Special Operations Commander Dictum: Know Thy Enemy

By Grace Jean
TAMPA, Fla. — Special operations forces scored a major victory when they found and killed Osama bin Laden. But they must now prepare for the next challenge, said Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of U.S. Special Operations Command.
“We have made significant improvement, but we still find ourselves woefully inadequate in many of the places we go,” Olson said in a keynote speech at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.
Olson, who soon will be retiring, repeatedly has called for U.S. military force to become more knowledgeable about foreign cultures. That is being captured in a project named after the real-life British military officer who was known as “Lawrence of Arabia.” There is a need for a Lawrence of Somalia, a Lawrence of Indonesia, a Lawrence of Columbia and a Lawrence of the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, he said.
Special operations forces need to better understand what motivates the local people and how they make their money. They need to know when important events occur during the year and how climate and terrain impacts the social psyche of the population. They also need to understand family histories and tribal relationships.
“We don’t understand enough of that,” he said. If special operators are to have predictable outcomes from their missions, that is what is required, he said. 
“Presence without value is perceived as occupation. If we’re going to bring value in the places that we go, then we have to understand what’s valuable to them,” he said. U.S. forces in the past have often gotten that piece wrong, and correcting that for future success is paramount, he added.
Unmanned aircraft have a role to play in helping special operators better understand the situation on the ground. But better sensors are only the beginning.
Simulations too can help by better preparing forces for their missions. But such technologies for ground forces are still inadequate. “Simulation has been a tough bridge to get across,” he said.
Check back here for continuing coverage from SOFIC 2011.

Topics: Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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