Abolish SOCOM

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

Regular readers already know my history regarding special forces (and read here also special operations forces).  While on the one hand advocating specialized billets for certain forces that would  be too expensive to establish across the board, I have also strongly advocated against the reliance on SOF as direct action troops while relegating GPF (general purpose forces) to counterinsurgency efforts and policing the population.

SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred.  It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF.

Furthermore, it misses the point of why SF were created.  Finally, it allows the degradation of the qualifications and capabilities of GPF by rule, regulation and law.  To rehearse yet another sore spot, I have strongly opposed women in combat billets, and yet with the division of SOF to perform DA missions and GPF to perform COIN, it makes it easier to justify women in these billets, especially if they operate out of huge bases rather than from combat outposts.  The Army in the Korengal Valley has proven that GPF can do what is needed in terms of DA missions and other combat.  The Marines in the Helmand Province have also shown why only males are allowed in combat billets (with combat loads of 120+ pounds).

The Small Wars Journal has an interesting commentary on whether SOCOM has outlived its usefulness.  You can read the entire commentary at the SWJ, but a few comments are lifted out and given below.

… many outside the military establishment are enamored with the myth and romanticism of Special Operations. There are so many “groupies” among staffers and in academia that it is hard to see Special Operations for what it really is and what it has become. And within the military, Special Operations has been “hijacked” by a group of hyper-conventional Ranger types and other supporting elements that Special Operations and most important, its heart and soul – Special Forces – has lost its way …

USSOCOM has allowed itself to become dominated by the hyper-conventional side of SOF with domination by the so-called direct action forces to the detriment of Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations. The cultures of these two types of forces hinder effective cooperation and coordination. There is probably more disdain between the direct and indirect forces of SOF than there is between SOF and conventional forces.

The entire paper is worth the study time.  A comment made by MAJ Mike Dhunjishah is also telling:

As a former 7th SFG officer who has been away from group for several years, I find it interesting to talk to my contemporaries who, upon returning to group, find that SF has indeed “lost its way.” I’m not sure who is to blame, but it seems as if Army SF is focused on DA at the expense of UW. After 9/11, Army SF filled a void that General Purpose Forces (GPF) could not regarding DA missions. However, now, 8 years later, the GPF have developed the capability to do all but the most complicated DA missions. Therefore, it is time for SF to do what SF was created to do; conduct missions that the GPF cannot. We need to refocus on the hard stuff, read UW, before we lose our institutional knowledge. Great article on some of the hard questions Army SF and the Special Operations community in general needs to address.

Finally, as one pictorial depiction of just what is being said, see this photo taken from Foreign Policy.


I’ll let you read Foreign Policy’s take on why this bearded SOF is not good for the campaign.  But take note of what has happened.  This special operator no longer looks anything like any of the Afghanis, even if he is SF and not SOF.  If he is SOF performing direction action operations along with other SOF operators, then with the backwards ball cap, sleeveless shirt and lack of a uniform, he simply looks like an undisciplined thug.  Nothing more.  He doesn’t need to look like he does.  He has no compelling reason to appear thuggish and silly.

Again to the position that I have pressed: just like Force Recon Marines, attach all SOF to infantry (and Force Recon has no business with SOCOM, as they are simply another Marine billet attached to infantry).  If an infantry unit needs a specialized billet, then train to that billet.  Rely on GPF to perform most if not all DA missions, and this reliance will shape the force.  It’s time to end the absurdity that has become SOCOM.  If you want the romantic notion of direct action SOF operators who perform missions like those that can be found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (air support from the AC-130), then train a few operators to do this.  It’s still better to make this capability more widely distributed rather than less, and to attach these troopers to infantry.


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  1. On December 15, 2009 at 4:12 am, Townie 76 said:

    Interesting post. If the SF must look like Coxe’s Army so be it; but don’t have your picture taken! You are right he looks like a thug.

  2. On December 16, 2009 at 10:41 am, jbrookins said:

    I had to take a couple days to digest your post here before I wrote but feel I can comment after re-reading. First off I think you have some valid points and certainly this had been a battle for years in the military community.

    As a Special Forces soldiers with roughly 23 yrs in these are my thoughts.

    One I agree we should not rely on SOF forces for all direct action. However many direct action operations I don’t feel could be handled by Conventional forces. I’m not talking major operations which I think Conventional forces are well suited for but smaller in and out operations which SOF forces train specifically for.

    The idea that Conventional forces must explain a middle of the night raid by SOF forces is a bit off. Generally these raids aren’t for the fun of it and friends, neighbors and relatives are not mindless innocents most times. That does not mean at times when bad intelligence instigates a raid the SOF forces shouldn’t do their own explaining.

    That being said I’m not a great fan of SOF. I’m Special Forces and frankly in and out raids don’t often change the situation on the ground very much. That takes time and working with locals not late night raids. They have their place however.

    As to women in combat billets, well I won’t argue much on that but just say I’ve found positions in the field where they are suited and a great help. I don’t think the straight infantry is the spot, but there are places.

    My biggest complaint is that SOCOM itself is a bloated bureaucracy with many billets filled by unqualified people. Mostly officer’s punching tickets (little or no team time). This leads to a lot of overhead and units misused to support evaluations and raise more money that is often wasted.

    We have too many Generals (actually 0-5 s and above) not actually contributing and SOCOM doesn’t help. I mean really, how many different commands do we need and do they talk to each other?

    The Special Forces community I believe has shown its worth but I often wonder why the only units designed specifically for this type of operation UW / COIN are not always in on the planning? Not enough pull I guess since SOF has taken the spotlight on the “Special” side.

    Special Forces soldiers know we must work with all parties involved yet SOF seems to believe they don’t need to work with anyone. This can cause a lot of stress for SF teams on the ground with Conventional commanders who they work side by side with daily.

    One last note on SOF forces, one must admit for certain operations they are damn good. To deny this would be a mistake. Can Conventional forces do many of the same operations? I’m sure they could and I would say should. But let’s not take away from the reality that SOF forces do provide a skill set that is not possible in Conventional forces for many reasons. This is not a comment on Conventional forces which are better than they have ever been in my opinion.

    I would have no problem with scaling SOF back a bit though.

    Now the part of the article that angers many on all sides, uniforms in the field. The picture is a little unfair as I believe it was taken in the early stages of the wars. However, traditionally we in Special Forces never bought into the idea that only high and tights and clean shaven faces where what made good warriors. It’s a frivolous fight if you ask me. Now should the shirt be cut, no, but the question is, did this soldier get results, did his team change the ground situation? If that’s not the first questions than I really have nothing to say to detractors of uniformity.

    The look does make a difference however. Locals know who SF is and will often only work with the “Bearded “ones. That is not always the case but often. It’s balancing act with conventional forces though and it must be stressed that appearance with local conventional forces does have an impact and not always a good one.

    SF has had mixed results working with conventional forces but speaking from the teams I have been on we always found ways to fit within the guidelines of the conventional command to enhance our mutual needs. It’s not that hard.

    Anyway this was good post as usual. Gets the mind thinking.

  3. On January 13, 2010 at 8:20 pm, Boot said:

    Thought provoking post especially since I have been nominated for a tour at USSOCOM. I now feel like I am walking into oblivion!
    I have to agree with some of the comments of jbrookins also. Lastly you are dead off on your assessment of Marine Force Recon. They are NOT just infantry or a billet in infantry. Do they belong in SOCOM?, I think there is a place for their deep recon skills AND much of their training is similar or the same as SeAL platoons. Force Reconnaissance is a specialized skill with a specialized mission that serves the Division and MEF commanders.
    I would say there is so much misconceptions about all SOF, SF and Marine organizations that its getting kind of stupid.

  4. On January 15, 2010 at 4:05 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    The great thing about comments is that you get to have your say, and I get to respond. Remember that I didn’t advocate the abolition of the billet(s). I recommended that the billet(s) be re-attached to infantry. Those are two very different things.

    As for Force Recon, to answer your question very specifically, some are matrixed to SOCOM away from their infantry units, some are still attached to their infantry units. Yes, they are matrixed to SOCOM, but advocating that they attach to SOCOM because they are attached to SOCOM is a tautology. It wasn’t always that way, and Recon would function just fine in its original function – which is, as I said, being a specialized billet of infantry.

    So the answer to your question is, yes, no, and maybe.

    Enjoy your time in SOCOM.

  5. On January 21, 2010 at 9:47 pm, Boot said:

    Again Force Recon is NOT infantry. They are NOT specialized infantry and have never been attached as a billet in the infantry. Two types of Recon in the Marine Corps is Force Recon and BN Recon. Traditionally Force the MEF CMD’s eyes and ears that could be anywhere from where BN Recons AO dropped off up to 200K inland. Force and BN Recon are their own organizational units one falls under the Division Commander one the MEF Commander.

  6. On January 1, 2011 at 5:26 am, Ringo said:

    Does the United States need US Special Operations Command cannot really be completely answered without first understanding the evolution and de-evolution of the mission of SOCOM since 9/11. Almost overnight SOCOM transformed from a Title 10 HQ (man, train and equipment) with little or no operational authorities (outside those executed by its war-fighting three star component command), to a HQ with a global synchronization role against terrorist networks. In order to facilitate this new found mission, then General Brown created the Center for Special Operations, under the control (not command) of a two and subsequently three star general officer. The CSO was ideally organized (although extremely top heavy with multiple layers of senior officers) to perform its role as a global synchronizer because J2, J3, J5 and Interagency Task Force (IATF) functions were under the control and direction of a single director, but it also created numerous problems with span of control. Under this new configuration the command was split between executing its original Title 10 functions and the evolving and ambiguous mission of synchronizing the CT plans and planning of Geographical Commandant Commands. This responsibility automatically encountered friction both within the Interagency and DoD (e.g. the GCC’s and other Functional Component Commands). In essence, SOCOM was given expanded responsibilities but in truth and practice no ability to compel compliance with any of its synchronization processes. Over time the friction grew and as a result CSO seemed to exist for no other purpose but to feed its own internal processes most of which had no real benefit. In time even the bi-annual SOCOM and later rebranded DoD Synchronization Conference was terminated by Admiral Olson chiefly because it had outlived its usefulness and actual results were extremely minimal. Soon after the CSO was disbanded and the CSP reverted back to its original J-code task organization, which in essence terminated its global synchronization mission. Today if you visit SOCOM and specifically J2, J3, J5 and IATF you will see well intended staff officers wondering what its missions are. SOCOM within one year has returned to its original Title 10 function without actually saying so—which has remnants of the CSO in complete disarray. The real question is not really whether SOCOM should exist—I think there is no question it serves a purpose. The real question is whether DoD needs a Functional Combatant Command to synchronize GCC activities as it related to CT. I think there is a role for a global synchronizer but only if it’s well defined and the required authorities are granted to execute it.

  7. On January 4, 2011 at 5:39 pm, Andy said:

    When I was still at the Q-course, two years ago, we were told that USASFC and SWCS was putting a renewed emphasis on UW. Not sure if it’s where Mike Dhunjishah feels it should be, but SF definitely recognized that it needed to get back to what it’s best at.

  8. On December 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm, S said:

    I’m a SEAL. I’ve worked with SF my entire career, so the similarities are the same. I stumbled on this blog by accident as I was pulling info on various subjects. I couldn’t disagree more with the original post.

    The problem that we see whenever a “former” SOF/SF/NSW member speaks out is that things have typically already changed several times over. When these members leave their unit, they’re read-out of all classified information and can only draw on their experience…sometimes limited based on their deployment record and so on. When I see posts like this, it shows me how detached people can get from what’s currently going on. And the worst part is, those members typically use the hype and lore of the title “SF” or “SEAL” to give credibility to what they say. It is all just an opinion of the individual operator and not typically relevant to current operations.

    That being said, the “thug” in the picture is dressed exactly how he should be. When an enemy sniper starts scanning the area for a target, the typical high-and-tight soldier is going to draw first blood. This guy’s appearance will give him a few extra seconds to assess the situation that may be just enough to save lives, including his own. For those who have never served, or at least have never served in the remote areas that most SOF units are required to, do not speak to what you do not know. Those few precious seconds can mean life or death.

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You are currently reading "Abolish SOCOM", entry #4318 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Infantry,Special Forces and was published December 13th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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