September 24, 2020

A Resource-Sustainable Strategy for Countering Violent Extremist Organizations

By Stephen Tankel

The Bottom Line

The 2018 National Defense Strategy deprioritized the countering violent extremist organizations (CVEO) mission, but the Department of Defense (DoD) has yet to develop a resource-sustainable approach to conducting this mission. As a result, the current approach remains unsustainable. The next National Defense Strategy (NDS) cycle should be used to drive development of a Secretary of Defense–level strategy for conducting a sustainable CVEO mission that mitigates risks from terrorism-related contingencies. This effort should:

  • Create and maintain a standardized, universal list of violent extremist organizations (VEOs) that prioritizes them based on the threats they pose to the United States. Assign a specific mission to each VEO, including objectives and criteria and actions necessary for success, depending on where each group ranks.
  • Develop and employ a comprehensive framework for balancing risks and resources for individual CVEO missions. Assess the cumulative resources dedicated to the Department of Defense’s entire overall CVEO mission in relation to the terrorism risks that the DoD is prepared to accept. Adjust accordingly. Pursue CVEO efforts in accordance with this framework, which should help right-set the resources dedicated to CVEO, including troops, platforms, and monetary expenditures.
  • Develop a process for conducting a net assessment of the overarching mission and the individual missions that make up its component parts.
  • Make contingency plans to ensure ongoing intelligence collection in locations where the United States will scale back its CVEO efforts and the global force readiness required to move military assets into these areas if necessary. Identify the level of persistent forward engagement needed to support contingency operations and any critical gaps in partners’ capabilities that will need to be filled as the United States scales back.

Introduction

The United States has been trying to pivot from counterterrorism to strategic interstate competition for almost a decade. The 2018 NDS signaled the DoD’s intent to deprioritize the CVEO mission: “Interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” The CVEO mission is not going away, however, and experts inside and outside the Pentagon anticipate it will require significant attention, resources, and manpower for the foreseeable future. The 2018 NDS acknowledged the ongoing need to pursue this mission, which it listed last in its top five priorities. As well, one of the “lines of effort” listed in the NDS Irregular Warfare Annex is to “adopt a resource-sustainable approach to counter violent extremist organizations.” Yet the DoD has failed to articulate a comprehensive, unifying strategy for a sustainable CVEO mission that mitigates risks from terrorism-related contingencies.

An Unsustainable Mission

After 9/11, the department assessed the terrorism threat as expansive and sought to militarily defeat numerous violent extremist organizations across the world that could theoretically pose a threat to the United States or its interests. This objective was unattainable, but that did not stop the U.S. military from developing capabilities and force structure in pursuit of it. Although the department has moved past the days of large-footprint deployments, the light-footprint approach of working “by, with, and through” partners has become unsustainable at current levels. Embedded U.S. forces provide intensive assistance, accompany partners on operations, and support them with airlift, intelligence, and air strikes, among other things. Because U.S. troops often accompany their local partners, these missions have significant force protection requirements. Train, advise, and assist missions also sometimes morph into direct action—because threats manifest, targets of opportunity present themselves, or U.S. forces become impatient with local partners. Aggressive operational support combined with direct action is necessary against top-tier threats, but this model is currently applied far too broadly. Moreover, DoD has numerous executive authorities and programs designed to enable the CVEO mission, which over time has become a rationale for myriad requirements from the geographic combatant commands (GCCs) that are not always directly terrorism-related. As a result of these factors, the global CVEO mission remains disproportionately large and kinetic relative to the actual threat. It has also become unsustainable in terms of the current commitment of forces, platforms, and resources, because of other pressing priorities.

Aggressive operational support combined with direct action is necessary against top-tier threats, but this model is currently applied far too broadly.

Readiness: The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has coordinating authority for the overarching CVEO mission and still considers it top priority. Special operations forces (SOF) continue to conduct high-tempo operations for direct action, and to contribute to capacity building and train, advise, and assist missions that increasingly blur the line with combat. Army Special Forces bears a disproportionate share of the burden, according to experts familiar with the SOF community. SOF cannot maintain its current operational tempo for CVEO while simultaneously contributing to the day-to-day strategic competition envisioned by the 2018 NDS, preparing to contribute to a potential high-intensity conflict with a near-peer competitor, and meeting its 1:2 deployment-to-dwell requirement. Moreover, even without the new requirements created by strategic competition, a comprehensive review of special operations forces conducted at the direction of the SOCOM commander found SOF to be “fatigued, worn and frayed around the edges” as a result of repeated deployments in support of CVEO.

Although conventional components of the services are increasingly training and resourcing for high-intensity conflict, conventional forces also continue to deploy in support of SOF CVEO missions. Platforms required for conventional missions are still postured to support CVEO efforts as well, especially for SOF in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, which has numerous requirements under the CVEO umbrella. These platforms, which require people to use and maintain them, include manned and unmanned aerial assets used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and armed overwatch; as well as manned assets for electronic warfare, airlift, and medevac. The Air Force has suffered the most readiness degradation in terms of platforms, because its bombers and fighter jets have been used for direct action. The service resisted investing in unmanned platforms for many years and never purchased light attack aircraft that could have been used in lieu of more expensive manned assets. Belatedly, the Air Force invested in unmanned aerial platforms, but, some experts opine, not to a sufficient degree.

SOF cannot maintain its current operational tempo for CVEO while simultaneously contributing to the day-to-day strategic competition envisioned by the 2018 NDS.

Resources: Current monetary expenditures on CVEO also may be unsustainable, especially given other priorities and recent shocks to the U.S. economy. The personnel pipeline for SOF is more time consuming and expensive than for conventional forces, with the consequence that readiness issues can translate into monetary ones. All of these factors add up: high-tempo rotational deployments; operating costs of the conventional assets just described, especially air platforms; and the cost of munitions dropped in high numbers in certain theaters. Moreover, although the DoD now considers terrorism as an enduring problem to manage, not defeat, this has not led to a concomitant reduction in resources. To quote one official who requested anonymity: “We’re not really spending a lot less than before, at least not enough to matter. But nobody has come down and said, ‘We just realized you’re still burning wheelbarrows of cash for CVEO, stop it.’”

An Incoherent Approach to Reform

Recognizing the need to deprioritize CVEO, as the last NDS did, and to manage the terrorist threat as an enduring problem constitutes progress, but the process for developing a new approach for this narrower objective has been disjointed. There are at least three ongoing, but unaligned reviews that could have implications for how DoD pursues the CVEO mission. First, SOCOM is revising the CVEO global campaign plan (GCP), currently under review. It reportedly includes a framework intended to raise the bar for when and how to use SOF for CVEO that is informed by three factors: an organization’s demonstrated intent and capability to strike the U.S. homeland; the potential for the United States to rely more on allies and partners for burden sharing; and potential overlaps with strategic competition. Second, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism (SOCT) and the Joint Staff Directorate for Joint Force Development (J7) are building an implementation plan for the CVEO line of effort contained in the NDS Irregular Warfare Annex. The endeavor reportedly applies a more comprehensive framework that integrates operations, activities, and investments for greater efficiency and effectiveness against a broader range of threats. Third, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper launched a review focused on force management intended to ensure the combatant commands (CCMDs) employ forces in alignment with the NDS. Secretary Esper’s review does not focus on CVEO specifically. It also takes a CCMD-by-CCMD approach without the benefit of the global context that would be gained from a Department-wide CVEO strategy.

These efforts each have their merits, but there is no top-level vision of how the department can achieve a transformed CVEO mission that successfully balances risks and resources. In the absence of a clear direction and backing from the secretary to develop a resource sustainable CVEO strategy as envisioned by the NDS, there is a real risk that the department will keep spinning its wheels. There are several additional, related reasons to be skeptical that these reviews will yield sufficient adapation of the CVEO mission.

There is no top-level vision of how the department can achieve a transformed CVEO mission that successfully balances risks and resources.

First, these three efforts are not aligned with one another, especially regarding which VEOs merit attention, what mission taskings to pursue, and how to allocate forces, platforms, and resources. They could end up at cross-purposes as a result. In particular, some in DoD worry that the SOCOM framework is too narrow. Although it is useful for informing where SOF should be deployed for direct action, the framework risks missing a range of terrorist threats of concern to the United States and reinforces an overly kinetic approach to CVEO. The SOCT-J7 effort takes a more comprehensive approach, but faces an uphill battle in the department without top cover from the secretary’s office. It is unclear whether such support can be expected given Secretary Esper’s own combatant command review and reports that he has tasked SOCOM, which has ownership over CVEO, with increasing the efficiency of that mission.

Second, it is unlikely any of these reviews will produce a comprehensive strategy that reconciles the range of stakeholder perspectives, and that addresses the bureaucratic barriers that make it difficult to achieve a sustainable steady state for CVEO. It is tough to get granular detail on current force posture, but the military remains heavily postured in CENTCOM. CVEO still provides a considerable portion of the rationale for this. The GCCs—especially CENTCOM and Africa Command—have an insatiable appetite for SOF, and they use the CVEO mission as a justification for their requirements. Much of the resourcing for SOCOM, as well as for the CVEO operations conducted by GCCs, comes out of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, which means that if the missions go away, then so do the resources. There are organizational incentives to continue writing and servicing CVEO requirements that may not always align with terrorism threat levels. The Esper review might make some headway, but the systemic change necessary is unlikely unless the Secretary of Defense issues comprehensive guidance that aligns threats, missions, resources, and risk acceptance.

Finally, the last NDS envisioned the need to prepare for high-intensity conflict with near-peer competitors, and to engage them in ongoing competition below the threshold of armed conflict, but the secretary has been overwhelmingly focused on the former. Although the department has produced guidance for conducting irregular warfare, it is nascent and has not yet been implemented. This makes it difficult to balance risks and resources appropriately when considering where to scale back the CVEO mission. The failure to implement this guidance has also hindered the development of authorities and capabilities for engaging in such competition. This could contribute to path dependency in terms of how the DoD employs some of its forces, especially SOF.

While DoD has yet to articulate a new CVEO strategy, the services are attempting to transition away from the mission. The Army, which provides the most conventional forces for CVEO, has begun to shift some of them, along with intelligence enablers, toward interstate strategic competition. But this shift has not been coordinated with a commensurate drawdown in Army SOF CVEO operations. The Air Force is also pulling back from CVEO, creating pressure on SOF to fill looming gaps in enabling support.

Recommendations: A Sustainable CVEO Mission

The efforts under way are an important step forward, but creating a steady-state CVEO mission that is sustainable and effectively balances risks and resources requires Secretary-level strategic guidance. Ideally, the department will develop a comprehensive strategy sooner, rather than later. In reality, this is likely to remain unfinished business by the time of the next NDS cycle, which the department should use as a forcing function to develop and implement a unified CVEO strategy. Any such strategy should include a framework for balancing risk and resources in an iterative manner, a program for net assessment, and a contingency planning element.

Balancing Risks and Resources

To put the CVEO mission on a more sustainable footing while simultaneously avoiding the type of overcorrection that could increase the chances of a major terrorism attack against the United States or other terrorist incident that harms U.S. interests, the DoD must develop a comprehensive framework for balancing terrorism-related risks and resources. The framework outlined here needs to be pressure tested. The aim of including it is to promote debate about the range of factors the department should consider, and about how to weight them. Planning scenarios can help to flesh out and standardize DoD’s approach, and to identify the resources required to accomplish missions.

Step 1

Create a standardized, universal list of VEOs, categorized by threat tiers based on each group’s demonstrated intent and capability to threaten: the U.S. homeland; U.S. forces, officials, and infrastructure overseas; U.S. citizens overseas; U.S. allies and close partners; and other U.S. interests. This threat assessment should include not only the cumulative extent of the threat a group poses, but also a qualitative description of the nature of that threat.

Step 2

Assign a specific mission to each VEO, based on where that group ranks in terms of prioritization and on the nature of the threat it poses. Column 1 in the chart below lists a possible universe of missions that DoD might assign to a group. Each assigned mission should include criteria for defining success, which in turn will enable DoD to identify what actions are necessary. Identifying necessary actions has the added benefit of reducing the likelihood that CVEO will be used as a rationale for requirements and posture that are not terrorism related.

Step 3

For each individual group and its corresponding mission, assess the factors outlined in columns 2–7 in the chart below. Columns 2–4 include factors for consideration that could enable or encumber pursuit of the assigned mission, as well as possibly increase risk to forces. Column 5 factors in the potential value of a CVEO mission to advancing strategic competition objectives, with the caveat that including this in the decision calculus involves costs as well as benefits. A given CVEO assignment could enable synergies, but also might be used to justify activities that the department otherwise would not carry out, or it could sap resources that could more effectively be used elsewhere to advance strategic competition objectives. Column 6 determines the resources required to accomplish the assigned mission, factoring in the elements identified in Columns 2–5. Column 7 identifies potential known risks to U.S. interests, the mission, and U.S. forces if the resources required are provided.

Step 4

As part of an iterative process, assess the cumulative resources dedicated to the department’s entire CVEO mission in relation to the terrorism risks that DoD is prepared to accept, and then readjust individual missions if necessary. If DoD remains over-resourced for CVEO relative to other priorities, the approach outlined here will enable the secretary to make an informed decision about whether to accept more risk from terrorism vis-à-vis other efforts that are under-resourced. Moreover, if the secretary decides to accept more risk, then Steps 1–3 will enable an informed decision about where to accept the risk as a result of reducing resources for individual CVEO missions.

Mission assigned based on prioritization and nature of threatThreat environment where VEO operatesInteragency effortsCooperation from allies and partnersPotential value of CVEO mission to advance strategic competition objectives Resources needed to accomplish missionDeclared risk
Defeat Presence of near-peer competitorsEffects on other interagency efforts of increasing, reducing, or adapting military activitiesLocal state and non-state partners’ willingness and capability to conduct CVEO operations, factoring in how U.S. support might affect their willingness and capabilityAdvance access and placement requirements that might be needed in the event of high-intensity conflictNumber of U.S. forces required to accomplish the mission, and duration of deploymentRisk to U.S. interests based on the gap between threat before and after mission success
DismantlePresence of potential nation-state adversaries, such as IranPotential for interagency partners to mitigate threats if DoD reduces activitiesPotential for highly capable treaty allies or regional partners to contribute to or lead the CVEO mission, factoring in how U.S. support might affect their willingness and capabilityConduct ISR operations against nation-state competitorsPlatforms required to enable U.S. and/or allies and partners, including duration of requirementRisk to mission based on the gap between resources required and resources provided
DegradePresence of other nation-state forces operating at cross-purposes with United StatesSteps to enable interagency partners, such as detailing personnel or transferring resourcesConduct information operations against nation-state competitorsTotal anticipated monetary cost associated with forces, platforms, and any additional security assistance provided to allies and partnersRisk to forces from VEO, competitors, and other hostile actors in threat environment based on the gap between resources required and resources provided
DisruptPresence of armed and potentially hostile non-state groups other than VEO targets Foster relationships that have benefits for non-CVEO aspects of security cooperation
Monitor
Identify and Understand

Pursuing missions in accordance with this framework should help right-set direct action missions and intensive train, advise, and assist missions that involve aggressive operational support, likely freeing up forces and resources for other NDS priorities. SOF units that are assigned global response missions against imminent threats should prioritize maintaining their readiness for contingency response scenarios, which are an important part of the CVEO toolbox. They should be used sparingly for CVEO missions, and then only for direct action against high-value targets and, in the event of short, violent campaigns, against emergent threats. Partnering is a foundational purpose for the creation of Army Special Forces, and their selection and assessment processes still focus heavily on it. This pedigree, combined with SF direct action experience gained over the past 20 years, makes them the best-suited SOF element for intensive train, advise, and assist missions, which presumably will only be conducted against higher priority VEOs. Conventional forces, including Army Security Force Assistance Brigades, can engage in more routine train-and-equip and foreign internal defense missions. The department may also pursue hybrid models in some cases, for example by combining training and advising conducted primarily out of an embassy security cooperation office with a smaller number of accompany missions to provide operational assistance to partners.

In terms of enablers, even a scaled-back approach to CVEO will still require considerable ISR, as well as some logistical support and armed overwatch. Demands for airlift, quick reaction forces, and medevac might decline as well, although it is possible that a smaller footprint leads to less force protection on the ground, which in turn can affect demand for these capabilities. Relying mainly on unmanned platforms for ISR, close-air support, and precision strike, in the types of austere and permissive environments where the United States is likely to conduct CVEO missions, may further reduce the strains on readiness. SOCOM is pursuing light attack aircraft for the purposes of armed overwatch, in part because the Air Force has failed to do so. The price point for purchasing light attack aircraft has been relatively high, however, and it is unclear whether investing in an entirely new manned fleet makes sense, given the fact that the Air Force already has a substantial fleet of MQ aircraft, along with the required maintenance and training infrastructure. This does not mean that employing light attack aircraft will not yield overall cost savings relative to high-end platforms, but the benefits these platforms provide need to be weighed against capabilities that could be provided by maintaining or expanding the fleet of unmanned aircraft available for CVEO. One caveat is worth noting: The U.S. forces deployed for CVEO missions may face increased contestation from other nation-states in certain environments, including in terms of the ability of these forces to operate unmanned air platforms. Thus, reliance on high-end assets may still be necessary in some cases, although efforts to equip unmanned platforms with electronic warfare and cyber defense capability could offset some of the risks posed by increased contestation from other nation-states.

Net Assessment

The department lacks a process for conducting a net assessment of the overarching CVEO mission and for assessing outcomes of the individual efforts that make up its component parts. Currently, SOCOM assesses all CVEO efforts that the U.S. military conducts. This assessment entails issuing an annual data call that consists of a massive questionnaire to all the CCMDs, which rate themselves. SOCOM then aggregates CCMD assessments. Metrics are tied to the global campaign plan for CVEO, but each CCMD does assessments its own way based on the commander’s requirements. According to sources interviewed for a separate project on counterterrorism net assessment, the criteria provided to the CCMDs do not describe effectiveness in a way that provides for common understanding. As a result, there is nothing to stop two CCMDs from assessing the same outcome differently.

Taking a net assessment approach to measuring the effectiveness of the CVEO mission will enhance the department’s ability to prioritize and adapt its lines of effort, and ensure the effective allocation of resources relative to terrorism-related risks. Any such approach should include several elements. First, the DoD needs to explicitly identify its criteria for measuring effectiveness for the overarching CVEO mission, as well as the individual missions that make up its component parts. This means that for each individual CVEO mission conducted against each adversary, the department should define its objectives, the criteria to denote success, the actions deemed necessary, and a theory of victory for how these actions will lead to success as defined. Second, the department should develop metrics based on the actions required for success and the way DoD defines it for each mission. These metrics should factor in assumptions made regarding interagency efforts and cooperation from allies and partners. Third, instead of relying on CCMDs to self-report, the department should use its metrics to drive collection strategies that include disparate sources of red, green, and blue data. It is critical that assessments of blue activities be evaluated against red and green outcomes, to provide a fuller picture of effectiveness. Finally, although metrics should be tailored to actions and therefore need not be universal, DoD should develop a common methodological toolbox for assessing effectiveness.

Contingency Planning

The department needs to be methodical about how to scale back its CVEO mission and put mitigation measures in place where necessary. CVEO contingency planning needs to be part of a new comprehensive strategy. Such planning should include several elements. First, it will be critical to ensure ongoing intelligence collection—unilaterally by DoD elements or other members of the U.S. intelligence community, or provided via liaison with reliable allies and partners—for the purposes of indications and warnings. The department, in coordination with the interagency, should also develop a plan for emplacing additional intelligence collection assets quickly if necessary. Second, planners will need to ensure the global force readiness required to move military assets into various locations where the United States scales back its efforts. These assets could be required for a range of operations, including increased operational support to allies or partners, limited counterterrorism strikes, and even a troop surge of several thousand U.S. forces. Third, in areas where the U.S. military pulls back, a new strategy will need to identify the level of persistent forward engagement necessary to enable access and placement to support the range of operations.

In many cases, the United States will be asking its partners to assume more of the burden and more risk. Preparing partners for this transition is critical. Any comprehensive strategy for CVEO needs to include a plan for working with partners to identify and address their priority gaps—capabilities, equipment, and relationships with other security forces, for example—and for helping to fill gaps during a transition period. Depending on the circumstances, other elements of the U.S. interagency may also need to develop or expand cooperation with and support for partners’ law enforcement, border authorities, and intelligence communities. A CVEO strategy should outline whether and how to use this transition period to identify and coordinate with close allies and highly capable regional partners who might be able to assist in the event of a contingency. A small number of close allies, including the British, French, and Canadians, are highly capable and have sufficient vested interests in counterterrorism to make partnered contingency planning worthwhile. The strategic planning process provides an opportunity to identify additional highly capable regional partners and weigh the potential risks and benefits of engaging them in the event of a contingency. But identifying allies and partners with the capabilities to share the burden is insufficient without also assessing whether and what it will take for them do so. Thus, a planning process needs to factor in whether it is possible to build consensus around a shared end-state for burden sharing, how to do it, and what the United States might have to bring to the table to get other countries on board.

Conclusion

There is broad agreement that U.S. counterterrorism efforts are overly militarized and their application too expansive, which has had pernicious consequences for both the efforts and the U.S. military. It is insufficient to articulate the need to deemphasize the CVEO mission without also detailing a new strategy for how to conduct that mission, and without providing implementation guidance for the strategy. The absence of such a strategy creates conditions for DoD to remain overly committed to counterterrorism despite its stated objectives, or to overcorrect in such a way that takes on unnecessary risk of a terrorism-related contingency that can disrupt its shift toward interstate strategic competition. To make the CVEO mission sustainable in terms of forces, platforms, and resources, DoD must devote the time and attention necessary to produce a comprehensive and unified strategy. The next NDS cycle provides an opportunity and a forcing function to complete this unfinished business.

About the Author

Stephen Tankel is an Associate Professor at American University and an adjunct Senior Fellow at CNAS. He has served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Tankel is the author most recently of With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror.

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  1. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks By President Obama to the Australian Parliament,”
    Parliament House, Canberra, Australia, November 17, 2011, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2011/11/17/remarks-president-obama-australian-parliament.
  2. U.S. Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of The United States of America, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf.
  3. U.S. Department of Defense, NDS Irregular Warfare (IW) Annex Implementation Plan, October 23, 2019, https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/MECC2019/mecc2019day1brief8_iw.pdf?ver=2019-10-17-143158-750.
  4. Numerous interlocutors, including those in the SOF community, made this point. On the use of direct action see also, Stephen Tankel, “Donald Trump’s Shadow War,” Politico, May 9, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/05/09/donald-trumps-shadow-war-218327. On the evolution of train-advise-and-assist missions, see Luke Hartig and Stephen Tankel, “The Muddy Middle: The Disappearing Lines in America’s Counterterrorism Wars and How to Restore Order,” Just Security, Aug. 14, 2019, https://www.justsecurity.org/65813/the-muddy-middle-the-disappearing-lines-in-americas-counterterrorism-wars-and-how-to-restore-order/.
  5. Alice Hunt Friend, “The Accompany They Keep: What Niger Tells Us About Accompany Missions, Combat, and Operations Other Than War,” War on the Rocks, May 11, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/05/the-accompany-they-keep-what-niger-tells-us-about-accompany-missions-combat-and-operations-other-than-war/.
  6. DoD planners undoubtedly have factored in SOF to any plans for a high-intensity conflict with near-peer competitors. Department leadership has yet to articulate whether SOF will also play a major role in the type of day-to-day strategic competition envisioned by the NDS, but interlocutors in the special operations community indicate they are eager and planning to do so. If so, SOF could face an additional readiness challenge , insofar as there is a tradeoff between meeting deployment-to-dwell requirements and doing the relationship building necessary to prepare for conducting the type of irregular warfare campaign that might be expected of them in the event of conflict with a near-peer competitor. For more on SOF and strategic competition, see Alice Hunt Friend and Shannon Culbertson, “Special Obfuscations: The Strategic Uses of Special Operations Forces” (Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 6, 2020), https://www.csis.org/analysis/special-obfuscations-strategic-uses-special-operations-forces.
  7. United States Special Operations Command, Comprehensive Review, (January 23, 2020), https://sof.news/pubs/USSOCOM-Comprehensive-Ethics-Review-Report-January-2020.pdf.
  8. The Army, which provides the majority of supporting forces, has begun pulling back to support inter-state strategic competition, but this shift has not been executed in close coordination with a drawdown in Army SOF operations.
  9. See for example, Mark E. Cancian, U.S. Military Forces in FY2020: Air Force (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2019), https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-military-forces-fy-2020-air-force.
  10. Other major objectives that contribute to CENTCOM’s current posture are deterring Iran, reassuring Gulf partners, and securing maritime sea-lanes.
  11. The theater special operations commands attached to the GCCs may contribute to the problem.
  12. Experts have reached a similar conclusion about how special operations forces are being deployed. See Friend and Culbertson, “Special Obfuscations.”
  13. Nick Lopez and Kyler Atwell, hosts, “Irregular Warfare Oversight in DC,” Apple Podcasts, 2020, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/irregular-warfare-oversight-in-dc/id1514636385?i=1000482274336.
  14. This framework aligns closely with the one developed by SOCT for making determinations about how to resource the CVEO mission based on a clear-eyed assessment of threats to U.S. interests.
  15. Navy Special Warfare and Marine Special Operations units do not have the same focus on partnering, and, in the case of the Navy in particular, their foundational purpose is a maritime mission in support of the fleet. According to one defense official familiar with the SOF community, Navy SEALs already have shifted toward more maritime missions and are deploying on CVEO train, advise, and assist missions less often than before.
  16. Yasmin Tajdeh, “Armed Overwatch Aircraft on SOCOM’s Shopping List,” National Defense Magazine, May 4, 2020, https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/5/4/armed-overwatch-aircraft-on-socoms-shopping-list.
  17. R. Kim Cragin et al. “Counterterrorism and the United States in a New Era of Great Power Competition,” in Strategic Assessment 2020: Into a New Era of Great Power Competition, ed. Thomas F. Lynch III (Washington: National Defense University Press, forthcoming).
  18. The START center (National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism) at the University of Maryland launched the Counterterrorism Net Assessment Data Structure (CT NEADS) project funded by Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office to help advance this objective. The author of this report was a proponent of the project and then served as a paid subject matter expert for it.

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