Special Ops will remain integral to US strategy, but they will change, USSOCOM commander says

Special Ops will remain integral to US strategy, but they will change, USSOCOM commander says

Special operations are set to remain an integral part of the US’s solutions to key strategic issues, but they will change, of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) General Richard D. Clarke said. 

Clarke said USSOCOM will be involved in three wars: the war of extremism, the war for influence, and the war for talent. They are all interrelated, he said.

While most American citizens only recognized the war of violent extremism when al-Qaida attacked the US in 2001, it has been going on much longer, and USSOCOM troops are the heart of that battle, the general said.

It will go on much longer, he said, calling the struggle against these groups a ”generational” war.

But the main emphasis in the US National Defense Strategy is the return to great power competition with Russia and China. 

Special Ops will remain integral to US strategy, but they will change, USSOCOM commander says

Special operations forces by their nature serve a dual purpose of fighting violent extremists and also countering power competition like Russia and China. 

According to the General, the presence of USSOCOM forces in the Indo-Pacific region, Europe, Africa and South America also serves to counter v Russian and Chinese influence. The belligerence against these groups is likely to continue, but it will change, as well, Clarke said, noting that capabilities cannot be aimed not only at violent extremism but also at larger enemies.

The war for influence is part and parcel of great power competition, Clarke said. ”Great power competition is about influence, and [special operations forces] have a unique impact and valuable role in this,” he added.

”As we look at the lethality, precision and mobility requirements as examples, we absolutely have to develop them so that they can compete and win with Russia and China, but they could also work in a [counterextremism] fight, because the environments we’re going to be facing in the future are going to challenge our communication. They’re going to challenge our (…) precision navigation. The unmanned aerial systems that our adversaries are using now globally, we have to look at methods that will defeat those and protect our forces.”

Clarke aslo discussed the importance of cyber and C4ISR in modern warfare. The virtual world beckons and the information space will be as important for the future; ”working in the information space can have the greatest impact in the coming years,” he said.

During a recent trip to Afghanistan, Clarke said, he found that commanders now spend 60% of their time working in the information space. 

Commanders think about how to use the information space to influence the Taliban’s thought processes and how to influence the Afghan population. 

“So, as we think about the information, how we do this locally, but also think about it regionally, it’s, going to be critical to the U.S. ability to be able to be successful in future fights.”

Special operators have made tremendous sacrifices over the history of the command, and they will remain a bulwark of US strategic thinking. 

But they will change to remain relevant and to continue to win, Clarke concluded.

Neal Path

Neal Path is a reporter covering international affairs and defense news. He leads a team of specialist technical journalists and defense forecasting analysts, working across a range of online products. Neal Path is a defense technology specialist and has written widely on most areas of defense technology, but his particular areas of interest include missile defense, precision weapons, naval warfare, sensor capabilities and military operations.
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