Army special operations forces (ARSOF) provide strategic value to the nation through a unique set of capabilities and approaches that serve to complement not only conventional force capabilities but also those of interagency partners. Outlining this role at the October 2017 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo, commanding general, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, offered, “I believe that, when mixed together appropriately – depending on the appropriate measure; depending on the requirements of the environment in a particular operational area – that we form a symbiotic whole between the conventional joint force, special operations forces, the interagency, and our partners and allies.”
To illustrate that point, Tovo led a panel discussion titled “Army Special Operations Value to the Nation.” In addition to panelists from across the ARSOF community, the 2017 gathering featured participation by Ambassador [Hon.] Geoffrey R. Pyatt, United States ambassador to the Hellenic Republic, United States Embassy, Athens, Greece, and previously assigned as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine during a key period of Russian aggression.
Pyatt used his own experiences in both ambassadorial roles to highlight interaction with the special operations community.
“I start with a very simple idea,” he began, “that in a world of diffuse power and shifting threats, most of the challenges that I believe we are going to see to American national security interests in the years ahead are going to happen on the seam between diplomacy and hard power – in the gray areas. And in these gray area conflicts, my experience has been that the critical relationship is the relationship and the partnership between Special Forces and the State Department Foreign Service.”
“… most of the challenges that I believe we are going to see to American national security interests in the years ahead are going to happen on the seam between diplomacy and hard power – in the gray areas.”
Pyatt pointed to “great commonality” between the organizational ethos of Special Forces and those of the Foreign Service, noting, “It was drilled into us from our very first tours that the most important word in that organizational title was ‘foreign,’ and [we share] the same commitment to cultural understanding, local knowledge, and persistent and repeated overseas deployments in order to acquire the relationships that we need to be effective overseas.”
He noted that both of his ambassadorial assignments had taken place “in states/countries at the frontier between Europe – the Europe of values and democracy – and Eurasia, and all the challenges that arise from the Eurasian landmass,” adding, “And, although these are two very different countries in terms of their national histories and where they are now, in both places I have benefited from an extremely close partnership with SOCEUR [Special Operations Command Europe].”
Pyatt said that his experience as chief of mission had shown him “key attributes that the Special Forces bring which are useful to an ambassador and to a country team working overseas.”
“The most important is agility/speed/flexibility; the capacity to respond, as Gen. Tovo described, to a quickly breaking conflict or challenge,” he said. “The second is precision: the ability to be highly targeted in how we respond to a challenge. And the third, and critically important – and I have had a very positive experience with Special Forces in SOCEUR – on the question of chief of mission authority.
“I think that the best U.S. government interagency decision-making forum that has been invented is the overseas country team,” he continued. “It’s where we bring knowledge together and [bring] the full capacity of the United States government to bear. And I’ve been very grateful for the strong ethos that I’ve found in working with SOCEUR in terms of working with chiefs of mission and ensuring thereby that we are all aligned in terms of operations and objectives.”
Pyatt said that his experience in Ukraine involved three key elements of the partnership between Department of State and U.S. Special Forces.
“I think that the best U.S. government interagency decision-making forum that has been invented is the overseas country team.”
He explained, “The first was a fairly traditional train and equip mission, bringing Ukrainian Spetsnaz up to NATO special forces standards. This was actually a request that came directly from President [Petro] Poroshenko to then-Vice President [Joe] Biden in his very first day in office, at the inauguration. He said, ‘I’d like American help to develop “a real special forces.”’ But it was also highly customized, because it wasn’t taking a force from zero. It was taking an existing force and trying to reorient it into NATO organizational standards. The second pillar of our Special Forces program in Ukraine was an adviser requested by the Ukrainian CHOD [Chief of Defense] to help him to think about how to use this NATO model of special forces in his larger campaign plan. Again, that was a specific request from the government that SOCEUR responded to very quickly. And then the third was our MIST [Military Information Support Team].”