The United States likes quick victories when it goes to war. The short conflicts of Grenada, Panama and the Gulf War are looked back upon as wars that went well for the United States. Although our military suffered casualties, the conflicts were resolved quickly and with satisfying results. The current administration recognizes this factor and has adopted the use of SOF, airpower, and a light footprint to resolve conflicts and issues around the world.

Two more recent conflicts – Iraq (OIF) and Afghanistan (OEF) – have proven to be problematic. These two wars have cost the United States many thousands of fatalities, many more wounded, and billions of dollars. The long-term nature of the counterinsurgency operations in both countries have sapped the energy of the American public and exhausted the U.S. military. In addition, the end results of the two conflicts have been up to now unsatisfactory and are far from determined. The irony is that both of these conflicts achieved the objective of overthrowing the regimes (Taliban and Saddam Hussein), in both cases the U.S. opted for an initial light footprint, and in the end the U.S. went ‘all in’ with a surge of troops to conduct population-centric counterinsurgency and nation-building (governance and development).

Some critics have stated that it is best not to become so heavily involved in these massive counterinsurgency efforts where the U.S. is the primary combatant fighting the insurgents. They advocate a model where U.S. advisors provide training, advice and assistance to foreign militaries engaged in counterinsurgency operations. Perhaps they are right; it would seem it is easy to get deeply involved in a counterinsurgency fight and hard to extract oneself from it. These same critics say we need to be more discerning in which conflicts we get involved in and to limit the level of our involvement. They advocate the ‘light footprint’ approach.

Many observers note that special operations forces are uniquely qualified for ‘light footprint’ operations. The training that the Army’s Special Forces (Green Berets), Navy SEALs, Marine Special Operators, and Air Force SOF go through prepares them for the many types of light footprint missions throughout the world. The new commander of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in Tampa, Florida – General “Tony” Thomas – sees “. . . America’s elite troops transforming from a reactive to a proactive force, one that operates globally, but still with a light footprint.” [1]