Publication: The Military Balance 2017
14 February 2017
Amid an increasingly fluid and challenging contemporary security environment, there is increased demand worldwide for military forces skilled in operating below the threshold of large-scale armed conflict. As United States Army General Joseph Votel said in August 2014, US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has entered the ‘golden age for special operations’.
US special-operations forces (SOF) are currently operating in more than 130 countries and are essential to war-fighting efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, as well as sustained counter-terrorism missions in Africa and Asia. The multinational SOF command in Afghanistan has included SOF from large NATO nations as well as contingents from diverse smaller nations such as Albania, Hungary, Latvia and the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s SOF have operated not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq, Libya, Sierra Leone and Syria whilst, after departing Afghanistan, French SOF have been active in Libya, Mali and Syria. Russian SOF have been central to operations in Chechnya, Georgia, South Ossetia, eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Sophisticated Russian campaigns to seize Crimea and enter eastern Ukraine were led by the ‘little green men’ from Spetsnaz and elite airborne and naval infantry units.
In the Middle East, Jordanian, Saudi Arabian and UAE SOF are waging a sustained campaign alongside proxy forces and a small conventional force in Yemen. Jordanian Special Operations Command is modelled on the much larger USSOCOM and runs a regional SOF training hub. Since waging a proxy war against the UK and US in Iraq until 2010, Iran has continued to use the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force to sustain its influence over Shia militias and the Iraqi government, wage a campaign against the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL, in Iraq and sustain the beleaguered Syrian Army through direct combat-advisory support as well as support delivered through its Lebanese proxy force, Hizbullah.