For the past 20 years, U.S. special operators have been on the frontline of the struggle against terrorism.

Those special operators are small in number compared with their conventional counterparts, but they’ve made an outsize contribution to the global war on terrorism.

After the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, most U.S. counterterrorism operations involved unconventional warfare, with commandoes training local partners and conducting raids.

That has played to the strengths of special operators, who see themselves as a scalpel rather than a hammer. Special operations forces have thrived in such fast-paced, ambiguous environments.