Special operations (S.O.) are military activities conducted, according to NATO, by "specially designated, organized, selected, trained, and equipped forces using unconventional techniques and modes of employment". Special operations may include reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, and counter-terrorism actions, and are typically conducted by small groups of highly-trained personnel, emphasizing sufficiency, stealth, speed, and tactical coordination, commonly known as "special forces".
Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM; French: Commandement des Forces d'opérations spéciales du Canada; COMFOSCAN) is a command of the Canadian Armed Forces. It is responsible for all special forces operations that are capable of responding to terrorism and threats to Canadians and Canadian interests around the world.
Canada's tier one unit is Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2; French: Deuxième Force opérationnelle interarmées, FOI 2) is an elite special operations force of the Canadian Armed Forces, serving under the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. JTF 2 works alongside many other special operations forces, such as Delta Force, Seal Team Six, and the British SAS and has distinguished itself as a highly-secretive, world-class special operations unit.
King Abdullah II Special Forces Group (Arabic: العمليات الخاصة ورد الفعل السريع), commonly known as the JORSOF are strategic-level special forces of the Royal Jordanian Army under the Jordanian Armed Forces. Founded on April 15, 1963 on the orders of King Hussein, its primary roles include reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, search and evacuation, intelligence gathering combat, and the protection of key sites. The special forces group is also charged with carrying out precision strikes against critical enemy targets.
Special Troops Command (Pol.: Wojska Specjalne) is the fourth military branch of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland and was officially formed in early 1990 after the fall of communism in 1989, in which the Polish Special Forces were first deployed into the conflict in Lebanon. The conflict in Lebanon was the first official battlefield experience in post-communist times.
The United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) is a directorate comprising the Special Air Service, the Special Boat Service, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the Special Forces Support Group, 18 (UKSF) Signal Regiment and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, as well as the supporting No. 47 Squadron. In UK law, "special forces" means those units of the armed forces of the Crown and the maintenance of whose capabilities is the responsibility of the director of special forces or which are for the time being subject to the operational command of that director. The British Army and the Royal Marines also have special operations-capable forces that do not form part of the UKSF.
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) is the unified combatant command charged with overseeing the various special operations component commands of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force of the United States Armed Forces. The command is part of the Department of Defense and is the only unified combatant command created by an Act of Congress. USSOCOM is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
The decade 2003–2012 saw U.S. national security strategy rely on special operations to an unprecedented degree. Identifying, hunting, and killing terrorists became a central task 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, argued that the organizational structure became flatter and cooperation with the intelligence community was stronger, allowing special operations to move at the "speed of war". Special Operations appropriations are costly: Its budget went from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $10.5 billion in 2012. Some experts argued the investment was worthwhile, pointing to the raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Indeed, that raid was organized and overseen by Admiral William H. McRaven, who was both a student and practitioner of special operations, having published a thesis on them in the 1990s. McRaven's theory of special operations was that they had the potential to achieve significant operational, political, or strategic effects. This potential required such units to be organized and commanded by special operations professionals rather than being subsumed into larger military units or operations, and required that "relative superiority" be gained during the special operation in question via characteristics such as simplicity, security, rehearsals, surprise, speed, and clearly but narrowly defined purpose.
Others claimed that special operations' emphasis precipitated a misconception that it was a substitute for prolonged conflict. "Raids and drone strikes are rarely decisive tactics 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." Instead, special operations advocates stated that grand strategy should include their "indirect approach", suggesting that "the ability to operate with a small footprint and low-visibility, invest time and resources to foster interagency and foreign partnerships, develop deep cultural expertise, and rapidly adapt emerging technologies" is vital for maintaining deterrence and countering aggression. "Special operations forces forge relationships that can last for decades with a diverse collection of groups: training, advising, and operating alongside other countries' militaries, police forces, tribes, militias or other information groups."
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