US Army Special Forces Command (Airborne)
The mission of US Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) is to organize, equip, train, validate and prepare Special Forces units to deploy and execute operational requirements for the U.S. military's warfighting geographical combatant commanders throughout the world.
Special Forces units perform 7 doctrinal missions: Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defense, Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action, Combatting Terrorism, Counter-proliferation, and Information Operations. These missions make Special Forces unique in the US military, because they are employed throughout the 3 stages of the operational continuum: peacetime, conflict and war. As of 2005, Special Forces units had only performed 5 doctrinal missions: Foreign Internal Defense, Unconventional Warfare, Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action and Counter-Terrorism.
Special Forces Command's Unconventional Warfare capabilities provide a viable military option for a variety of operational taskings that are inappropriate or infeasible for conventional forces, making it the US military's premier unconventional warfare force. Unconventional Warfare (UW) included a broad spectrum of military and paramilitary operations conducted in enemy-held, enemy-controlled, or politically sensitive area. UW included, but was not limited to, guerilla warfare, evasion and escape, subversion, sabotage, and other operations of a low visibility, covert, or clandestine nature.
Foreign Internal Defense operations, Special Force's main peacetime mission, are designed to help friendly developing nations by working with their military and police forces to improve their technical skills, understanding of human rights issues, and to help with humanitarian and civic action projects.
Often SF units are required to perform additional, or collateral, activities outside their primary missions. These collateral activities are coalition warfare/support, combat search and rescue, security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian de-mining and counter-drug operations.
Coalition warfare/support emerged as a result of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and continued in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. This activity ensures the ability of a wide variety of foreign troops to work together effectively in a wide variety of military exercises or operations.
US Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) exercises command and control over 5 active component Special Forces groups and 2 Army National Guard Special Forces Groups. As of 2005, it had only exercised training oversight over the National Guards Special Forces groups. US Army Special Forces Command had exercised similar authority over 2 US Army Reserve Special Forces groups, before these were inactivated in 1995. Unlike any other divisional-sized unit, US Army Special Forces Command was not located in one place, but spread out from coast-to-coast and throughout the world.
As of 2005, each group had 3 battalions, a group support company, and a headquarters company (otherwise known as a Special Forces Operational Detachment C or C-team). Each of the battalions had 3 Special Forces companies, a battalion support company, and a headquarters detachment (otherwise known as a Special Forces Operational Detachment B or B-team). The companies had 6 Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (SFOD-A), or A-teams, assigned to them. The SFOD-A was the heart and soul of Special Forces operations. Beginning in late 2008, as part of a restructuring and expansion of US Army Special Forces capabilities, the active component groups began to active a fourth battalion.
Each Special Forces Group was regionally oriented to support one of the war fighting commanders-in-chief (CINCs). Special Forces soldiers routinely deployed in support of the CINCs of US European Command, US Atlantic Command, US Pacific Command, US Southern Command, and the US Central Command.
In defense planning, decision makers looked to Special Operations Forces to provide a strategic economy of force in support of conventional forces; to expand the range of available options; and to provide unique capabilities. US Army Special Forces were seen as "Force Multipliers." It was said that a 12 man Special Forces A-Team could render the fighting power of a light infantry company.
Special operations forces reinforced, augmented, supplemented, and complemented conventional forces before, during, and after a conflict, thereby increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of any military effort. For instance, special operations forces could be used early in an operation to prevent conflict and conserve resources. When conflict was imminent, special operations forces might be employed in a variety of prehostility missions to signal determination, demonstrate support to allies, and begin the complicated processes of positioning forces for combat and preparing the battlefield.
During conflict, special operations forces might be most effective in conducting economy-of-force operations, generating strategic advantage disproportionate to the resources they represent. Special operations forces could locate, seize, or destroy strategic targets; obtain critical intelligence; test an enemy's defenses; diminish his prestige; disorganize, disrupt, and demoralize his troops; and divert important resources.
Special operations forces expanded the options of the National Command Authorities, particularly in crises and contingencies, such as terrorism, insurgency, subversion, and sabotage, that fell between wholly diplomatic initiatives and overt use of large conventional forces. Special operations forces allowed decision makers the flexibility to tailor US responses to encompass a wide range of possibilities. Their small size, ability to react rapidly, and relatively self-sufficient nature provided the United States with military options that did not entail the risk of escalation normally associated when larger, more visible, conventional forces were employed. This enabled decision makers to prevent a conflict or limit its scope and, therefore, better control US forces and resources once they had been committed. Special operations forces were the best choice for actions requiring a rapid response or a surgically precise, focused use of force.
Decision makers might choose the special operations forces option because it provided the broadest range of capabilities that had direct applicability in an increasing number of missions-whether military, humanitarian, or peace operations-in support of US foreign policy.
Special operations forces training was some of the most rigorous in the world, and it produced some of the most professional and expert military operators. They were mature forces who demonstrated superior performance in small groups or as part of an integrated US response with other military forces, as well as non-Department of Defense government and civilian agencies.
The small, self-contained units could work swiftly and quietly without the noticeable presence of conventional military troops. Even under the most austere conditions, they were able to operate without the infrastructure often needed by a larger force. As a result, these units could penetrate enemy territory on missions such as personnel recovery; surgical strikes prior to conventional force operations; intelligence gathering; and pathfinding and target designation for air strikes. Special operatiosn forces also employed an extraordinary inventory of sophisticated weapons and technology. Often special operations forces units acted as a proving ground for new equipment before it was transferred to conventional forces.
Although a superior military force, special operatiosn forces did not necessarily need to use military force in a mission. Language skills, cross-cultural training, regional orientation, and understanding of the political context of their operating arenas made them unparalleled in the US military. Their skills enabled them to work as effectively with civilian populations as they did with other military forces to influence situations favorably toward US national interests. This ability to apply discrete leverage was one of special operation forces' most important contributions to US national military strategy.
In an era of regional focus, reduced forward-based forces, decreasing resources, and growing uncertainty, special operatiosn forces played a critical role in US defense strategy by providing strategic economy of force, expanded options, and unique capabilities. Special operations forces gave the United States efficiency without compromising effectiveness and flexibility to respond to the unforeseen and unexpected.
Special Forces Career Management Field (CMF) 18 included positions concerned with the employment of highly specialized elements to accomplish specially directed missions in times of peace and war. Many of these missions were conducted at times when employment of conventional military forces was not feasible or was not considered in the best interest of the United States. Training for and participation in these missions was arduous, somewhat hazardous, and was often sensitive in nature. For these reasons, every prospective Special Forces soldier had to successfully complete the 3-week Special Forces Selection and Assessment (SFAS) Course. The purpose of SFAS was to identify soldier's who had potential for Special Forces training. The program assessed tactical skills, leadership, physical fitness, motivation, and ability to cope with stress. Activities included psychology tests, physical fitness, and swim test, runs, obstacle courses, rucksack marches, small unit tactics, and military orienteering/land nav exercises.
Each Special Forces volunteer would receive extensive training in a specialty that prepared him for his future assignment in an Special Forces unit. Special Forces units were designed to operate either unilaterally or in support of and combined with native military and paramilitary forces. Levels of employment for Special Operations forces included advising and assisting host governments, involvement in continental United States-based training, and direct participation in combat operations. The Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) taught and developed the skills necessary for effective utilization of the Special Forces solider. Duties in CMF 18 primarily involved participation in Special Operations interrelated fields of UW. These included foreign internal defense and direct action missions, as part of a small operations team or detachment. Duties at other levels involved command, control, and support functions. Frequently, duties required regional orientation to include foreign language training and in-country experience. Special Forces placed emphasis not only on unconventional tactics, but also on knowledge of nations in waterborne, desert, jungle, mountain, or arctic operations.
US Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) traces its lineage to the 1st Special Service Force, "the Devil's Brigade," and derives its heritage from elements of the Office of Strategic Services (Jedburghs, Operational Groups and Detachment 101).
The OSS was formed in World War II to gather intelligence and conduct operations behind enemy lines in support of resistance groups in Europe and Burma. After the war, individuals such as Colonel Aaron Bank, Colonel Wendell Fertig and Lieutenant Colonel Russell Volckmann used their wartime OSS experience to formulate the doctrine of unconventional warfare that became the cornerstone of the Special Forces. The 1st Special Service Force, by contrast, was an elite combined Canadian-American infantry unit that fought in North Africa, Italy and Southern France.
Special Forces grew out of the establishment of the Special Operations Division of the Psychological Warfare Center activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in May 1952. In June of 1952, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was established under Colonel Aaron Bank. Concurrently with this was the establishment of the Psychological Warfare School, which subsequently became the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. The 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) deployed to Bad Tolz, Germany in September 1953. The remaining cadre at Fort Bragg formed the 77th Special Forces Group. The intervening years saw the number of Special Forces Groups rise and fall.
Special Forces Soldiers first saw combat in 1953, as individuals deployed from 10th Special Forces Group to Korea. These men worked with the partisan forces conducting operations behind the enemy lines. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, teams of Special Forces soldiers deployed to Laos to work with the Royal Laotian Army. Operation White Star was the precursor to Special Forces operations in Vietnam. In Vietnam, Special Forces teams worked as advisors to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the Civilian Irregular Defense (CIDG) Program forces; trained and led quick reaction units called MIKE Forces; and conducted cross-border operations as part of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG). 5th Special Forces Group was formed as the requirement for Special Forces troops grew. In the 14 years Special Forces were in Vietnam, they established a record for bravery and proficiency second to none.
The 3 decades following Vietnam witnessed Special Forces participation in virtually every campaign fought by the US Army. In Grenada, Haiti, Panama and in the Balkans, Special Forces teams conducted unconventional warfare operations in support of the regular Army. In Operation Desert Storm, General Norman H. Schwarzkopf described the Special Forces as "the eyes and ears" of the conventional forces and the "glue that held the coalition together."
In the midst of these missions, on 27 November 1990, the US Army's 1st Special Operations Command was redesignated as the US Army Special Forces Command (Airborne). Its mission was to train, validate, and prepare Special Forces units to deploy and execute operational requirements for the war-fighting commanders-in-chief.
In the post 9-11 Global War on Terrorism, Special Forces teams were instrumental in establishing the Northern Alliance coalition that ousted the Taliban government in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom and were critical to the success of the Coalition ground campaign in Iraq. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, Special Forces teams trained and fought with the Kurds in northern Iraq, cleared the western desert of SCUD missiles and provided long-range special reconnaissance to the Coalition ground forces on the drive to Baghdad.
Special Forces soldiers had also served at home and abroad providing humanitarian assistance and assisting with foreign internal defense in friendly foreign nations. Humanitarian assistance missions included Promote Liberty, Provide Comfort, Sea Angel, the domestic response to Hurricane Andrew, and Restore Hope.
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