US special operations forces: on the threshold of a profound evolution?


Created in 1952 to wage « another type of war » (J.F. Kennedy), the US special operations forces (SOF) are, after Afghanistan and Iraq, on the threshold of a profound evolution. The context lends itself: as the Obama presidency avoids large operations, the use of force is preferentially entrusted to them. Enjoying political protection which earned them a particularly comfortable budget, benefiting in the public opinion as within the Congress of a support not far from worship, SOF were able to listen effectively the presidential strategy. That is why they have taken a significant step ahead in managing conflicts in inter-agency mode. They have created a global network, based both on a geographical redeployment of the force and the development of partnerships with other countries units. The canvas of this global network now covers the two thirds of the states of the world. It is built on a foundation of classical training and cooperation, but also on the belief that SOF is a confidence factor to the United States. To achieve the latter objective, they must create a new type of soldier, at the same time commando, diplomat and development expert. This new start will doubtless collide with great difficulties. However, the first measures are taken. They announce a limited appeal to the strength by often violent and always political operations, which are more police actions than war operations. War is left with the partners and with the allies, who now have to rely on themselves and on the support, on their rear, of SOF. Following this logic, SOF could specialize – that is a major innovation - in avoidance of war. The theoretical analysis of those new practices - that can not be extracted from a broader strategic plan - proves to be difficult and contrasted from one author to another. Few of them saw that the SOF announced a new military intervention mode, more in the service of the order and of the peace than in that of the war and its chaos.

The author

Philippe Rousselot, President of Hestia Expertise, has a PhD in History. In association with the Chair of Applied Geopolitics of the Collège d'études mondiales, he is leading the activities of Hestia Expertise, mainly devoted to the Maghreb and the special war in 2016. He also coordinates the publications of Hestia Expertise's research journal ( He is a member of the Board of Directors of du Réseau français des Instituts d’études avancées.

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The text

This text was drafted during the year 2015 and completed on January 15, 2016. Hestia Expertise, as part of its work within the FMSH, dedicates an important part of its year 2016 to the launch of a research program On the Special War. This program, which was marked by a colloquium (March 2016), the creation of a reasoned bibliography, links with other research centers and the publication of works, is inaugurated by the publication of this work, the aim of which is to present to the Academic community an unfamiliar subject in France..
The author thanks General Dominique Champtiaux, Frédéric Mauro, Vincent Téjedor, Guillaume D., Augustin C. and Arnaud Borremans for their review of this document.

Published at 22 March 2016