Special Operators are going to keep being special. That was the theme on Tuesday when General Richard D. Clarke, the commanding officer of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), virtually addressed the audience during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOIFC).

During this time of relative peace for the U.S.’s conventional military, Clarke stated that Special Operators will be fighting against extremists for the “long haul.” He pointed out that “countering violent extremist groups was a generational issue and would remain the number one priority for U.S. Special Operators.”

To many of us, conventional warfare seems to be a thing of the past. At this point, the idea of two uniformed militaries fighting against each other feels almost historic. After nearly 20 years of fighting insurgents and terrorist groups, the military’s techniques and procedures have undoubtedly changed. The lethality and effectiveness of Special Operations units has not gone unnoticed and has been a major focal point in America’s fight against terrorism.

With the surge in strength of China, Russia, and North Korea, the Department of Defense has re-evaluated its tactics and combat planning to be prepared for conventional warfare against powerful countries. For some, this shift has brought into question the necessity of Special Operations.

During the SOIFC, General Clarke claimed that “the fight to counter terror groups is not mutually exclusive from the Defense Department’s pivot to great power competition.”

Clarke explained that Special Operations will maintain a pivotal role in any type of conflict. Going on to say “that allies, partnerships, and maintaining alliances will be an integral part to addressing near-peers in the future. Special operations forces are uniquely placed to fill that role, serving in a number of host nation countries helping train partner forces to counter violent extremist groups.”

Terrorists still number 1 on Special Operations Command's target deck

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An example of this pivotal role took place this year between January and March in the Philippines. On multiple occasions U.S. Special Operators assisted with the treatment and evacuation of Filipino soldiers. The Philippines are a hot spot for terrorist activity and home to hundreds of ISIS-linked insurgents. From a strategic viewpoint, the Philippines serve as a barrier against the potential spread of China’s power.

The harsh reality is that terrorism isn’t going anywhere. The Special Operations community is uniquely capable of combating extremist networks all over the world. Special Operations units require less support and resources and leave a small footprint, while delivering large blows to the enemy.

The Special Operations community is always at work. Oftentimes what they do and where they are is classified or it just doesn’t make it on the news. But rest assured they’re bringing hate to the enemy.

If the United States was to enter into conflict with another superpower, there’s no doubt that Special Operations would play a major role.

If you look back into the conventional wars of the past, a form of Special Operations has almost always existed. The sharpshooters in the Civil War and the Underwater Demolition Teams and Pathfinders of WWII are just a few historical examples of unconventional, specialized units.

The Special Operations community has always had to adapt to its fighting environment. It will continue to do so in the future.