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USSOCOM Year in Review: Three Constants

As the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, U.S. Army, leads an extremely dynamic military organization with an evolving global posture. In fact, it could be argued that there are only three “constants” within the command: Win; Transform; and People.

During mid-February testimony before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Thomas reiterated those three constants in a message that provided a “snapshot” glimpse of how the command is proceeding in the nation’s current fights as well as USSOCOM plans and intentions for the future.

Win

In terms of the current fight, Thomas began by stating that, over the past year, USSOCOM’s priority effort has continued to be countering violent extremist organizations (CVEO).

Gen Raymond Thomas USSOCOM year in review

Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, U.S. Army, speaks during a town hall forum with Secretary of Defense James Mattis. PHOTO BY U.S. AIR FORCE MASTER SGT. BARRY LOO

“Over the past 10 months, special operations forces [SOF] played an integral role as part of the joint force in the defeat of the physical caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS],” he explained. “In addition, we were able to play a key supporting role enabling the sovereign forces of the Philippines – resulting in the defeat of a declared ISIS province and the liberation of Marawi. Elsewhere, in coordination with allied and host-nation partners, SOF continued to confront ISIS and Al Qaeda [AQ] wherever they sought sanctuary, in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, the Trans-Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, and the Maghreb. Wherever ISIS and AQ aspired to develop and seek sanctuary, SOF targeted them and enabled partners to not only destroy them but also address the conditions that allowed these groups to thrive.”

Elaborating on those successes, he used the posture update to describe SOF support to the global combatant commanders (GCC), “most often by, with, and through enabled partners,” resulting in the disruption and degradation of ISIS and AQ’s directed external operation capability, degradation of their revenue streams, disruption of foreign fighter facilitation, crippling of their warfighting ability, capturing hundreds of terabytes of ISIS’ and AQ’s information, and interruption or blocking of their media output.

Afghan commandos USSOCOM year in review

The Afghan National Army Special Operations Command’s School of Excellence is responsible for the assessment and training of Afghan special operations soldiers that fill the ranks of Special Operations Kandaks, Special Forces Kandaks, Cobra Strike Kandaks, and the National Mission Brigade. There are currently two commando courses and a Cobra Strike Maneuver Course running simultaneously, with more than 2,000 soldiers receiving Afghan-led special operations training. DOD PHOTO BY MASTER SGT. FELIX FIGUEROA

“Despite suffering significant battlefield losses, both ISIS and AQ remain potent in terms of ideology and the means to promulgate it, and determined to pursue their nihilistic objectives,” he warned. “We will continue to face future challenges as these groups exploit the lack of partner capacity and under-governed areas.”

Thomas said that USSOCOM will “remain focused on disrupting external attack capabilities, destroying or neutralizing AQ and ISIS safe havens, developing and enacting a long-term approach to defeat VEOs, and building partner capacity so host nations can achieve sustainable regionalized security.

“SOF’s CVEO efforts range across GCC areas of responsibility and are an important component of an overarching whole-of-government approach to advance broader national security objectives to defend the homeland, our citizens, our allies and partners,” he said. “Trans-regional threats such as ISIS and AQ require the joint force to work with interagency and coalition partners to target financial, material, and personnel supply chains that facilitate these terrorist organizations. Securing and holding our gains also requires a focused, coordinated effort to empower local entities within and among the populations that terrorists exploit to degrade their message and ability to recruit. These important tasks cannot be done by SOF alone and require strong, well-financed interagency partners. Ultimately, we endeavor to reduce this global threat to the regional level, where partner forces are capable of conducting sustainable security operations.”

Thomas added that today’s “increasingly competitive global environment,” has also witnessed SOF “standing with our European and Asian allies and partners, providing assurance and enhanced capabilities against aggressive hegemons which threaten their sovereignty.”

NATO super cougar USSOCOM year in review

NATO EC-725 Super Cougars receive fuel from a U.S. Air Force MC-130H Combat Talon II during a night mission over northwest Florida as part of Emerald Warrior, March 5, 2018. At Emerald Warrior, the largest joint and combined special operations exercise, U.S. Special Operations Command forces train to respond to various threats across the spectrum of conflict. U.S. SOF support to global combatant commanders is often “by, with, and through” enabled partners. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY MASTER SGT. JOSHUA L. DEMOTTS

In one representative example of the global environment faced by the command, he linked the SOF posture summary to the recently released National Defense Strategy (NDS), an unclassified version of which describes “an increasingly complex global security environment, characterized by overt challenges to the free and open international order and the re-emergence of long-term, strategic competition between nations.” Additionally, it states that the United States’ prosperity and security are “confronted by strategic competition by the ‘revisionist powers’ of China and Russia, ‘rogue regimes’ such as North Korea and Iran, which destabilize regions by pursuing weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, and biological – or by sponsoring terrorism,” and notes that “rapid technological development lowers the bar to entry for non-state actors, which exacerbates this increasingly dangerous operating environment.”

“Wherever ISIS and AQ aspired to develop and seek sanctuary, SOF targeted them and enabled partners to not only destroy them but also address the conditions that allowed these groups to thrive.”

 

Elaborating on what he described as “Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East, which stoke sectarianism tensions and set the conditions for VEOs to emerge and thrive,” he noted SOF’s engagement in countering this threat, pointing to USSOCOM support of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) “through a variety of activities in order to degrade Iranian influence, discourage their destabilizing behavior, and disrupt their actions. In parallel, we also endeavor to assure Israel and regional Gulf partners through foreign internal defense, security force assistance, security cooperation, and other activities.”

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