Relationship Between Conventional and Special Operations Forces in Transition (Updated)

By Valerie Insinna
Despite a decade of cooperation during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army conventional and special Operations forces are just beginning to codify their relationship, said the commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
One major breakthrough is the publication of Army Doctrine Publication 3-05, in August 2012, said Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland. That might not seem like much, he said, but it’s a huge advance for special operations to have its own place in the doctrine of the Army.
Cleveland said conventional forces and special operations forces work well on the tactical level, but there needs to be more emphasis on cooperation at the operational level, especially in counterinsurgency or other areas where SOF specializes.
“We need to make sure we have the right kind of presence to be able to inform campaign development,” he said. He said the army is still working through that process.
Brig. Gen. Christopher Haas, commanding general of the United States Army Special Forces Command, said he had seen growing respect between Army and SOF as a result of partnership and blending of capabilities. Haas worked as in Afghanistan as the commander of Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command.
"Our Army is very comfortable with surgical strike,” he said. “It does a lot of surgical strike, and so when SOF enters the battlefield and conducts even more precision surgical strike operations, there's an immediate trust there and confidence there."
However, he said special forces in Afghanistan brought additional expertise to the table, including unconventional warfare and how to work with unpredictable local forces.
SOF has “come out of its shell” in the last decade, said Linda Robinson, an adjunct senior fellow for the Council of Foreign Relations who spent time in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Some of that, she said, is due to the new doctrine.
"I think for the first time, it [the doctrine] really provides a lexicon for communicating what SOF does,” she said.
However, friction still remains in command and control issues, she said.
“The new buzzword now is interdependence,” she said. “I think the meaning of interdependence could be probed a bit more.”
Correction: Brig. Gen. Christopher Haas' command was previously incorrect.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

Topics: Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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