SOCOM Commander: Special Operations Forces Must Adapt as Threats Increase
TAMPA, Fla. — As the United States faces threats around the globe — from the Islamic State to Russia to China — special operators must adapt, said the commander of Special Operations Command May 24.
“The word complex fails to describe the current security environment,” said Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III. “The younger generation — specifically my two sons who are both West Point graduates — have a tendency to tell me that we had it so good in the Cold War, when the world appeared to be more stable based upon reassuring concepts like mutually assured destruction and the threat of nuclear war. It is hard to fathom how much has changed since the Cold War and the velocity of that change.”
The only constant in today’s environment is change, he said during a keynote speech at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, the publisher of National Defense.
“We can describe the situation as predictably unpredictable. In just the past few years we have experienced an evolving threat environment which entails a variable witch’s brew of challenges,” he said.
That includes China and a revanchist Russia, Thomas noted. The country has used intimidating and provoking tactics against the United States and its allies.
“Actions within the last few years include the annexation of Crimea, with so called little green men. The Russian shoot down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. A deployment of combat aircraft, attack helicopters and Spetsnaz [Russian special forces] to Syria to assist the Assad regime and Russian fighter jets recently buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea,” he said.
The country’s behavior has complicated the security environment in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, he added.
Iran is also contributing to instability, which has contributed directly to the growth of Sunni-extremist organizations, he said. Iran is influencing Shia militias in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Syria, Thomas said.
Additionally, terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida have created chaos in the Middle East, he said.
“The effects of this phenomena have been profound, providing the root cause for recent terror attacks in Paris, Belgium and San Bernardino as well as the bombing of the Russia Metrojet Flight 9268 out of Egypt,” he said. “While ISIL tops the news headlines at this moment, we can’t ignore other extremist organizations that adhere to violent ideologies and resort to terror tactics to further their agendas.”
Violent extremist organizations are an extraordinarily agile threat, he said. It has challenged traditional structures and processes. “It simply does not fit in the existing paradigm,” he said.
Thomas inherited these challenges at the end of March when he took the helm of SOCOM, replacing outgoing Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel who departed to become commander of U.S. Central Command.
Despite growing threats, SOCOM is well positioned to counter them, he said.
“This transregional challenge … demands a correspondingly transregional strategy,” he said. “The SOF enterprise is well postured to support contouring these transregional challenges by virtue of our global perspective and authorities.”
The command must continually transform itself to meet future challenges, he said. “Transforming entails leveraging developmental technologies to provide the most advanced tools for our operators while at the same time adjusting our tactics, techniques and procedures and processes to enhance effectiveness,” he said.