Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Special Operations Forces and Conventional Forces: Integration, Interoperability, and Interdependence

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Special Operations Forces and Conventional Forces: Integration, Interoperability, and Interdependence

Article excerpt

"The partnership between conventional and special operations forces is stronger than ever."1

- Honorable Michael D. Lumpkin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, March 18, 2015

In mid-2003, then Major General Ray Odierno, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division (ID), had a short meeting with incoming and outgoing special operations leadership. The topic: how to capture Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who had slipped out of Baghdad prior to the coalition conquering the city. Intelligence sources of the 4th ID scoured the areas around Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, gathering information but not developing any solid leads. The staff proposed another approach: Operation Red Dawn, a combined special operations forces (SOF) and conventional forces (CF) intelligence and direct action effort to find and capture Hussein. The SOF-CF team developed an intelligence collection strategy that focused on five families with ties to Hussein, rapidly narrowing the search to the deposed leader's trusted confidants and family members. Relying on SOF network-mapping capabilities and direct action skills integrated with 4th ID intelligence processing and mobility assets, the SOF-CF team jointly conducted raids, interrogations, and rapid analysis that led to one key individual with direct connections to Hussein. On the evening of December 13, 2003, the 4th ID's 1st Brigade Combat Team joined with SOF to raid a small farm on the outskirts of Tikrit, eventually discovering a small "spider hole." When the troops pulled the cover off the spider hole, a haggard-looking bearded man raised his hands and said, "I am Saddam Hussein. I am the President of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate." The SOF leader calmly replaced the cover on the hole and replied, "President Bush sends his regards."2

The SOF-CF integration, interoperability, and interdependence (I-3) demonstrated ing Red Dawn was born out of necessity, much like in the opening days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. U.S. forces were not always open to this sort of synergy, but the last 15 years of conflict have changed the operational paradigm. Before the attacks of September 11, 2001, SOF and CF normally worked in separate areas of operation as a matter of doctrine. The 1986 edition of Army Field Manual 100-05, Operations, limited discussion of SOF operations to actions deep in enemy territory, working with indigenous forces, and performing deep reconnaissance, strikes, and raids. The 1993 version of the manual still described special operations as geographically separate from conventional operations. In this era of Air Land Battle, SOF and CF deconflicted their activities in time and space, and executed their missions independently of one another. As the Global War on Terrorism progressed, both forces found themselves operating in close proximity, increasingly dependent on each other for mutual support, but without mechanisms to operate together effectively.3 Initially, the joint force faced several I-3 challenges such as incompatible communications, inefficient command and control, and unfamiliarity with the tactics, techniques, and procedures of each. The joint force has improved significantly since 2001. It has honed the capability to work well together in large-scale military operations, such as in Afghanistan, where they conducted village stability operations and built the Afghan local police.4 In both Iraq and Afghanistan, SOF liaison elements and intelligence-operations fusion cells proved vital to synchronizing SOF and CF operations and increasing mission effectiveness. By becoming more interoperable, integrating their operations, and relying on interdependence for mutual support, SOF and Defining CF increased mission success with fewer resources. A solid foundation for maintaining SOF-CF I-3 at an adequate level exists. This foundation, however, is fragile, and it is dependent on adequate and enduring investments in training and readiness. …

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