April 19, 2013

A Response to Linda Robinson’s “Future of SOF”

The United States has arrived at a critical inflection point in the development and employment of its special operations forces. (Robinson 3)

When I heard about Linda Robinson’s Council on Foreign Relations sponsored white paper I was expecting another abstract academic work which was frighteningly detached from anything resembling reality but was pleasantly surprised at Robinson’s down to earth recommendations. Her outline of SOF and policy recommendations are impressively on target, especially for someone on the outside looking in, without getting into classified aspects of the Special Operations community.  You can read Robinson’s paper, The Future of US Special Operations Forces on the CFR website.

As someone who was an insider, I felt that I had a bit of an opportunity to expand on a few of her points from a soldier’s perspective. I should note up front that what you will read here are my personal opinions and in no way represent official statements from SOCOM or for that matter the unofficial opinion of the Special Operations community as a whole.

Direct vs. Indirect Approaches

Much have been made over the last ten years about Special Operations Forces, in particular Special Forces, getting fixated on Direct Action operations. While units such as SEALs and Rangers are designed for Direct Action, Special Forces is designed for Unconventional Warfare. Unconventional Warfare emphasizes a long term approach to influencing the battle space by developing host nation military forces (Foreign Internal Defense) and engaging with the local community on various civil projects among other activities. The accusation has been made that SOF has gotten obsessed with conducting Direct Action High Value Target raids at the expense of keeping an eye on the long game.


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About the Author

is an eight year Army Special Operations veteran who served as a Sniper and Team Leader in 3rd Ranger Battalion and as a Senior Weapons Sergeant on a Military Free Fall team in 5th Special Forces Group. Having left the military in 2010, he is now working towards a degree in Political Science at Columbia University. Murphy is the author of Reflexive Fire, Target Deck, the PROMIS series, and numerous non-fiction articles about Weapons, Tactics, Special Operations, Terrorism, and Counter-Terrorism. He has appeared in documentaries, national television, and syndicated radio.

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  • NoBSDave

    @GBNT Yes you are right at the way CF CDRs looking at how a E6 or E7 and stand there and speak their mind and tell a )-whatever No Sir, this is what is going on in your AOR. This is way we need this XYZ, OP, Mission whatever to happen.

  • NoBSDave

    Well let's look at what SF Groups are doing in OIF/OEF. Can and/or should have the end products and mindset been to look at what SF is doing through UW Goggles? Yet we have so many NCOs that have lost the aspect or ability to conduct real phases of UW due to looking at missions in the DA mindset. Yes, all of us love killing people, which is what the Army is here to do, IMO. Yet being a SF guy, you real job IMO is to teach that LBG or Aghan to kick in the door and shoot someone in the face or to take those bullets first. While the SF guys do the real killing and police it up. If not, then like Mrs. Robinson states, what is the ultimate role or once again strategic goals for the country SF or even SOF are working at doing. Does DoD or DoS want to make a real military within this country? SF's job is still to teach others to fight, that is the ultimate job for SF as laid out in UW doctrine.

  • NoBSDave

    @JackMurphyRGR the sad thing is I seen a list produced by someone on the BS yearly requirements for every soldier to take, this list was two and half pages long!! It had the name of the "task" "requirements" plus the link for each one. That is half of the problem. This IMO causes 1SG/SGM/CSM is keep on their computers looking at MEDPROS and other sites checking on personnel.

  • NoBSDave

    @JackMurphyRGR  Yes you'er right on the conventionalization of SF, this is due to Command and SF sucking up to the RC Commander and ISAF. Then IMO you have Officers coming into SF that "have done the VSO mission while they were a LT" Many different factors inpacting SF nowadays. Now with the revamping of the SF Groups, the Regiment will be more like a SF Infantry Squad with cooler toys and better ROE.

  • blanerisinger

    They should take our modern Pathfinder Companies and make them part of USASOC. They are very specialized In CSAR and PR as well as Aerial Sniper Platforms, Recon, and Focused Targeting. They could definitely fill a space and let the operators and assaulters get back to their teams and be operational again. Not to mention they can still conduct textbook Pathfinder Operations.