Leadership: August 8, 2003


After over half a century, the Special Operations troops are finally making peace with the rest of the army and closely cooperating in operations. The U.S. Army is forming task forces containing regular (infantry and military police) and Special Operations (Special Forces, Civil Affairs) troops for overseas missions. "Task Forces," temporary military units made up of several different contingents that don't usually work with each other, are an ancient concept. The Romans regularly formed "vexillations" for special missions. World War II, however, saw a proliferation of task forces. The Germans formed "kampfgruppen" (battle groups) frequently and the U.S. reorganized its armored divisions around the task force concept (calling the brigade size units "combat commands.") 

Task Forces continued to be popular after World War II, but not when Special Forces were involved. The Special Forces have long been considered, well, "difficult to handle." A lot of this attitude, on the part of the most army officers, was based more on apprehension than any practical issues. It's true that the Special Forces considered themselves more capable soldiers than any non-Special Forces troops. And non-Special Forces officers were a bit intimidated by the swagger and professionalism of the Special Forces men. The Special Forces didn't like to be commanded by officers who didn't know how to use Special Forces troops. The regular army officers didnt like to command Special Forces troops for the same reasons. 

Over the last two decades, especially since the establishment of SOCOM (Special Operations Command) in 1989, there has been a lot of efforts on both sides of the fence to make it easier for Special Forces to work with regular forces. There are still problems on the ground, with older and more experienced Special Forces operators being apprehensive about going into combat with "kids" (younger army infantry troops, even if they are rangers). The civil affairs units, which also belong to SOCOM, are a problem for a different reason. Most civil affairs troops are also older, but are reservists who tend to be highly educated professionals or managers in civilian life. It's easier for the civil affairs guys to bond with the Special Forces troops than with twenty year old infantrymen. 

But all those years of work by SOCOM to sell themselves to the rest of the army has paid off. Iraq and Afghanistan saw an unprecedented degree of  close cooperation between Special Forces and regular combat troops, and marines as well. The Special Forces still don't like working too closely with regular troops, but the new task force may provide an opportunity to work out the problems of two very different types of soldiers working the same beat. 


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