20 June 2014

FWS Topics: Special Operations Forces Part: 1

In the popular imagination, they are the professional stalkers of the night, waiting patiently for an opportunity to strike the enemy from the shadows at the enemy's most sensitive points. They are the best of their society, with the best in training, equipment, and surrounded by veil of secretly and a code of silence. People on the outside of these secret military organizations devoted money and time to research, read, imagine, and emulate the dress and deeds of these special warfighters. Often, the public misunderstands the role of Special Operations Forces and the members in SOF units, and popular media has not helped. During my childhood, Special Forces soldiers were a mix of Chuck Norris, Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe, and the Feudal Japanese Ninja, With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the warfighters of SOF units have been more visible than ever before, and now the shadows are less dark than they used to be. It is surprises to me that it took nearly four years for FWS to discuss Special Forces, mainly due to the complexity of the subject…but here we are, and it is time. Due to recent criticism of the very long Female Soldiers blogpost some months ago, FWS will be publishing this blogpost in three parts. 

What Does "Special Operations Forces" Really Mean?
Within the larger body of a military organization are smaller groups, with carefully selected members that are trained in specialized forms of warfare, like counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, intelligence gathering, and RECON. These irregular specialized units are trained to operate in small units across all types of terrain and climates found on Earth. However, there is no “universal” mission of SOF groups, and these elite units vary from nation-to-nation, and what branch of the armed forces they are attached to. For example, the Navy SEALs are an Special Operation units, like the US Army’s Green Berets, however, they differ in mission and primary operational environment. Often these units operate in much smaller units that the regular military, with little or no support. While sent on dangerous and sometimes classified missions, they benefit from more funding, more focused training, cutting-edge gear and weapons. Often the members of Special Operations units are older than the average infantrymen, and have ascended through the ranks and suffered through harsh and demanding training to be in these SOF units. 

What is an Name?
There are many names associated with Special Forces, and each as a different historical link to the total story of SOF.

The name “commando” entered the English language from an Afrikaan word that finds its origins during the brutal Boer Wars of 1899-1902. This name was associated with light mounted Calvary units, like the Bushveldt Carbineers. However, it can also be traced all the way back to the 1650’s, and was used to label militia units in the Dutch East India Company. During World War II, the British created “special services” in June of 1940 by directive by Winston Churchill to kill Germans and boost morale back home during daring deeds. Over 2,000 British soldiers volunteered for Commando service. By 1942, a number of established units were formed with different roles and skills, along with different equipment. These British Commandos would become the template for other “commando” units across the old British Empire. To this day, the word “commando” is still used for Special Operations units and to describe mission conducted by SOF units, like the Bin Laden raid in 2010. 

The idea of raiders being elite members of a society goes back to pre-history, when the fastest runners and most skilled hunters raided other primitive human camps and caves for supplies. Raid by hostile forces led to the development of defensive measures, and the formation of towns, complex societies and early military organizations. Raids are a key element in Special Forces tactics and one of the historic duties of these special soldiers. Raids are overall term for a variety of missions, and raider is overall generalized term for a specialized soldier.

Today, the term “operator” applies to most Special Forces soldier, especially the Tier-One “black operations” units, and is widely accepted. The term was first coined for use in the first years of DELTA Force’s formation, around 1977 or 1978. According to Eric L. Haney's 2002 book Inside DELTA Force, on page 109, the name "operator" was chosen for the secretive soldiers of DELTA Force to be "convoluted" and devoid of any legal and/or political considerations. Original, "agent" or "operative" were being considered...but rejected due to those very political and legal considerations. Also, in the beginning of DELTA Force, Operator was an allusive enough label to hide the identity and roles of these elite soldiers. Since the general public as become aware of the term operator, it has been applied by popular media and civilian writers to mean any black operations soldier. 

Warfighter is an interesting term, and received much attention during the recent release of the Medal of Honor: Warfighter video game by EA and Danger Close. During the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, warfighter got started to describe the difference between social classes in the military. For example, some soldiers would say that they were not “soldier” but “warfighters”. Some groups used this over the term “crusader”. It was meant to denote a profession combat soldier instead of some Fobbit or REMF. However, the term lost its luster when civilian media and culture began using it. Even the US military has been distancing themselves for the term as for 2011, especially given the negative nature of the term.   

The most classic terminology associated with the beginnings of Special Forces. During the age of ridged military tactics, where armies were divided into lines and there were rules, irregular forces were the opposite. Most pioneers in the art of irregular warfare took a page for the native tribes of North America, and used their tactics during the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. The term is board and can encompass everything from rebels and resistance fighters in World War II to modern day terrorists. Historically, there was Roger’s Rangers of the Revolutionary War along with Francis “swamp fox” Marion, and later, John Mosby of the Confederacy irregular. Modern examples were the Viet-Cong and the Afghan Mujahideen.   

The term "guerrilla" means "little war" in Spanish, and was original used to describe native Spanish irregular fighters that rose up against invading French forces in 1808. Today, the term "guerrilla" is more associated irregular fighters in jungle or dense forest locations using unconventional warfare tactics. These forces use strike-and-fade tactics, the native terrain, and support on the local population for shelter and supply. Examples are the Apalachee tribe in Florida against the Spanish, the Boers in South Africa during the Boer Wars, the number of Latin American conflicts in the 1970's and 1980's. When the word guerrilla is used, it often refers to Latin or Central American irregular forces for some reason...possibly due to Che Guevara's 1961 book Guerrilla Warfare about the Cuban Revolution. This is still a widely used term.

Recently, the term "warrior" has been applied to Special Forces soldiers. According to the word usage, the term warrior is used to describe someone more elite and professional than a typical soldier. That being a warrior means more of a way of life and a permit occupation than just a way to pay for college. Being a warrior is devotion to a life of being tested and being ready for war. Recently, the US military has attempted to end the use of the term, due to some negative association.

Here is another classic term for irregular, non-convention military forces that use special tactics and surprise to win. "Partisan" comes from Latin and was used in the 17th century for a leader of a war party. Partisans are mostly associated with irregular units waging unconventional warfare behind enemy lines using raiding tactics to disrupt the enemy, the civilian population, and their supply lines. At times, Partisans forces raid finance centers of the enemy to fund themselves or their native government. Partisan forces were seen used as later as World War II when describing French and Soviet resistance groups waging unconventional against the 3rd Reich.The Confederate Partisan Ranger John Singleton "Grey Ghost" Mosby and his merry band of Mosby's Rangers became closely linked to the term. The term is rarely used today. 
The term "ranger" is used for a variety of items, jobs, and duties throughout modern society. Everything from a Park Ranger, to a Ford pickup, to my local Baseball team, and specialized soldiers throughout military history. While there is no 100% definition to the term, as far as I can research, an "ranger" is an individual of the frontier, patrolling for threats, and being one with the local landscape and peoples. Some have used the word to mean an guardian of their lands and patrols it. When they fight, they fight an irregular way, with using the local condition to aid them. Rangers by definition is a long-range soldier that uses the land to help them and hurt the enemy. They often use surprise, violence, and speed to overcome superior numbers. The military designation goes back to King Philip's War of 1675-1678. Benjamin Church formed the first Rangers to take the hard learned lessons of hostile native tribal tactics and apply it back to them. These original Rangers of the 17th century were instructed by friendly native tribal allies. By the time of the French and Indian War and the King George's War, such groups as the Roger's Rangers and Gorham's Rangers were building upon the foundation laid down by Benjamin Church. These Ranger units were irregular, using unconventional tactics against their enemy, and operated in the deep woods.

During the Revolution, there was Knowlton's Rangers and the deeds of the Swamp Fox, both used Ranger tactics. This idea would continue throughout American history all the way up to the Civil War, with Confederate irregular units that attacked behind Union lines. By the time of the 2nd World War, the US Army would develop modern day Rangers based on the pattern of the British Commandos. Throughout the war, the Rangers were the tip of the spear, and their deeds on D-Day were nothing else than heroic. From those dark days until today, Ranger have led the way in every war and conflict. Today, there are US military entities with the name "Ranger". One being the 75th Ranger Battalion and was formed in 1974 as an elite rapid deployment force and since have joined USSCOM. The other Ranger entity is the Ranger School out of Fort Benning in Georgia. This an premier infantry training school that lasts for 61 days over three phases, and upon completion, the soldier earns the "Ranger Tab". All NCOs and Officers in the 75th Ranger Regiment are required to attend Ranger School. Sometimes, there is confusion about the difference between the Rangers and the Ranger School. Most members of DELTA Force and the US Special Forces have attended Ranger School or were members of the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Special Forces
There are two terms that are used interchangeably when dealing the elite members of an military organization: Special Forces and Special Operations Forces or just Special Operations. In the US Military, the term "Special Forces" applies directly to a certain unit within the USSCOM, the Green Berets or US Army Special Forces. International military organizations often use the general term "special forces" for their own elite members, and the term is used liberally by popular civilian media. It is unknown the first usage of the word, however, its popularity grew after World War II.

Special Operations

In the US Military, instead of the term "Special Forces", the term "Special Operations" is used as umbra term for a variety of specialized units across different different areas of the entire military. This is another term that is used in a various ways and is very trendy at the moment to describe these elite irregular units both online and in civilian media. Some of the missions conducted by SOF units are called "special operations", then some joint operations are called "special operations". Confused? To clarify some of this soup sandwich, the term "Special Operations Forces (SOF) is often used, and that is the term I mostly use here on FWS.    


The term "stormtrooper" is basically a negative one today due to its links with Nazi Germany or is confused with the white armor wearing Star Wars crack Imperial troopers. The term traces it roots back to the Imperial German Army of World War One, and the word was carried over into the 3rd Reich. "Sturmtruppen" or "thrust troops" originated on the Western Front during World War One, and were a product of trench warfare. When the term was first used in 1915, these assault soldiers were outfitted with heavy body armor and shields, then the concept morphed into the Rohr Assault Battalion. They used the newly developed Stahlhelm helmet, the K-98 carbine, later, the MP-18 9mm submachine gun. These assault soldiers were trained to be light and mobile, attacking with suppressive fire and hand grenades, after gas and artillery had soften the enemy position up. These small unit tactics began standard SOP later across the global. The Ottoman Empire even field their own "assault soldiers" during 1917.

During the 3rd Reich, the term "stormtrooper" was reused by the paramilitary SS, which had their origins in the "Brownshirts" or "Stormtroopers"of the early days of the Nazi Party. These Sturmabteilung (SA) were used to protect the Nazi supporters during rallys, but grew beyond that and their ties to the SS. It helped that portions of these SA were composed of WWI Stormtrooper veterans, because the SA fancied themselves as the replacement to the old German Army once Hitler gained power. The actions of the SA threatened Hitler's government, and during"Night of the Long Knives" in 1934, Hitler, the SS, and the regular police arrest most of the old SA leadership, purging the organization and casting Hitler in a more positive light with the German people. After the purge, the new SA were tasked with Kristallnacht, but when the wars of the 3rd Reich began, most of the SA members were folded into the military or the Waffen-SS. Today, Stormtroopers is used to reflect an authoritative government's most loyal soldiers that are used against the population to enforce their draconian laws and will. Back when I was in High School, some of those civilian militia groups, especially after Ruby Ridge and Waco, called the ATF's agents "stormtroopers". It also didn't help the term's survival when Skinheads and Neo-Nazis use Stormtrooper to describe themselves. In the place of stormtrooper, the term "shocktrooper" is often used to avoid the whole Nazi label.


Even in today's modern military with all of the satellites and aerial drones, the terms "scout" and "RECON" still carries the mark of elite status. Being a scout means being the eyes and ears of your unit, you are tasked with finding the enemy or a path, and mostly, you operate in small teams or alone. Flesh-and-Blood scouts are trained to get "eyes-on" a target and not be seen themselves. All of this adds up to hallmarks of Special Operations. Originally, scouts were members of the cavalry that used fast horses to locate the enemy and survey the terrain ahead. During the early days of America, often Native American scouts were used by European powers, especially during the French and Indian War. Even today, the trade-craft of stealth, locating the enemy, eyes-on intel gathering, and being a pathfinder are still being taught and are a mark of elite soldiers.     

This is an old term for the US Special Forces and other US irregular forces that received jungle survival training. The label was mainly used during the Vietnam War and a few years after. I would hear the term when I was reading about Special Forces in Vietnam. More regular units would apply the  "Snake-Eaters" label to describe Green Berets, LRRPs, Rangers, and SEALs. Snake-Eaters was a term based in reality; during jungle warfare and survival training, these men were instructed that snakes were a handy source of protein in the jungle. Special Forces would take the label and apply it to themselves. Even today, Snake-Eater pops up form time-to-time as a nickname or call-sign of a SOF unit. In 2004, the term "Snake-Eater" gained attention when Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released. 

The Mission Types of Special Forces
On June 6th, 1962, President Kennedy made a speech at the graduation class of West Point, discussing the future of warfare. This became on of the key speeches on the future of Special Forces and their role: "This is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin--war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It is a form of warfare uniquely adapted to what has been strangely called "wars of liberation," to undermine the efforts of new and poor countries to maintain the freedom that they have finally achieved. It preys on economic unrest and ethnic conflicts. It requires in those situations where we must counter it, and these are the kinds of challenges that will be before us in the next decade if freedom is to be saved, a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of military training." The missions of Special Forces that President Kennedy was addressing are the stuff of video games, movies, and countless novels. They run the gamut, from assassination a drug lord, assisting native guerrillas, or capturing a 3rd World scumbag.

Direct Action
These are missions where SOF units get to kick some ass. These are short-duration offensive engagements designed to use the superior firepower and mobility of the SOF unit to attack and destroy the enemy. This one of the foundation mission types of an global Special Operations unit, and the one type of mission that most SOF soldiers look forward.

One of the bread-and-butter mission types of SOF units is counter-terrorism. During the 1970's, international terrorism raised its ugly head, and the shadowy world of Special Operations responded with new tactics, weapons, and gear to combat this new threat. During the 1980's, most terrorist attacks were on airplanes, cruise ships, and embassies. This fueled SOF units, like the SAS and the newly formed DELTA Force and ST6 to train hard in close quarters combat, dynamic entry, and rapid assault via new methods. Included in this new breed of modern warfare, these CT SOF units used flash-bang grenades and the H&K MP5 9mm SMG. Another type of CT operations by SOF units was to find the leadership, and kill it. Such was the mission of the SAS during the bad days of the IRA in the United Kingdom. Today, CT operations are still one of the foundation missions types of the SOF units, especially with organized terrorist groups being on the rise and operating in combat areas.

Covert Ops
Special Forces are designed to be the unconventional mission units of the larger military organization, and have skills that cannot be conducted by the "big army". One of these famed mission types of the SOF is covert ops. At its core, covert operations allow SOF soldiers to bend in with the local population, gather intelligence, make contacts, and lay the foundation for other, more direct-action missions later. During the 1980's, US Special Forces teams were engaged in covert ops in Latin America to combat the spread of Communism and illegal drugs, like Operation CENTA SPIKE that resulted in the dead of Pablo Escobar. In Afghanistan, Special Forces soldiers grew their beards, wore local Afghan clothing, and embarked on covert ops to local Taliban and AQ members and positions. These cover ops, conducted by a number of SOF and intelligence units were also designed to gather information on the villages of the wildness of A-stan. Even today, there are men with beards listening and watching in the villages of Afghanistan.  

Close Protection
At times, Special Operations members are tasked with protecting an VIP, that could be a member of a foreign government, a political leader, or a rebel leader. Other times, SOF members could be protecting a high ranking official, military leader, or an businessman. During Walter B. Slocombe's visit to Bosnia in 1996, there was a rumored CAG Operator working a close protection detail. The same was true of General Norman Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm. During the War in Afghanistan, Green Berets, CAG, and DEVGRU operators were tasked with protecting Hamid Karzai. Close protection work became a iconic image of the War in Iraq, and many Special Forces and former Special Forces members were tasked with protecting various business and governmental leaders. This became a big business in Iraq for PMCs.

Close Quarters Combat
Given the nature of early examples of global terrorism and the nature of warfare in the late 1970's and early 1980's, the general infantry were not as skilled as they are now in close quarters combat (CQC). In those early days of terrorism, hijacking of planes and ships were their main targets, and Special Forces soldiers needed to be able to burst into a room with the evil-doers and the hostage, target the enemy, and use deadly force to eliminate the threat, and prevent the death of hostages."Kill-Houses" were developed by special units like the British SAS to train operators in live-fire CQC situations.  When DELTA wad formed in 1977, Colonel Beckwith had the first class of operators be instructed by big city SWAT teams on CQC tactics. In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most ground units receive more training than ever before in CQC for room and house clearing in the urban warfare situations.

Hostage Rescue
The rescue of hostages seems to be a classic Special Operations mission since it seems ever. Special law enforcement units are tasked with this important role along with Special Operations unit around the world. The issue with hostage rescue, as the Russian learned, is NOT to shoot the hostages. This is much easier said than done, hostage resuce missions are some of the most risky of all SOF missions types. Hostage rescue requires excellent marksmen skills, target acquisition, and nerves of steel along with excellent planning and information. Often, these hostage rescue mission are the most visible, heroic, and celebrated of the quiet professional world of SOF. If the mission is fucked up, then these hostage rescue missions become a long-held hard memory, like the 1980's Operation EAGLE CLAW.

Target Location and Fire Support
During the war in Afghanistan, and new type of Special Operations soldier came to the attention of he public, the United States Air Force Combat Controller. These Airmen are trained to be on the frontlines with joint Special Operation teams to direct close air support and the location of targets. That are also expected to be an elite soldiers as well, with their M4A1 carbine at the ready. With tactical air support being able to delivery ordinance closer and more precise than ever before in the history of warfare, the Airforce Combat Controller is a product of modern warfare and technology. When the first Special Operations teams were deployed to A-Stan in early 2002, like ODA "triple nickel", Combat Controllers were there, calling in CAS fire missions to cover assaulting Northern Alliance forces. Combat Controllers are one of the most technically demanding SOF schools in the modern military.   

Quick Reaction Force
While there is no doubt that SOF members are bad mother fuckers, but there are situations were even they need a helping hand. At times, CAS does the job, but other times, they need more shooters. When that call is made, the quick reaction force is mobilized. Sometimes, the QRF comprised of SOF operators helping out a regular unit, other times, the QRF is a joint force composed of SOF and regular units. Either way, one of the duties of an SOF unit could be to act as an QRF, as was the case during the Battle of Mogadishu, in Afghanistan during Operation ANACONDA in 2002, Operation RED WING in 2005, and when Gold Squad of DEVGRU came to the aid of Army Rangers in August 6th, 2011.

Clandestine Operations
In Covert Operations, the identity of the members involved in the operation are kept a secret by the government for deniability purpose. While in clandestine operations, the entire mission and everything and everyone involved is a secret and black listed...completely hidden. According to several sources, the bulk of clandestine operations are the gathering of information, like the effort to locate Osama Bin Laben and the planting of listening devices in the Watergate Hotel.

Black Operations

The name Black Operations is a sexy one...and also brings to mind shadowy figures in far off lands. While black ops is a sexy name, they often are not legal missions that are carried out by agents of the government. Black Operations are designed to be off the books with people that are off the radar. Recently, we've seen black operations carried out by the CIA and other intelligence services when rendition missions were carried out. Often, "regular" Special Forces units are not used on Black Ops, however, it does mean that some members of SOF units haven't been pulled to conduct the kinds of illegal missions. One of the best examples of an Black Operations was the CIA PHOENIX Program during the Vietnam War.

Intelligence Gathering
Most direct-action mission conducted by Special Operations teams are often the product of months, if not years, of intelligence work and careful planning by dozens of professionals. Special Operations Forces relay on intel to accomplish their missions successfully, and that intel needs to be correct and accurate for the operational window of time. Covert operations along with on-site snipers, and even hackers are used for intelligence gathering purposes. Some of the methods use Special Forces soldiers in the field to collect the needed intelligence for another missions . At these times, these elite soldiers are sent out to collection an HVT for their human-intel, or to raid a location for the computers and papers, or to make contact with an source. Other times, a mission, like Operation: NEPTUNE SPEAR  lead to a secondary benefit of intelligence gathering.

There are few military jobs that capture the public imagination like snipers and those impossible long-distance shots. The term "snipers" is a loaded expression that is poorly understood by most of the general public. The soldiers that earn the title of sniper are a rare breed that much more than a long-distance shooters. They are stalkers of the nights, hunters of man, and skilled operators in the field-crafts of camouflage, stealth, and opportunity. Snipers are not just used in precision shooting, but also to gather intelligence, eyes-on long-term observation, and support of other units.

Visit, Board, Search, Seizure or VBSS. This is one of the classic maritime missions of naval special warfare units, and in the US Navy, SEAL units that were tasked with the majority of VBSS missions along with some DEA and Coast Guard units. The heart of VBSS is rapidly boarding an hostile or target vessel with speed and surprise. Fast-roping is often the most used method of insertion. VBSS is used against illegal shippers, pirates, blockage runners. Some of the SEAL units that are sent on VBSS often don the Jolly Roger pirate patch on their BDUs or tac-gear.

Night Ops
At one time, the night was not a choice time of combat, and only spies, ninja, assassins, prostitutes, criminals, terrorists, and sappers operated in the dead of the night. No anymore. With the advert of night vision equipment and IR illumination and aiming systems, the night became the choice operational time of most SOF units. Night Operations allow for greater stealth, surprise, and delay of a counter-attack by enemy forces. The ability of Special Forces to operate and strike at night forged a difference between them and the big army. Countless night raiding, HVT, direct action missions were waged in Iraq by Special Operations units, and the night became something to fear again.

Unconventional Warfare
Conventional warfare is what we saw in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991, Europe in World War One and Two. It is the combat by normal means. The medium that much of the world's Special Operations units work in unconventional warfare. Instead of planes, tanks, battleships, and big formations of infantry, unconventional warfare environments never safe, and there are no clear lines of battle. All of the battlespace is fair game for the unconventional warrior. They use the local population to support them and turn against the other side of the conflict. They attack supply lines, civilian centers, and mount raids, then fade into the darkness. They also use IEDs, booby traps, and sabotage to achieve their goals.

Airborne Operations
One of the early differences between regular forces and Special Forces units was the ability to parachute and mount airborne tactics. During World War II, one of the marks of the elite soldiers was an airborne tab or parachute pin. Even today, all Special Operations members have to go to jump school and earn the right to wear the Airborne tab. While massive airborne troop drops have gone out of fashion in modern military tactics, Special Forces operations use airborne insertion all the time, especially the dreaded HALO jump.

Long-Range Patrol/Scouting
The ability of SOF teams to be in unsupported regions, have lead to SOF units being a perfect long range patrol and scouting force. During World War II, the British Long Range Desert Group, used mobility and raiding tactics in the deserts of North Africa to harassing and demoralize General Rommel and his Afrika Korps. This became one of the classic SOF missions, long-range patrol and recon of the enemy positions. Even today, SOF units use their light military utility vehicles to patrol, recon, and attack the enemy over a wide range. During the 2006 Operation: MEDUSA, mobile Special Forces teams attack and drive the AQ and Taliban forces out of Panjwaii

One of the original tasks of specialized irregular warfigthers is to strike that the enemy where they are the weakest, then fade away before the enemy can bring their full might to bear. Since most Special Operations units work in smaller units with less firepower and less support than tradition military units, makes for these SOF units to engage in lightning attacks on the enemy. Raids, for a lack of a better term. During Taskforce RANGER's mission in Mogadishu, they used air mobility to launch raids into hostile regions of the city

The world is a messy place, and nations pick sides in foreign conflicts, and support allies. One of the roles of SOF units is to aide an allied government in countering an insurgency. Counter-insurgency forces are not interested in territory or terrain, they are interested in turning the local populations towards them and away from the central government. The goal of SOF teams is to support the allied government forces, win back the hearts-and-minds of the local population, and turn them back to the side of the government, and provide human intelligence on the insurgency. Withe unconventional irregular tactics and nature of SOF units, they are prefect for operating in the filed with allied forces, and to bring the fight to the insurgency. During counter-insurgency operations, SOF unit make use of civil affairs officers, PSYOPS, aide to the local population, and befriending the children and women of the region. This has been one of the roles for female operators in reaching the hearts-and-minds of the women and children of the local population.

Foreign Military Training
The idea of proxy warfare is an old one, and even in American history, the French aided us in our war against the British. Men like Lafayette trained the Continental Army to do battle against the best army in the world at that time. Today, one of the primary missions of the US Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, is the training of foreign military elements, whether on the side of the rebels or the government, it is all to achieve the geopolitical goals of the United States or our allies in the region. Special Forces are the prefect candidates for this role. They not only have the martial skills to train others in the art of war, but, they are also constructed for low-profile missions, and not attract attention to themselves.
During the Vietnam War, Special Forces units were training the South Vietnamese military and local villagers with their war against the north and the insurgency of the Viet-Cong. Recently, Special Forces ODA teams aided the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and the rebels in Libya during the revolt against the Gaddafi government. While the goal of these SOF teams is to aide in the conflict without any knowledge of the SOF teams involvement to the general public, this can backfire. Much of the Special Forces involvement in the various conflicts in Latin America in the 1980's turned against us. As this blogpost is being written, Special Forces teams are being sent back into Iraq to aide the government under attack by the ISIS.

Kill-or-Capture of HVT
There are times, when the missions is the man, and the role of SOF units is to kill or capture these high value targets. Of course, everyone knows about the most famous kill-or-capture HVT mission, NEPTUNE SPEAR, however, there have been many others...some known, some unknown. During the 1990's, the US SOF units embarked on two HVT missions. One was to kill-of-capture drug lord Pablo Escobar during Operation: CENTRA SPIKE. The other was headed by Taskforce RANGER under Operation GOTHIC SERPENT to kill-or-capture the warlord and member of the Habar Gidir clan, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. These missions are some of the most risky and involve complex planning.

What is the Difference between "The Big Army" and Special Forces?
SOF units are designed around being light, mobile, and the ability to operate in hostile terrain around the world without the need for a massive logistic system. The Big Army is just that, big, and works off the idea of it going up against other sizable enemy forces. One of the main difference is size. If we examine the United States Army and compare it to the US Army Special Operations Command, we see that the SOC has about 28,500 personnel (as of 2012 figures), while the US Army is about 546,000 active duty personnel. 
The same is true of the SAS verse the British Army. There are about 750-1500 SAS soldiers vs. 125,000 active British Army personnel. 
There is also funding, in 2012 fiscal year, the Special Operations got about 1.4% or $10.5 billion out of the total $702.8 billion FY 2012 defense budget. So, 28,500 personnel got $10.5 billion, while the other $691.5 billion was given to about half-a-million Army personnel. Besides the dry numbers, the best description on how the Green Berets differ from the US Army came from Lt. Colonel Christopher Allen of US Special Forces. He said that "the medium that the Big Army works in is geography, on terrain, on hilltops. The medium that we in Special Forces work in, no matter if we are hurting people or helping people is always universal, the human medium. The terrain is humanity that we work on." These are men (and soon to be women) that are not typical army, they do not the schedule made for them, they are A-type personalities, problem solvers, able to work in the darkness and the wildness in small groups, solving problems on their own. There are few jobs in the military, save for doctors, some technical jobs, and pilots that require the amount of time and expensive as training a SOF members. Often, it takes years and millions of dollars before an operator is ready to operate.

What is the Difference between Special Forces and TIER-1 Groups?

Officially, Tier-One is a funding level within the USSOCOM, and several of the most elite and blackest SOF units in the US Armed Forces fall under this Tier-One level of funding, like DELTA Force, SEAL Team 6, and the CIA’s GREY FOX. Officially, these units are collective known as Special Mission Units (SMUs). Now, that I've said that, the difference between units like the Green Berets and DELTA Force, or the regular SEAL Teams and DEVGRU is: focus, funding, mission, OPSEC, and selection. While most SOF units are focused on board mission profiles, units like DELTA were originally designed for counter-terrorism mission with covert/clandestine/black levels of security.This entitles these even more elite units more funding, riskier missios, and great operation security.When DELTA is seeking new candidates, they draw from the whole population of the US Army; however, most DELTA operators seem to come from the 75th Rangers and the Green Berets. The majority of ST6 candidates are taken from the regular SEAL Teams, however, some sources claim that some operators from the USMC's Special Operations Regiment apply for DEVGRU.

The Mark of the Elite
These are hallmarks of the elite military forces, some of these are older distinctions between regular forces and SOF units.
  • Shortened weapons
  • Beards
  • Camo-patterned clothing
  • Special bladed weapons
  • Parachute training
  • Night Operations
  • Special Badges/Patches/headwear
  • Submachine guns
  • Specialized Military Light Utility Vehicles 
  • Sound Suppressors
  • Allowed to carrying pistols
  • Personal Purchasing ability
  • International Training
  • Black tac-gear
  • longer hair
  • custom tac-gear
  • Night-Vision Devices
  • Close Quarters Combat training
  • Scouts or RECON training
  • Next-Generation gear

Special Operations of the Navy
About 70% of the surface of Terra is covered in water, and most nations have navies to protect their shorelines from invasion, but there is also opportunities for naval specialized warfare soldiers, trained for situations on and near the water. These maritime warriors are trained in cleaning beaches, underwater demolition, scouting the beaches for incoming amphibious invasion, softening up the beachheads for the large naval military force, and they are trained to board hostile ships, and use an enemy's river system against them. They make use of specialized water vehicles and mounting operations from submarines. Working with these frogmen are special vehicle crews, like the Navy SWCCs, who's mission it is to delivery, support, and pickup the naval special warfare members. 

Special Operations of the Air Force
Within the air force community, there missions that require special pilots and crew members with special abilities. Units like the USAF 160th SOAR were founded after the Desert-One crash in 1980 to master difficult aerial missions in all types of conditions. This is the hallmark of Special Forces in the air force, elite pilots and crew members called on to delivery and support ground or sea based special operators. These can vary from delivering operators onto the side of a icy mountain in Afghanistan, to risky rescues out on rough seas, or attack helicopters on a night strike mission. Other nations have elite bomber units, special attack fighter units that are the best of the best pilots that get the most expensive planes. Some nations, like the United States, have elite and high trained rescue personnel that are tasked with provide aid and medical extrication while under fire in enemy territory.

Special Operations of the Big Army

The main offensive and defensive power of a nation as historically rested in the hands of the army. While air power has shifted some power away from the army, it still is the main military force of any nation. Given the massive size of most national army organizations, they cannot be quickly brought to a war footing, especially if the local terrain is downright hostile and forbidden. Also, governments are far less likely to involve the army in a low-intensity conflict. This is the role of the big army Special Operations units. Within the structure of the big army, SOF units can go to the brush wars of our modern world, they can go first to a conflict, while the army gears up, and they can work in the shadows and one the edges of the conflict with the trade-craft of irregular and non-conventional warfare tactics.

Special Operations of the Marines

The mission of most global marine forces is one of maritime operations and being a force-in-readiness. The marines are the amphibious force that is often found in expeditionary units within a naval unit. If there is a crisis, the marines within the naval group can response at a moment's notice. Within the smaller marine communities are even more "special marines".  Take the US Marines, within the USMC, there are no less than three separate USMC Special Operations units.

Next Time on FWS...
We will be picking back up on the topic of Special Operations Forces. In Part 2 of SOF, FWS will examining the general history of these specialized warfare units, examples of global SOF units, and a number of general questions answered about SOF units. So, join us in about two to three weeks (fingers crossed!) for part two of Special Operations Forces! If you have anything you wanted to know about Special Forces and want to see on FWS; let me know! I can include your questions and (hopefully) the answers in part two! Stay Frosty!


  1. I'd love to see a discussion classifying fictional SOF units, like the Universal Soldiers, Starship Troopers, the guys from Dream Catcher (King's novel made into a movie) and even the Anti-Godzilla forces of so many Toho movies.

  2. I spend some time thinking about what FWS could discuses that wasn't on a million other sites, and I thought the mission types and names associated with SOF units was a good place to start. In part 3 of the SOF blogpost, FWS will be examining the examples of science fiction, and I can certainly add those examples to the discussion! Thanks for the suggestions!
    Everyone digging the SOF blogpost being broken into pieces?
    Thanks for reading and commenting! Now, back to work on Part:2!

  3. Nice post. On part 2 u should include the rangers since they're the first special for the USA.

  4. The Rangers will fully profiled in Part: 2. It was amazing how far that term for irregular soldiers goes back in American history.

  5. This was a great post and I am getting ready to read Part 2. Two minor nitpicks, one, the primary mission of USAF Combat Controllers is Air Traffic Control on captured or makeshift airfields, as seen in Haiti after that big earthquake a few years ago. The other minor nitpick was that the 160th SOAR is actually an Army Spec Ops Unit.

  6. I cannot believe I put the 160th SOAR in the USAF! Damn!
    The more I read about the USAF CCTs the more impressed I am.