Paper – Surgical Strike in support of Special Warfare

surgical strike

Over the past decade and a half the U.S. special operations community, and Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) in particular, has developed the capability and capacity to conduct surgical strike operations to degrade terrorist networks while at the same to conduct large-scale counterinsurgency operations in multiple countries.

ARSOF 2022. A United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) publication examines the future for ARSOF and provides direction, guidance, and priorities for the future path for Army special operations. Among the topics examined is the relationship between special warfare and surgical strike. Special Warfare and Surgical Strike are defined as two primary capabilities of ARSOF. The 32-page publication is entitled ARSOF 2022 and is available as a PDF on the USASOC website. [1]

The “Vision” statement in ARSOF 2022 that Army special operations forces should:

“Provide our nation the world’s premier special operations units, capable of prosecuting the most sensitive special warfare campaigns and executing the most difficult surgical strike operations, while providing seamless and persistent special operations support to joint-force commanders worldwide”. (Page 5 ARSOF 2022)

Paper on Surgical Strike supporting Special Warfare. A student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College wrote a master thesis on the topic of special warfare campaigns that are supported by surgical strike operations. He uses four case studies to examine the topic – two from Afghanistan (OEF) and two from Iraq (OIF). He then provides key findings and some recommendations. The purpose of his study (paper) was to “. . . examine recent historical special warfare campaigns and identify how ARSOF should leverage existing surgical strike assets to more effectively wage a special warfare campaign.”. (p. 5). The author spends considerable time reviewing the large volume of books, papers, publications, studies, and reports about the inter-relationship of surgical strike and special warfare in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Afghanistan Case Studies. The paper examines two case studies from Afghanistan; both revolving around the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program established by the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A). The first case study is the SOTF-SE campaign with Uruzgan province over a six-month period in 2012. The second case study is the SOTF-E campaign in Kunar province from 2010 to 2014. The VSO program had as its centerpiece the establishment of local defense forces at the village-level called Afghan Local Police (ALP). The use of U.S.-advised ANA Commando kandaks to ‘shape’ the environment (conducting raids and clearing operations) for VSO ‘platforms’ to establish a foothold and enhance security, governance, and development in their area of operations is cited as an example of surgical strikes supporting special warfare activities. The analysis of the two VSO case studies shows a disparity of effectiveness in the support of surgical strikes to special warfare.

Iraq Case Studies. The case studies in Iraq are on Operations Lions Road and the Ninawa Campaign of 2008 and (the second) the SOF support to the Awakening and the Sons of Iraq. In the Ninawa Campaign U.S. SOF, working with ISOF, ERU, and other Iraqi SOF elements coordinated their activities through the Iraqi Ninawa Operations Center (NOC) and local intelligence fusion cells. The effectiveness of these operations enabled Coalition and Iraqi forces to establish secure zones within Mosul and the surrounding areas with holding forces. The effectiveness of SOF forces using surgical strikes in support of the Coalition’s Sons of Iraq program is outlined as a success story as well.

Conclusion. The paper concludes with thirteen key findings and provides recommendations for improvement in doctrinal improvements and organizational structure to ensure that surgical strike forces can effectively support special warfare missions in the future. The 113-page paper is a good read . . . but it is helpful to take a look at the 32-page ARSOF 2022  (if only to look at the graphics) before wading into the paper.

Assessing the Role of Surgical Strike Operations in Support of a Special Warfare Campaign, by MAJ Owen M. Broom, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, June 2017. Posted on Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC).


[1] US Army Special Operations Command, “ARSOF 2022”, Special Warfare Magazine 26, no.2 (April-June 2013).

Photo Credit: Photo from page 5 of ARSOF 2022.

About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.