Implications of the Security Cooperation Office Transition in Afghanistan for Special Operations Forces

An Abbreviated Report of the Study's Primary Findings

by Jason H. Campbell, Richard S. Girven, Ben Connable, Jonah Blank, Raphael S. Cohen, Larry Hanauer, William Young, Linda Robinson, Sean Mann

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Research Questions

  1. What lessons can be learned from U.S. special operations forces' transitions from Title 10 missions to inclusion in the U.S. embassy's Security Cooperation Office in Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda, and Yemen?
  2. In particular, what lessons do these experiences offer for U.S. special operations forces' transition in Afghanistan?

This report presents findings from an examination of six historical case studies in which the mission of special operations forces (SOF) in each of the six countries transitioned over time to include some level of inclusion in the U.S. embassy's Security Cooperation Office (SCO). The authors provide background and context for SOF missions in Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda, and Yemen and explain the interactions and relationships between SOF organizations and personnel in the U.S. country team in each embassy. Drawing on existing literature and extensive interviews with mission stakeholders, the authors characterize how U.S. SOF transitions in each of these nations have affected SOF's ability to conduct ongoing missions, and they derive best practices for SOF when transitioning to a SCO in general and for NATO Special Operations Component Command–Afghanistan/Special Operations Joint Task Force–Afghanistan to transition to a SCO in particular.

Key Findings

Working with the Interagency: Country Team

  • Regular coordination with the country team is essential.
  • Clear understanding among the country team of the various authorities that different elements are operating under prevents confusion and discord.
  • Rapport and trust building within the country team can pay great dividends for special operations forces (SOF) equities.
  • Space issues and limitations can be a limiting factor in certain instances.

Working with the Interagency: Stateside

  • A lack of precise and compatible strategic guidance to the ambassador and the SOF element can negatively affect planning within the country team.
  • The activities of Washington agencies, such as the Pentagon and State Department, as well as the combatant commands, influence relationships within the country team.

Working with the Host Nation

  • A formal agreement with the host/partner nation specifically outlining rules of engagement and expectations can help avoid misunderstandings and operational difficulties.
  • Building lasting bonds with host/partner-nation security officials can help smooth fluctuations in the bilateral relations between the governments.
  • Shifting from Title 10 to Title 22 authorities can create added strain with host/partner-nation authorities, who may not understand the distinction and may not be content with the changes involved.

Working within the SOF Community

  • Staffing program managers in the Security Cooperation Office (SCO) who have knowledge of SOF requirements is a good complement to the typical SOF operational liaison assigned to an embassy.
  • SOF personnel assigned to serve in an embassy should be provided appropriate predeployment training.
  • Trade-offs between Title 10 and Title 22 authorities exist: While the former typically experience greater freedom of movement, the latter tend to have better access to embassy facilities, funding, and logistical support.
  • The current cap on deployments for SOF personnel can make it difficult for personnel to mesh well with the rest of the country team.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Lessons Learned, Challenges, and Implications for Afghanistan

  • Chapter Two

    Working with the Interagency: Country Team

  • Chapter Three

    Working with the Interagency: Stateside

  • Chapter Four

    Working with the Host Nation

  • Chapter Five

    Working within the SOF Community

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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