Special operations are typically performed independently or in conjunction with conventional military operations. The primary goal is to achieve a political or military objective where a conventional force requirement does not exist or might affect the overall strategic outcome. Special operations are usually conducted in a low-profile manner that typically aim to achieve the advantage of speed, surprise, and violence of action against an unsuspecting target. Special ops are typically carried out with limited numbers of highly trained personnel that are able to operate in all environments, utilize self-reliance, are able to easily adapt and overcome obstacles, and use unconventional combat skills and equipment to complete objectives. Special operations are usually implemented through specific or tailored intelligence.1
The past decade has seen U.S. national security strategy rely on special operations to an unprecedented degree. Identifying, hunting, and killing terrorists have become a central pillar in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Linda Robinson, Adjunct Senior Fellow for U.S. National Security and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the organizational structure has become flatter and cooperation with the intelligence community is stronger, allowing special operations to move at the “speed of war.”2 Special Operations appropriations are costly: Its budget has gone from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $10.5 billion in 2012.2 Some experts argue the investment is worthwhile, pointing to the raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Others claim that the emphasis on Special Operations precipitates a misconception that it is a substitute for prolonged conflict. “Raids and drone strikes are tactics that are rarely decisive and often incur significant political and diplomatic costs for the United States. Although raids and drone strikes are necessary to disrupt dire and imminent threats…special operations leaders readily admit that they should not be the central pillar of U.S. military strategy.”2 Instead, Special Operations commanders have stated that grand strategy should include their “indirect approach,” which means working non-U.S. partners to accomplish security objectives. “Special Operations forces forge relationships that can last for decades with a diverse collection of groups: training, advising, and operation alongside other countries’ militaries, police forces, tribes, militias or other information groups.”2
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Special operations forces (SOF) is a term primarily used in the West. It is an “all encompassing” term that defines a nation’s specialized units. The term “special forces” is age old and used by countries around the world to describe their specialized unit(s).
In the United States Army, SOF includes Special Forces (‘Green Berets’), Rangers, Civil Affairs, MISO (Military Information Support Operations) and Special Operations Aviation units under the umbrella of the United States Army Special Operations Command.
Examples of special operations include: special reconnaissance/military intelligence, unconventional warfare, and counter-terrorism actions. Special operations are sometimes associated with unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency (operations against insurgents), operations against guerrillas or irregular forces, low-intensity operations, and foreign internal defense.
Special operations may be carried out by conventional forces but are often carried out by special operations forces (SOF), which are military units that are highly-trained and use special equipment, weapons, and tactics. They are sometimes referred to as "elite" forces, commandos, and special operators.
- http://www.shadowspear.com/special-operations-research.html ShadowSpear: About Special Operations
- Robinson, Linda (November–December 2012). "The Future of Special Operations: Beyond Kill and Capture". Foreign Affairs 91 (6): 110–122.