As a result of the announcement to downsize special forces, I am writing this essay to add insight into why this decision is being considered. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, and there are always causes and effects and actions and reactions that lead to conclusions that do not make sense and seem unreasonable.

Operation Medusa with Gen Bolduc
The author, front row, first unblurred figure from the right, is seen here in Afghanistan during Operation Medusa.

There is no doubt that the United States Army Special Forces is the world’s leader in unconventional warfare operations. Special Operations Forces have many capabilities and capacities across all the services. Each has its focus, but this is the only special operations force that has the numerous mission profiles of Special Forces. Our nation needs these mission profiles to possess a military capability suitable to conduct operations at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels across the operational continuum of peace through war. No other force in the military can go from combat to humanitarian operations as quickly as Special Forces.

The tactical level of SOF is the most effective. It is the strategic and operational level where senior leaders make decisions that is usually the weak point. At no time do I point my fingers at others without including my own mistakes. Although I disagreed with what I was seeing and experiencing, I could not influence those decisions. My lack of political savvy and inability to influence my senior leaders contributed to failed strategy and operational plans.

In Special Operations since 1987, the counterterrorism forces have dominated special operations. Since 2001, the counterterrorism forces have marginalized the US Army Special Forces. This takeover has, unfortunately, been at the cooperation of special forces senior leaders at the general officer level. The geniuses that created this problem, most of them now retired, replaced by their sycophant protégés to carry on, have concluded this was not a good idea and want to broaden the SOF horizons.

During my time as a special forces officer, commanding at all levels up to the general officer level, I saw firsthand how my leadership subordinated itself to the counterterrorism force leadership to ensure their continued promotion inside the special operations community. This has had a detrimental effect on US Army Special Forces. It negatively affected combat development, funding, force structure, reductions in direct action force structure in special forces, command and control, and assignments and promotions. The co-opting and control of US Army Special Forces began in earnest in 2005 when Special Forces Colonels and Generals began working as senior staff members and deputy commanders in Joint Special Operations Command. The assignment there, over time, became a stamp of approval for continued advancement at the senior level. Those that were not chosen or decented in any way were shown the door. The dominance of counterterrorism senior officers and civilians at USSCOM created a counterterrorism-focused command with large staffs that subordinated to US Army Special Forces. This resulted in counterterrorism becoming synonymous with all special operation force missions. In COMBATANT Commands, JSOC took over the responsibility and focus of special operations by using their national force, three-star, and funding power to co-opt special forces primacy from the Theater Special Operations Command. In addition, JSOC established liaison organizations in Washington, DC, to increase their leverage within the interagency.

Another problem is the need for more civilian oversight of the United States Special Operations Command. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict has been subordinated, in practice, to the United States Special Operations Command. This subordination of civilian oversight is detrimental to the civilian oversight role of our military. Also, the Assistant Secretary position should be an Under Secretary position. The name and function should be changed to Under Secretary of Defense for Special Operations. This would ensure civilian oversight and put special operations on the same level as the conventional military.

A Strategic and Operational Recap:

The advent of modern warfare has necessitated the seamless collaboration between special operations and conventional military units. However, despite recognizing the need for interoperability, senior military leaders in both domains have failed to address this crucial challenge effectively.

It is important to note that at the tactical level, the men and women operating in Afghanistan did their jobs with honor, dedication, and competence. This included all Special Operations Forces, Conventional Forces, and Counterterrorism Forces. Despite the lack of interoperability at the senior levels, the tactical level did a better job at figuring out how to work together. The success of our tactical units was not matched at the senior level with a sound strategy and operational plan. The senior leaders took care of themselves. Blamed the problems on their subordinates and failed to give our service members the awards they deserved.