Thought for the Day

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." - Confucius

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Special Operations Today: FSR Interviews LTG Cleveland (Ret.) Formerly Commanding General, USASOC

From the Fletcher Security Review.  The entire interview can be downloaded at this link:

I have placed an excerpt regarding the question "highly SOF kinetic" versus "models for the future for SOF on the lower end of the conflict scale" as well as "the important elements of an unconventional warfare campaign" below.

12 August 2015

Special Operations Today:

FSR Interviews LTG Cleveland (Ret.)

Formerly Commanding General, 


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Lieutenant General Charles T. Cleveland, an Army Special Forces Officer, relinquished command of the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) and retired after 37 years of military service on 01 July 2015. He previously commanded the Special Operations Command Central and Special Operations Command South as well as the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-North during Operation Iraqi Freedom. LTG Cleveland is a native of Arizona and a 1978 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. His military awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Legion of Merit Medal.

FSR: On a related note, highly kinetic SOF operations tend to get more press than other operations – when prominent terrorists are killed, etc. Can you give examples that you believe to be successes and models for the future for SOF on the lower end of the conflict scale? 

LTG Cleveland: I think it’s natural that those types of operations gain a lot of press. Long term we’ve had good success in the Philippines. Working with the Filipino military has gained us a little bit of notoriety. There are some good cases in Africa, including the efforts to counter Koney [Joseph Kony, leader of the Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group] and the influence of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the region. There are lots of successes coming from our ability to message to his fighters that there is an alternative. You don’t get a lot of press on that, but those are all good successes from an influence ops standpoint. There are also a lot of places where we have had capability building success. In Colombia, for example, we have shown considerable progress in their development and we’ve done so, by and large, under the radar. It took a long-term, disciplined approach to the campaign. 

FSR: What would you characterize as the most important elements of a successful unconventional warfare campaign, or is that even something that can be done given the primacy of context? 

LTG Cleveland: Every one of these [campaigns] is highly individualistic. Every campaign is going to be different. As an example, we’re now changing our vocabulary to talk about special warfare as opposed to just unconventional warfare or foreign internal defense. In reality, what you see is that there are places where we are doing ostensibly a FID [Foreign Internal Defense] mission but it has unconventional warfare activities included in it. There are places where we are doing things that are necessarily part of working 100% with your partner – there are [also] things we do unilaterally, for example at the same time as training and capability building. There are other places – we have very publicly spoken about the Syria train and equip mission. That is a very unconventional warfare activity, but it has pretty significant FID overtones to it. We’re going to “train and equip” – that’s even the words that we use. The Northern Alliance and working with the Peshmerga at the beginning of both Afghanistan and Iraq were unconventional warfare efforts, but again, there was a chain of command and it was done somewhat from sanctuary [at least initially] and so it had FID-like qualities to it. There are a couple of activities in places where it is purely unconventional warfare, working with surrogate groups. So each one of these cases is tailored by the circumstance, what’s generating the problem, and by the capacity and capability of whoever is there. If there is one overriding thing, it’s having the ability to understand the local and indigenous problems and using that and leveraging that in order to develop the appropriate solutions. You have to know up front what it is. You can’t just take the formula from the last successful venture and think it’s going to work in the next one. That is why there is a premium on language understanding and area knowledge.

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