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Inside the 'New' Special Operations Forces

Author: Linda Robinson, Senior International Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation
July 2009


To gain perspective on today's special operations forces, it is important to assess the changes they have undergone and what the consequences may be in the years ahead.

Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, U.S. special operations forces' (SOF) capabilities and expertise have been in great demand. No element of the U.S. military has undergone a more transformative experience over the nearly eight years since. The current commander of the Special Operations Command, Admiral Eric T. Olson, coined an apt phrase, "the new normal," to describe a present and future in which the demand for special operations forces to be employed for a variety of purposes around the world continues unabated.

Four new attributes have characterized SOF operations since 9/11, with three consequences or implications for the future. These historic years deserve far more in-depth study to chronicle the operations and to extract the multiple lessons that should guide leaders and policymakers in the future employment of the force.

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