The Special Operations community under their command element at USASOC were developed back in the 1990s. The joint command looked to define what was a successful Special Operations mission and what factors played a key role in the conducting of their missions. They published a list of 12 SOF (Special Operations Forces) Imperatives to aid in the operational planning of SOF missions.

Before some people get too wrapped around the handle about the word itself, the word imperative comes from the Latin word of the same name which means, “specially ordered.” Oxford’s English dictionary lists it as an adjective meaning “of vital importance,” or a noun that means “an essential or urgent thing.”  So there’s that.

While one may not need to accomplish each one of these imperatives for every mission as they will vary, however, they are the guidelines that invaluable during the planning phase of the operation that addresses most, if not all of the issues that need to be planned for.

So, let’s look at the first one and for those of our readers who are aspiring SOFs troops, the one with perhaps the most misunderstood meaning.

“Understand the Operational Environment”:

Unfortunately, many of the young troops especially coming from a conventional forces background think of this as strictly knowing the terrain of their specific operational area. And yes, while this is part of it, in the UW (Unconventional Warfare) environment it is a small portion of the #1 imperative.

The understanding of the environment for the SOF operator involves both internal and external factors. While on the tactical/internal side of things, as with any military operation the operators must know the METT-TC factors of their operational area. But that is where it gets deeper for the SOF troops.

This also includes the UW target audience. While most resistance leaders come from the civilian populace of the operational area, they will know, better than the SOF operators what the customs, culture, beliefs, taboos, goals, and needs of the civilian populace are. But the successful operators will be able to influence the actions of the target UW forces that will not only further the US’ goals of the area but help the target audience succeed in what their ultimate goals are.