Defense Media Network

Interview with Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo

USASOC Year in Review


Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo was commissioned from the U.S. Military Academy into the infantry in 1983. After serving his initial tour with the 82nd Airborne Division, Tovo completed the Special Forces Qualification Course and transferred to Special Forces. He served as a Special Forces detachment, company, battalion, and group commander in the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Tovo’s additional assignments included serving as a plans officer with 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta and Joint Headquarters Center (NATO); aide-de-camp to the commander, Stabilization Force, Bosnia; chief of staff, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC); deputy commanding general, Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR); deputy commanding general, 1st Armored Division/U.S. Division Center, Iraq; commanding general, Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT); and commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan and NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (CSTC-A/NTM-A). Most recently, Tovo served as the military deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Florida. Tovo’s operational assignments include the first Gulf War, refugee relief operations in Northern Iraq, noncombatant evacuation operations in Sierra Leone, peacekeeping operations in Bosnia on two occasions, five tours in Iraq, and one tour in Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo

Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo. U.S. ARMY PHOTO

Special Operations Outlook: In a panel discussion at the October 2017 AUSA Annual Meeting, you outlined how the men and women in Army special operations forces – ARSOF – provide strategic value to the nation through a unique set of capabilities. Can you talk a little about that strategic value?

Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo: U.S. Army Special Operations Command [USASOC] provides the premier special operations forces [SOF] of choice for worldwide employment across the spectrum of conflict. We operate and fight as a joint force with operators and units serving as nodes in a global network. Each node contributes to greater SOF awareness of transregional trends, opportunities, or threats in support of joint force commanders, ambassadors, or other elements of the U.S. government. Our forces provide a suite of invaluable tools to the nation. ARSOF members deliver tactical, operational, and strategic value through what we call our four pillars of capability: an indigenous approach, precision targeting operations, developing understanding and wielding influence, and crisis response. Through these pillars, we offer strategic options that allow senior leaders to exploit emerging opportunities or to address a range of threats. Our soldiers are specifically selected and trained to endure the mental and physical rigors of operating in austere environments, bringing capabilities that are rapidly deployed, scalable, and have worldwide reach.

Can you talk about the four complementary capability sets? What are they and how do they support national objectives?

The four complementary capabilities – indigenous approach, precision targeting operations, developing understanding and wielding influence, and crisis response – are coupled with tailorable mission command nodes and scalable force packages that are low-signature and employ a small footprint. They are particularly suited for employment in politically sensitive environments.

We operate and fight as a joint force with operators and units serving as nodes in a global network.

Indigenous approach. Our forces are comprised of Special Forces [SF], Psychological Operations [PSYOPS], Civil Affairs [CA], Army Rangers, and other special operations troops. Many of our personnel and formations are regionally aligned. They employ advanced language skills and a high level of cultural and regional expertise. We live among, train with, advise, and fight alongside people of foreign cultures. We achieve effects on an enemy or an environment by working through or with indigenous partners. We think this indigenous approach provides a low-cost, high-impact option. It is a different way to view challenges to regional stability, viewing them as problems to be solved by empowered populations living in the region, using core tasks such as foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, and advise, assist, and accompany activities.

5th Special Forces Group weapons training Syria Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo

Members of 5th Special Forces Group (A) conducting .50-caliber weapons training during counter-ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria. PHOTO BY STAFF SGT. JACOB CONNOR, 5TH SPECIAL FORCES GROUP

Precision targeting operations involve kinetic and non-kinetic direct action and counter-network activities enabled by SOF unique intelligence, targeting processes, and technology, to include ARSOF rotary-wing capabilities, armed unmanned aerial systems, and psychological operations. Precision targeting operations create precise physical and psychological effects and can be used to collapse human or physical networks through deliberate targeting of critical nodes. Precision targeting operations are employed against uniquely difficult target sets that may require operating in uncertain or hostile environments, careful and focused application of force, and significant intelligence and operational preparation. These operations are executed by highly trained, rapidly deployable, and scalable ARSOF personnel and formations that are employed to buy time and space for other operations to gain traction, such as transforming indigenous mass into combat power.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...