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Lines Blurring Between Special Ops, Conventional Forces, Mattis Says

December 29, 2017

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2017 — There is a blurring line that separates conventional operating forces from special operations forces and the defense secretary expects general purpose forces will eventually shoulder missions once the province of their special forces brethren.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told Pentagon reporters today that the experiences of war since 9/11 have blurred the lines.

This change will not be enshrined in strategy, he said, but will come about as a result of policy and the growth of general purpose forces’ capabilities.

Growth of General Purpose Force Capabilities

Mattis said he expects more general purpose forces to take on missions in Iraq and Syria. “In the Trans-Sahel [region of Africa], many of the force supporting the French effort are general purpose forces,” the secretary said.


If a mission comes up, the secretary said he’ll determine the parameters of it and pass that to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chairman will then determine what forces take on that mission. They may be special operations forces or general purpose forces with unique capabilities.

U.S. Military Evolves Through War Experiences

This is an evolution of the U.S. military spurred by the lessons of war, the secretary said.

Mattis said he does not want a force that is dominant in yesterday’s challenges, but irrelevant in today’s. The general purpose force, he added, is going to have to have the capabilities that were once associated only with special operations forces.

The secretary gave the example of remotely piloted vehicles. In 2001, he said, the only people who ran drones were special operations forces.

In 2007, an Army captain on one street was looking at a feed from a drone overhead with strike capabilities from the Navy and Army standing by, the secretary said. In the meantime, a “CIA guy was in his headquarters talking with one of his agents in an Army brigade,” Mattis said. “That is not what an Army brigade did in Desert Storm or the Fulda Gap [in what was then West Germany]. The change happened because war initiated those changes. Those are now common capabilities.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

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