should include their “indirect approach,” which meant working with non-U.S. partners to accomplish security objectives. “Special Operations forces forge relationships that can last for decades with a diverse collection of groups: training, advising, and operation alongside other countries’ militaries, police forces, tribes, militias or other information groups.”
Special operations forces
Special operations forces (SOF) is a term primarily used in the West. It is an “all encompassing” term that defines a nation’s specialized units. The term “special forces” is age old and used by countries around the world to describe their specialized unit(s).
In the United States military, SOF includes Army Special Forces (‘Green Berets’), Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Pararescue, Marine Special Operations (MARSOC), select specially-trained Military Intelligence/Counterintelligence units, Civil Affairs (Active duty), Military Information Support Operations (MISO) personnel, and Special Operations Aviation units under the umbrella of the United States Army Special Operations Command. While not formally designated as Special Operations Forces, there are several units whose missions and training are identical to SOF but operate in support of conventional combatant commanders, to include: US Army Long Range Reconnaissance Companies/Detachments (LRSC/LRSD), US Army Pathfinder Companies (PFDR), Military Police Special Reaction Teams (equivalent to civilian police SWAT teams), Marine Force Recon, Explosive Ordnance Disposal units (EOD), and various individual and team Snipers. 
Examples of special operations include: special reconnaissance/military intelligence, unconventional warfare, and counter-terrorism actions. Special operations are sometimes associated with unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency (operations against insurgents), operations against guerrillas or irregular forces, low-intensity operations, and foreign internal defense.
Special operations may be carried out by conventional forces but are often carried out by special operations forces (SOF), which are military units that are highly-trained and use special equipment, weapons, and tactics. They are sometimes referred to as "elite" forces, commandos, and special operators.
- Foreign internal defense
- List of special forces units
- Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol
- Pathfinder (military)
- Special Activities Division
- https://web.archive.org/web/20131020230203/http://www.shadowspear.com/special-operations-research.html ShadowSpear: About Special Operations
- Robinson, Linda (November–December 2012). "The Future of Special Operations: Beyond Kill and Capture". Foreign Affairs 91 (6): 110–122.
- Robert C. Ankony, Lurps: A Ranger's Diary of Tet, Khe Sanh, A Shau, and Quang Tri, revised ed., Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, MD (2009).