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U.S. Army Special Forces: "The Green Berets"

The Importance of Special Forces

In defense planning, decision makers look to Special Operations Forces (SOF) to provide a strategic economy of force in support of conventional forces; to expand the range of available options; and to provide unique capabilities.

Strategic Economy of Force.

SOF reinforce, augment, supplement, and complement conventional forces before, during, and after a conflict, thereby increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our military effort. For instance, SOF can be used early in an operation to prevent conflict and conserve resources. When conflict is imminent, SOF may be employed in a variety of pre-hostility missions to signal determination, demonstrate support to allies, and begin the complicated processes of positioning forces for combat and preparing the battlefield.

During conflict, Special Operations Forces may be most effective in conducting economy-of-force operations, generating strategic advantage disproportionate to the resources they represent. SOF can locate, seize, or destroy strategic targets; obtain critical intelligence; test an enemy's defenses; diminish his prestige; disorganize, disrupt, and demoralize his troops; and divert important resources. SOF may also be called on to speed the transition to a post-conflict government and economy. When prosecuted in concert with conventional forces, such missions maximize the capabilities of both, which contributes to a synergy of operational effectiveness.

Additionally, decision makers have repeatedly chosen SOF for a myriad of coalition actions to solve a broad array of operational problems on a united front. SOF's facility to support multinational warfare, by providing advisory and liaison capabilities to rapidly integrate allied forces into an operable force component, is of prime importance in today's security climate where allies and friendly nations share the responsibility for worldwide peace and stability.

Expanded Options.

SOF expand the options of the National Command Authorities, particularly in crises and contingencies-such as terrorism, insurgency, subversion, and sabotage-that fall between wholly diplomatic initiatives and overt use of large conventional forces. SOF allow decision makers the flexibility to tailor U.S. responses to encompass this wide range of possibilities. Its small size, ability to react rapidly, and relatively self-sufficient nature provide the United States with military options that do not entail the risk of escalation normally associated when larger, more visible, conventional forces are employed. This enables decision makers to prevent a conflict or limit its scope and, therefore, better control U.S. forces and resources once they have been committed. SOF are the best choice for actions requiring a rapid response or a surgically precise, focused use of force.

Unique Capabilities.

Decision makers may choose the SOF option because it provides the broadest range of capabilities that have direct applicability in an increasing number of missions-whether military, humanitarian, or peace operations-in support of U.S. foreign policy.

SOF training is some of the most rigorous in the world, and it produces some of the most professional and expert military operators. They are mature forces who demonstrate superior performance in small groups or as part of an integrated U.S. response with other military forces as well as non-Department of Defense government and civilian agencies.

The small, self-contained units can work swiftly and quietly without the noticeable presence of conventional military troops. Even under the most austere conditions, they are able to operate without the infrastructure often needed by a larger force.

Because of this, they can penetrate enemy territory on missions such as personnel recovery; surgical strikes prior to conventional force operations; intelligence gathering; with "Pathfinder" operations and target designation for air strikes. SOF also employ an extraordinary inventory of sophisticated weapons and technology. Often SOF units act as a proving ground for new equipment before it is transferred to conventional forces.

Although a superior military force, SOF need not use military force in a mission. Language skills, cross-cultural training, regional orientation, and understanding of the political context of their operating arenas make them unparalleled in the U.S. military. Their skills enable them to work as effectively with civilian populations as they do with other military forces to influence situations favorably toward U.S. national interests. This ability to apply discrete leverage is one of SOF's most important contributions to our national military strategy.

In an era of regional focus, reduced forward-based forces, decreasing resources, and growing uncertainty, SOF play a critical role in U.S. defense strategy by providing strategic economy of force, expanded options, and unique capabilities. SOF give the United States efficiency without compromising effectiveness and flexibility to respond to the unforeseen and unexpected.

"SOF provide remarkable capabilities for our government-not just as commandos and force multipliers for the Defense Department, but also as warrior-diplomats increasingly in demand to help carry out foreign policy assignments around the world."

H. Allen Holmes
Assistant Secretary of Defense
Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict


This page is an unofficial document and does not represent information endorsed by the United States Government, the United States Special Operations Command or the United States Army Special Operations Command. However, most information is derived from those sources and has been checked for accuracy. For comments, questions, and suggestions, please go to the Communications Center.

Gunnery Network - SOF