The roots of US special operations forces (SOF) can be traced back to the strategic challenges of World War II. This global conflict saw the birth of special operations units like the British Commandos, the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and the Brit’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). These units were created to conduct unconventional warfare—sabotage, espionage, and guerrilla warfare—behind enemy lines, recognizing the strategic value of such operations.
These early SOF, such as the OSS, laid the foundation for modern-day units. The OSS, for example, was instrumental in developing unconventional warfare tactics and techniques, many of which are still used by today’s special operations forces. The unit’s daring operations deep behind enemy lines paved the way for the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and influenced the formation of post-war SOF.
In the Pacific, the US Marine Raiders and Army’s Alamo Scouts conducted specialized missions, including long-range reconnaissance and direct action against Japanese forces. Their successful operations further demonstrated the effectiveness of such specialized units, shaping the future direction of the U.S. military.
Cold War Warriors: The Rise of the Green Berets and Navy SEALs
With the onset of the Cold War, the need for unconventional warfare capabilities continued to be a strategic necessity. This era saw the formation of the U.S. Army Special Forces, commonly known as the Green Berets, in 1952. Trained in unconventional warfare, the Green Berets were key to countering Soviet influence in various parts of the world, often working with local forces to resist Communist expansion.