Title page for ETD etd-08162011-171110

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Edge, Shaun Joseph
Email unrep21@yahoo.com
URN etd-08162011-171110
Document Title The growing role of Special Forces in modern warfare with specific reference to the United States of America
Degree MSS
Department Political Sciences
Advisor Name Title
Prof M Hough Supervisor
  • Special Missions Units
  • Somalia
  • Delta Force
  • Balkans
  • Navy SEAL
  • conventional warfare
  • 11 September 2001
  • Naval Special Warfare Development Group
  • Gulf War
  • Special Forces
  • green beret
  • Afghanistan
  • Intelligence Support Activity
  • uconventional warfare
Date 2011-04-06
Availability unrestricted
The objective of this study is to assess the growing role of Special Forces in modern warfare, with specific reference to the United States of America. The main question that the study seeks to address is what are the implications of the growing role of Special Forces in modern warfare? The study also seeks to ascertain why exactly this growth is occurring and whether or not this will have a bearing on the future of not only the manner in which the US conducts conflict but also global conflict as a whole. In order to address these issues the study will look at conventional and unconventional warfare and forces; the roles and missions of Special Forces and the composition of US Special Forces; the role of US Special Forces in modern warfare prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; and the role of the US Special Forces in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

An analysis of conventional and unconventional warfare as concepts, as well as the forces that constitute conventional and unconventional forces was first done in order to provide some perspective into what these concepts and forces are and more specifically, what differentiates them. Specific reference was made here to the United States’ approach to warfare from the days of the American Revolution up to and including the end of the Cold War. Emphasis is placed on the growing role of US Special Forces throughout the study and this is achieved through the use of four major case studies, namely the 1991 Gulf War; Somalia (1992-1993); the Balkans (1995-2001); and the 2001 ‘Special Forces war’ in Afghanistan. The case studies that dealt with the 1991 Gulf War, Somalia and the Balkans elucidated the growing role of both unconventional warfare and specifically US Special Forces and Special Mission Units since the end of the Cold War. The case study of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan provided the culmination of the shift from conventional to unconventional warfare and the execution of the campaign as a ‘Special Forces war.’

The study demonstrates that since the end of the Cold War in the 1990’s, unconventional warfare has increasingly become more ubiquitous and can be said to be replacing, or at least equalling in stature, conventional warfare. This has the possibility of dramatically affecting how warfare is executed both currently and more importantly, in the future. The study went on to show that unconventional warfare is not akin to conventional warfare, especially with regard to the forces needed to respond to such conflicts and that Special Forces are the forces most applicable and most effective in dealing with unconventional warfare.

The study confirms that Special Forces are the solution to the growing prominence of unconventional warfare and that countries, and specifically the United States can more effectively counter the threat of unconventional warfare and unconventional forces by shifting Special Forces from a supporting component to conventional forces to a supported component. This would require a massive shift in alignment both for the United States as well as other major states’ militaries but as the study has shown, this is pertinent given that unconventional warfare and forces will most likely remain the primary threat that states and militaries will now face

© 2010, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Edge, SJ 2010, The growing role of special forces in modern warfare with specific reference to the United States of America, MSS dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-08162011-171110/ >


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