Special Operations (SO) encompass the use of small units in direct or indirect military actions focused on strategic or operational objectives. They require units with combinations of trained specialized personnel, equipment, and tactics that exceed the routine capabilities of conventional military forces. SO are characterized by certain attributes that cumulatively distinguish them from conventional operations. These operations are politically sensitive missions where only the best equipped and most proficient forces must be deployed to avoid detection and possible mission failure that can result in damage to US prestige and interests.

Four Factors For Successful Special Operations

Clear national and theater strategic objectives.

Effective command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) support at the operational level.

Competent tactical planning and execution.

A force trained, equipped, and organized to conduct Special Operations

Characteristics of Special Operations

Special Operations normally require operator-level planning and detailed intelligence.

Knowledge of the culture(s) and languages of the geographical area in which the mission is to be conducted.

Rigorous training and rehearsals of the mission are integral to the success of the mission.

They are often conducted at great distances from the supporting operational bases.

They may employ sophisticated communications systems.

 They frequently require discriminate and precise use of force. This often requires development, acquisition, and employment of equipment not standard for other Department of Defense forces.

They employ sophisticated means of insertion, support, and extraction to penetrate and successfully return from hostile, denied, or politically sensitive areas.

Characteristics of Special Operations Forces (SOF)

SOF are unique because they provide the National Command Authority (NCA) a broad range of capabilities. The demands of SO require forces with attributes that distinguish them from conventional forces:

SOF personnel undergo careful selection processes or mission-specific training beyond basic military skills. These programs make unlikely any rapid replacement or generation of personnel or capabilities.

SOF personnel maintain a high level of competency in more than one military specialty. Selected SOF are regionally oriented for employment; cross cultural communications skills are a routine part of training. (Under most circumstances, SOF are not a substitute for conventional forces, but a necessary adjunct to existing conventional capabilities.)

SOF operations are frequently clandestine in nature to ensure mission success. Much of the equipment used by SOF has been designed or modified to meet specific operational requirements. As such, SOF equipment is often delivered in small quantities and is difficult and costly to repair and replace.

SOF maintain a very high level of pre-conflict readiness, and are often in the first echelon of any commitment of US Forces. This emphasized the importance of joint, collective training tailored to achieve and maintain mission capabilities.

Special Operations Principal Missions

Nine activities have been designated as Special Operations Principal Missions . These are: Direct Action (DA), Combating Terrorism (CBT), Foreign Internal Defense (FID), Unconventional Warfare (UW), Special Reconnaissance (SR), Psychological Operations (PSYOP), Civil Affairs (CA), Information Operations (IO), and Counterproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (CP). SOF are organized, trained, and equipped specifically to accomplish these nine tasks.

Direct Action (DA)

DA operations are short duration strikes and other small scale offensive operations principally undertaken by SOF to seize, destroy, capture, recover, or inflict damage on designated personnel or material. In the conduct of these operations, SOF may employ raid, ambush, or direct assault tactics; emplace mines and other munitions; conduct stand off attacks by fire from air, ground or maritime platforms; and provide terminal guidance for precision weapons, conduct independent sabotage, and anti-ship operations.

Combating Terrorism (CBT)

CBT is a highly specialized, resource-intensive mission. Certain SOF units maintain a high state of readiness to conduct CBT operations and possess a full range of CBT capabilities. CBT activities include: anti-terrorism (AT), counterterrorism (CT), recovery of hostages or sensitive material from terrorist organizations, attack of terrorist infrastructure, and reduction of vulnerability to terrorism.




Foreign Internal Defense (FID)

FID is participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency. SOFís primary contribution in this interagency activity is to organize, train, advise, and assist host nation military and paramilitary forces. The generic capabilities required for FID include: instructional skills; foreign language proficiency; area and cultural orientation; tactical skills; advanced medical skills; rudimentary construction and engineering skills; familiarity with a wide variety of demolitions, weapons, weapon systems, and

communications equipment; and basic PSYOP and CA skills.

Unconventional Warfare (UW)

UW includes guerrilla warfare, subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities, evasion and escape, and other activities of a low visibility, covert, or clandestine nature. When UW is conducted independently during conflict or war, its primary focus is on political and psychological objectives. When UW operations support conventional military operations, the focus shifts to primarily military objectives.

Special Reconnaissance (SR)

SOF conduct a wide variety of information gathering activities of strategic or operational significance. Collectively, these activities are called SR. SR complements national and theater intelligence collection systems by obtaining specific, well-defined, and time-sensitive information when other systems are constrained by weather, terrain-masking, hostile countermeasures, or conflicting priorities. SR tasks include: Environmental Reconnaissance, Armed Reconnaissance (locating and attacking targets of opportunity), Coastal Patrol and Interdiction, Target and Threat Assessment, and Post-strike Reconnaissance.

Psychological Operations (PSYOP)

PSYOP induces or reinforces foreign attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originatorís objectives by conducting planned operations to convey selected information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.

Civil Affairs (CA)

CA facilitates military operations and consolidates operational activities by assisting commanders in establishing, maintaining, influencing, or exploiting relations between military forces and civil authorities, both governmental and non-governmental, and the civilian population in a friendly, neutral, or hostile area of operation.




Information Operations (IO)

IO refers to actions taken to affect adversary information and information systems while defending oneís own information and information systems. The following activities support the IO mission: DA, SR, PSYOP, CA. (DODD S-3600.1 and JP 3-13 Draft)

Counterproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (CP)

CP refers to the actions taken to seize, destroy, render safe, capture, or recover weapons of mass destruction (WMD). SOF provide unique capabilities to monitor and support compliance with arms control treaties. If directed, SOF can conduct or support SR and DA missions to locate and interdict sea, land, and air shipments of dangerous materials or weapons. SOF are tasked with organizing, training, equipping, and otherwise preparing to conduct operations in support of US Government counterproliferation objectives.


SOFís principal missions are enduring and will change infrequently; however, SOFís collateral activities will shift more readily because of the changing international environment. SOF frequently conducts the following Collateral Activities:


Coalition Support

Coalition Support integrates coalition units into multinational military operations by training coalition partners on tactics and techniques and providing communications. Coalition Support teams often provide the Joint Force Commander (JFC) with an accurate evaluation of the capabilities, location, and activities of coalition forces, thus facilitating JFC command and control.

Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)

CSAR penetrates air defense systems and conducts joint air, ground, or sea operations deep within hostile or denied territory at night or in adverse weather to effect the recovery of distressed personnel during wartime or contingency operations.

Counterdrug (CD) Activities

CD activities train host nation CD forces on critical skills required to conduct small unit CD operations in order to detect, monitor, and counter the cultivation, production, and trafficking of illegal drugs.

Countermine (CM) Activities

CM activities reduce or eliminate the threat to noncombatants and friendly military forces posed y mines, booby-traps, and other explosive devices by training host nation forces in the location, recognition, and safe disposal of mines and other destructive devices, as well as CM program management.

Humanitarian Assistance (HA)

HA provides assistance of limited scope and duration to supplement or complement the efforts of host nation civil authorities or agencies to relieve or reduce the results of natural or manmade disasters or other endemic conditions such as human pain, disease, hunger, or privation that might present a serious threat to life or that can result in great damage to, or loss of, property.

Security Assistance (SA)

SA provides training assistance in support of legislated programs which provide US defense articles, military training, and other defense related services by grant, loan, credit, or cash sales in furtherance of national policies or objectives.

Special Activities

Special activities consist of the planning and execution of actions abroad in support of national foreign policy objectives so that the role of the US government is not apparent or acknowledged publicly. These activities are subject to limitations imposed by Executive Order and in conjunction with a Presidential finding and congressional oversight.