Mental and physical fitness, ingenuity, and grit are among the more important traits a special operator can have.

Resources and technology are great bonuses that can take a commando to the next level. And yet, according to Congress, foreign language capability is now equally if not more important.

These language capabilities are a key asset in competition that takes place below the level of open conflict, known as the gray zone.

As the U.S. focuses on that kind of competition with China and Russia, Congress is concerned that special operations troops’ foreign language capabilities have atrophied during the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations of the past 20 years.

As a result, lawmakers are pressuring Pentagon to act.

“U.S. Special Operations Forces (USSOF) are an integral part of those military activities carried out below the level of armed conflict and therefore must maintain a high degree of proficiency in those languages critical to enable strategic competition,” the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness said in its markup of the 2022 defense budget.

If the provision makes it into the final budget, which may not pass until the end of the year, the Department of Defense would be required to submit a five-year strategy on how it plans to identify, recruit, and retain individuals in special operations units with proficiency in critical languages identified by the National Security Education Program.

Special Operations and Foreign Languages

US Army special operations psychological Operations Qualification Course
Soldiers at the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School speak with indigenous role players during training, June 16, 2021. (Photo by K. Kassens/U.S. Army)

The globalization of the war against terrorism and the continuous reliance on special operations troops for almost any contingency or conflict has increased the need for commandos with foreign language capabilities.