Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nine Principal Missions of Special Operations

Current percentage chart of SOCOM service forces.
In the post-9/11 world, the need for special operations forces dramatically increased. With the creation of the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) in 2006, Marines officially became a part of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Initially drawn from the ranks of Force Recon companies, these highly skilled and combat-proven Leathernecks joined their spec ops brethren in taking the war to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in American's global war on terrorism. The following is a list of the principal missions assigned to MARSOC and the other special ops forces.

Special Operations Principal Missions
According to the SOCOM posture statement, the nine activities have been designated as special operations principal missions: direct action (DA), combating terrorism (CBT), foreign internal defense (FID), unconventional warfare (UW), special reconnaissance (SR), information operations (IO), civil affairs (CA), counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (CP), and psychological operations (PSYOP). SOF is organized, trained, and equipped specifically to accomplish these nine tasks. These tasks as related by SOCOM are listed below.

Direct Action (DA)
DA operations include short-duration strikes and other small-scale offensive operations principally undertaken by SOF to seize, destroy, capture, recover, or inflict damage on designated personnel or matériel. While conducting these operations, SOF may employ raid, ambush, or direct assault tactics; emplace mines and other munitions; conduct stand-off attacks by fire from air, ground, or maritime platforms; provide terminal guidance for precision weapons; and conduct independent sabotage and anti-ship operations.

Combating Terrorism (CBT)
CBT is a highly specialized, resource-intensive mission. Certain SOF units maintain a high state of readiness to conduct CBT operations and possess a full range of CBT capabilities. CBT activities include antiterrorism (AT), counterterrorism (CT), recovery of hostages or sensitive material from terrorist organizations, attacks on terrorist infrastructure, and reduction of vulnerability to terrorism.

Foreign Internal Defense (FID)
FID involves participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government to free and protect societies from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency. SOF’s primary contribution in this interagency activity is to organize, train, advise, and assist host nation military and paramilitary forces. The generic capabilities required for FID include instructional skills; foreign language proficiency; area and cultural orientation; tactical skills; advanced medical skills; rudimentary construction and engineering skills; familiarity with a wide variety of demolitions, weapons, weapon systems, and communications equipment; and basic PSYOP and CA skills.

Unconventional Warfare (UW)
UW includes guerrilla warfare, subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities, evasion and escape, and other activities of a low visibility, covert, or clandestine nature. When UW is conducted independently during conflict or war, its primary focus is on political and psychological objectives. When UW operations support conventional military operations, the focus shifts to primarily military objectives.

Special Reconnaissance (SR)
SOF conducts a wide variety of information-gathering activities of strategic or operational significance. Collectively, these activities are called SR. SR complements national and theater intelligence collection systems by obtaining specific, well-defined, and time-sensitive information when other systems are constrained by weather, terrain-masking, hostile countermeasures, or conflicting priorities. SR tasks include environmental reconnaissance, armed reconnaissance (locating and attacking targets of opportunity), coastal patrol and interdiction, target and threat assessment, and post-strike reconnaissance.

Information Operations (IO)
IO refers to actions taken to affect adversary information and information systems while defending one’s own information and information systems. The following three missions are those of SOCOM and not necessarily MARSOC.

Civil Affairs (CA)
CA facilitates military operations and consolidates operational activities by assisting commanders in establishing, maintaining, influencing, or exploiting relations between military forces and civil authorities, both governmental and nongovernmental, and the civilian population in a friendly, neutral, or hostile area of operation.

Counterproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (CP)
CP refers to the actions taken to seize, destroy, render safe, capture, or recover weapons of mass destruction (WMD). SOF provides unique capabilities to monitor and support compliance with arms control treaties. If directed, SOF can conduct or support SR and DA missions to locate and interdict sea, land, and air shipments of dangerous materials or weapons. SOF is tasked with organizing, training, equipping, and otherwise preparing to conduct operations in support of U.S. government counterproliferation objectives.

Psychological Operations (PSYOP)
PSYOP induces or reinforces foreign attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator’s objectives by conducting planned operations to convey selected information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.

Irregular Warfare (IW)
Irregular warfare (IW) is another mission area for SOF. Unconventional warfare, counterterrorism (CT), counterinsurgency (COIN), civil-military operations (CMO), civil affairs (CA), psychological operations (PSYOP), and foreign internal defense (FID) are all traditional IW activities and core tasks for SOF. With IW’s emergence as a focus area for broader participation across the spectrum, it increasingly describes activities that both SOF and general purpose forces will employ in their operational approaches. IW doctrine calls for a suite of capabilities to prevail against those who threaten the United States. IW is a logical, long-term framework that assists in both analyzing and applying many elements of national and international power to achieve mutual security objectives. IW often employs indirect operations to gain asymmetric advantage over adversaries.

Excerpted from MARSOC: U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command by Fred Pushies. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Zenith Press, an imprint of Quayside Publishing Group.

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