Special operations

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

Special operations (S.O.) are military, law enforcement or intelligence operations that are "special" or unconventional and carried out by dedicated special forces and other special operations forces units using unconventional methods and resources. Special operations may be 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 adaptable, self-reliant and able to operate in all environments, and able to use unconventional combat skills and equipment. Special operations are usually implemented through specific, tailored intelligence.[1]

Use and efficiency[edit]

United States[edit]

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".[2] Special Operations appropriations are costly: Its budget went from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $10.5 billion in 2012.[2] 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."[2] 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."[2]

Special Operations Forces[edit]

U.S. Army Rangers, Vietnam, 1968.

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 also used by countries around the world to describe their specialized unit(s), however. Examples of special operations include: special reconnaissance/military intelligence, unconventional warfare, psyops 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 specifically trained and use special equipment, weapons, and tactics. They are sometimes referred to as "elite" forces, commandos, and special operators.

In the United States Armed Forces, SOF includes Army Special Forces ("Green Berets"), Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Navy SWCC, United States Air Force Special Tactics, Marine Special Operations (MARSOC), SFOD-D (Delta Force), JSOC, select specially trained Military Intelligence/Counterintelligence units, Civil Affairs (active duty), Military Information Support Operations (MISO), which was formerly Psychological Operations personnel (PSYOP), and Special Operations Aviation units under the umbrella of the United States Special Operations Command.

In the law enforcement and intelligence communities, special operations may be executed by certain specialized entities such as the CIA Special Activities Division and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team or SWAT teams.

Irish Army Ranger Wing operators on a reconnaissance mission in East Timor.

In recent conflicts special operations forces have been training indigenous forces. This is known in the special operations community as foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, and counter-terrorism.

Other special operations forces include the British Special Boat Service and Special Air Service, the Japanese Special Forces Group and Special Boarding Unit, the Irish Army Ranger Wing, Polish GROM, Italian 9th Parachute Assault Regiment, the Norwegian Marinejegerkommandoen and FSK; as well as the Indian MARCOS and Para (Special Forces).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20131020230203/http://www.shadowspear.com/special-operations-research.html ShadowSpear: About Special Operations
  2. ^ a b c d Robinson, Linda (November–December 2012). "The Future of Special Operations: Beyond Kill and Capture". Foreign Affairs. 91 (6): 110–122. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]