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10 Lethal Special Operations Units From Around the World

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Special operations forces are the most highly disciplined, mission-capable, and formidable units in the world. They go through rigorous selection processes and training in order to conduct unconventional warfare tasks that are beyond the means of standard military forces.

The truth is, the world may never know exactly what these teams have accomplished, but their public records contain enough to earn global respect. In no particular order, these are ten lethal special operations units from around the world.

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10. China’s Snow Leopard Commando Unit

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Formerly known as the Snow Wolf Commando Unit, named for the tenacity of arctic wolves and their ability to survive in harsh conditions, this is a specops unit of the People’s Republic of China. At their inception, they spent five years training in secret to conduct counter-terrorism, riot control, anti-hijacking, and bomb disposal for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

They’ve trained alongside Russian special task force units during joint anti-terror exercises with the primary mission of maintaining peace and stability.

The unit prides itself on the speed and accuracy of their marksmanship, their strength and stamina, and their spirit of self-sacrifice. Each recruit must serve in the People’s Armed Police for 1-2 years before undergoing physical and psychological tests. Perhaps where they excel the most is in martial arts and close quarter battles, but their sniper squadron shouldn’t be discounted.

Moving on, the next group made the news when one of their operators drowned an ISIS terrorist in a puddle. Yeah. Let’s talk about:

9. Britain’s Special Boat Service

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SBS with U.S. Delta Force at the Battle of Tora Bora

“Not by strength, by guile” is the motto of the Royal Navy’s Special Boat Service, one of the United Kingdom’s most secretive and elite military units.

The SBS is the UK’s equivalent of the US Navy SEALs. The selection process for the elite team has a 90% failure rate and includes a grueling 4-week endurance test that grows increasingly more challenging and concludes with a 40 kilometer march — that’s 24.8 miles for my fellow Yankees — which must be completed in under 20 hours.

And that’s just Stage 2 of training.

Graduates will master weapons handling, jungle training, complex fighting, and combat survival before they are officially inducted into the elite unit.

Born out of World War II, today, the SBS remains one of the most well-respected units in the world. Since 9/11, the Special Boat Service has been deployed against Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban, as well as on rescue missions around the globe, including in Sierra Leone and Libya.

8. Polish GROM

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Soldier in the Polish Naval Special Forces Unit GROM during NATO exercise Trident Juncture 15. (Polish SOF, Lisbon)

GROM is an acronym that loosely translates to the Group for Operational Maneuvering Response.

More poignantly, however, grom means “thunder” in Polish. It’s a unit that can trace its lineage to the exiled Polish paratroopers of World War II known as “the Silent Unseen.” 315 men — and one woman — trained for months in Great Britain before jumping into occupied Poland to oppose the Nazi hold there.

In 1990, the GROM unit was organized after Operation Bridge, a mission to help Soviet Jews enter Israel. Intelligence reports indicated a significant Hezbollah threat in the area of operations, so the elite counter-terrorist force was approved. It remained a secret from the public until 1994, when they deployed to Haiti for Operation Restore Democracy.

GROM performs rescue operations, including hostage recovery, as well as counter-insurgency missions. They have extensive weapons and medical expertise and have mastered a variety of military disciplines, including parachuting, amphibious insertion, diving, pyrotechnics, and vehicle handling.

Whether fighting terrorists or war criminals, GROM more than lives up to its name.

7. The Special Services Group in Pakistan

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Pakistan Special Services Group. (Photo by Wikipedia user Hbtila)

Business Insider reported that training for the Pakistani Special Services Group requires a 36-mile march done in 12 hours and a five-mile run in full kit in 20 minutes — if that’s true… then holy s***.

Created to combat terrorism, extremism, and separatism, SSG training consists of grueling physical conditioning, airborne school, a 25-week commando course, and hand-to-hand combat training. Reportedly, only 5% of recruits complete the rigorous training.

Due to their location, they are kept actively engaged in counter-terror missions. From hotspots along the India-Pakistan border to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a joint military offensive targeting terrorist organizations, the SSG goes where the fire is hot.

6. Delta Force

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Delta Force and soldiers pictured deep behind Iraqi lines during the 1991 Gulf War

Delta Force is the U.S. Army’s elite counter-terrorism unit, with Army Rangers and Green Berets among its numbers, but it also has operators from the Navy and Air Force. It’s been called many things — Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, the Combat Applications Group, and now the Army Compartmented Elements, but throughout its short history, it has maintained its superior ability to capture or kill high value targets, dismantle terrorist cells, and conduct covert missions in any area of operations.

Most of the missions executed by Delta Force remain classified — and it’s rare to find an official document that even acknowledges the unit — but one of its most notable accomplishments includes Operation Red Dawn, the capture of Saddam Hussein.

leaked recruiting video gave a glimpse at different training methods for Delta Force, including tactical driving, vehicle takedowns, and assaulter team tactics. A testament to their precision, one of their final exams includes breaching operations with fellow team members playing the hostage as his brothers live fire against targets nearby. The operation builds trust within the team and provides the shooter a sober reminder not to hit the hostage.

5. France’s National Gendarmerie Intervention Group

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GIGN troops. (Photo by Wikipedia user Domenjod)

The Group D’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale is one of the world’s most combat-experienced counter-terrorist organizations. Somewhere between a SWAT team and Delta Force, the French GIGN responds to terrorist threats or domestic attacks.

The enemy has evolved — and so, too, has the GIGN. Their mission is to get access to the scene of an attack as quickly as possible, then capture or kill the assailants before they can inflict more carnage.

Their training program is notoriously brutal and lasts fourteen months — if recruits can make it that long. One documentary team followed a group of potential recruits and saw 120 of them whittled down to 18 in two weeks. It includes one of the best marksmanship schools in the world, weapons handling, airborne courses including HALO jumps, hand-to-hand combat, diving, survival training, and explosive ordnance disposal.

These guys are lethal, but they value fire discipline. Rumor has it that they’re just issued a 6-shot .357 revolver as their official sidearm — with only 6 rounds, you bet they’re going to make each one count.

4. The Sayeret Matkal of Israel

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Sayeret Matkal operator. (Israeli Defense Forces)

Also known as “Unit 269,” Israel’s Sayeret Matkal is a highly secretive special-operations brigade with almost legendary status. Since its inception in 1957, Sayeret Matkal has gained a reputation for its deep reconnaissance capabilities and counter-terrorism and hostage recovery missions.

They rely on secrecy, attacking in small numbers and in disguise, then fading away before the enemy realizes what happened.

One of its most notable operations is perhaps the Entebbe rescue in 1976, when an Air France plane carrying 250 passengers to Paris from Tel Aviv was hijacked by terrorists. The non-Israeli passengers were released, but 106 hostages remained. The rescue mission took a week to plan and a little over an hour to execute.

The disguised task force was airlifted in with Land Rovers and a Mercedes-Benz. They managed to infiltrate the local army, kill the terrorists, and rescue all but four of the hostages. Only one Israeli soldier was killed in the attack.

That’s the thing with Sayeret Matkal — once you know it’s there, you’re already out of time.

3. Spain’s Special Naval Warfare Force

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Spanish Special Operations Forces (SOF) soldiers partner with a U.S. Marine during exercise Sea Saber 2004. (U.S. Navy photo)

Spain’s Special Naval Warfare Force was created in 2009 when the country merged different units of the Spanish Navy into one combatastic entity. The “Fuerza” is comprised of the Special Combat Divers Unit, Special Explosive Diffusers Unit, and the Special Operations Unit — its main tactical predecessor.

The Special Operations Unit was responsible for maritime counter-terrorism, combat diving, air and amphibious insertion, combat search and rescue, and ship-boarding — today’s elite unit carries on the fight.

They have a strong history of utilizing those tactics in hostage rescue and pirate confrontation. In 2002, the hombres rana supported Operation Enduring Freedom in the Indian Ocean when they stormed a North Korean vessel transporting SCUD missiles to Yemen. Then, in 2011, they rescued a French hostage from Somali pirates.

And that’s just what’s known to the public — like the other elite units on this list, most of their missions remain classified.

2. Russian Spetsnaz

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Russian Spetsnaz. (Photo by Wikipedia user Aleksey Yermolov)

Russia’s badass Spetsnaz is shrouded in mystery, but it dates back to the Red Bolshevik Guard, a paramilitary force organized during the height of the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century. Most of its members are comparable to U.S. Army Rangers, but an elite few train like Delta Force.

They had a traditional background of battlefield reconnaissance, shattering enemy chains of command and lines of supply, and targeting the enemy’s tactical weapons and advantages, but one thing that makes them different from U.S. operators, however, is their freedom to “mix and match” their weapons.

Recently, Russia has been increasingly modeling its Spetsnaz off American counterparts.

To a casual observer, they can appear difficult to distinguish from one another, but at the end of the day, there’s a reason Russia is trying to keep up with the United States.

1. U.S. Navy SEALs

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Members of U.S. Navy Seal Team One move down the Bassac River in a STAB during operations along the river south of Saigon, 1967.

I lied. I saved this one for last. Because, come on.

United States Navy SEALs are perhaps the finest special operations forces in the world. The competitive standard to even be considered for BUD/S training is to swim 500 yards in 10:30, 79 push-ups, 79 sit-ups, 11 pull-ups, and a 10:20 1.5 mile run. That’s just to get in.

Preparation to become a SEAL consists of Basic Underwater Demolition, Parachute Jump school, and SEAL Qualification Training — which have all been described lightly as “brutal” — then they do another 18 months of pre-deployment training.

SEALs deliver highly specialized, intensely challenging tactical capabilities including direct action warfare, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, and foreign internal defense.

From the Korean War and the Vietnam War to Somalia to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, to Operation Inherent Resolve, and, of course, the death of international terrorist Osama bin Laden, Navy SEALs have made their mark.

The article first appeared on WeAreMighty.

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Top 5 Tanks on Planet Earth

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Challenger 2 is considered one of the best-protected tanks in the world, equipped with second-generation Chobham Armor , a composite matrix of ceramic and metal with superior qualities over typical steel-rolled homogeneous armor . The result is tank armor capable of defeating both kinetic energy and high-explosive anti-tank rounds. The UK is currently planning on upgrading Challenger 2 and is evaluating equipping it with an active protection system similar to the Israeli Trophy.

The world of the tank—an armored fighting vehicle equipped with a large main gun, tracks, and whose mission is to conduct mechanized warfare on the modern battlefield—has stagnated. Look around at the tank fleets of all the major powers and most so-called main battle tanks have been in service since the 1990s—or even the 1980s. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the shift to terrorism have placed tank forces on the back burner—or, in the case of the Netherlands, eliminated them entirely .

Most tanks—at least those in the arsenals of the West—are pretty much the same in terms of overall capability. Many countries, such as South Korea , have used the slowdown to catch up to the status quo. The top five most lethal tanks today aren’t necessarily the newest or most expensive. Each does one thing particularly well to stand out from the crowd, making it an extremely dangerous opponent on the battlefield.

T-90A (Russia)

The last in a long line of tanks stretching back to the late 1940s, the T-90 is the most advanced common tank in Russian Ground Forces inventory. The T-90 can trace its roots to the T-54 medium tank, and is most directly related to the T-72/T-80 series of tanks. Russia currently operates hundreds T-90As, enough to fully equip one tank and one motor rifle division.

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T-90 Tank (Russia) (Photo: Wiki)

The T-90A is tops among tanks for long-range lethality. Although the 125-millimeter 2A46M main gun is less effective than its western peers, especially the Rhienmetall 120-millimeter L44 smoothbore gun, it is lethal at longer ranges thanks to its ability to fire anti-tank missiles from the gun tube. The 9M119M Refleks laser-guided missile gives the T-90A the ability to penetrate 700 millimeters of rolled homogeneous armor equivalent with a high degree of accuracy at ranges of up to 3.1 miles.

M1 Abrams (United States)

The M1 Abrams main battle tank is the standard tank of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps. Since its introduction in the late 1970s, the M1 has undergone a steady stream of upgrades, from the introduction of the German-designed 120-millimeter gun to the addition of depleted uranium armor and networking capabilities such as Blue Force Tracker.

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An Iraqi soldier observes a live-fire exercise from atop an M1 Abrams tank at the Besmaya Range Complex in Iraq, Nov. 12, 2018. Army photo by Spc. Eric Cerami

The M1 stands out on this list as the undisputed king of the post–Cold War era. It sets the standard for the ideal combination of firepower, protection and mobility. While other tanks may be good if not just as good, they don’t have the battle record to back it up. The M1 Abrams tank has fought in two major conflicts—the 1991 Persian Gulf War and 2003-2010 Iraq War, destroying scores of enemy tanks without a single loss to Iraqi tanks.

Leopard 2 (Germany)

The German-produced Leopard 2 tank is in many ways a cousin of the M1. Both were developed after the failure of the German-American MBT-70 tank project. The two tanks are roughly identical in weapons and performance, although the American tank, with its depleted uranium hull, is heavier and better protected.

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The Leopard 2A7 (Photo: Wiki)

The Leopard 2 is the best European tank of the current lot, as a listing of current operators easily demonstrates. While the M1 Abrams has made some inroads in the European market, the Leopard 2 has dominated, with countries from Spain to Turkey to Norway operating large fleets. Admittedly, this is largely due to Germany having shed 90 percent of her tanks since the end of the Cold War, producing a large number of relatively inexpensive surplus tanks available for export, but the Leopard is indisputably popular. Although the exact models differ from country to country, NATO’s de facto standardization on the Leopard 2 will make the alliance’s future logistics, especially in mixed units, easier to manage.

Merkava IV (Israel)

The construction of an entirely new class of main battle tank by Israel, a tiny country, is certainly a major achievement. By the time of the Merkava’s introduction Israel had already fought three wars in which it was outnumbered by much larger Arab tank forces. Combined with a tiny general population in which even minor personnel losses were felt across society, the Israeli military envisioned a tank which prioritized defensive capabilities and firepower above all else.

The Merkava has excellent protection. Its turret and frontal hull area are sharply faceted to present maximum armored protection at all angles, giving the turret a knifelike edge. The tank’s engine is in the front of the hull, placing a large, dense mass between enemy fire and the crew. The armor believed to be some kind of new type of “hybrid armor,” and is modular so individual sections can be rapidly replaced. Most importantly though, it has the Trophy active protective system , a combination of sensors and a shotgun-like weapon capable of downing rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles.

Challenger 2 (United Kingdom)

The latest in a very long series of tanks by the country that invented the tank, the Challenger 2 equips the British Army’s tank corps. Although based on the older Challenger 1 , extensive redesigns resulted in a tank with only five percent parts commonality with its predecessor. Unique among tanks of the world, Challenger 2 is still equipped with a rifled barrel, the 120-millimeter L30 gun.

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Challenger II (United Kingdom) (Photo: Wiki)

Challenger 2 is considered one of the best-protected tanks in the world, equipped with second-generation Chobham Armor , a composite matrix of ceramic and metal with superior qualities over typical steel-rolled homogeneous armor . The result is tank armor capable of defeating both kinetic energy and high-explosive anti-tank rounds. The UK is currently planning on upgrading Challenger 2 and is evaluating equipping it with an active protection system similar to the Israeli Trophy.

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5 U.S. Special Forces Raids That Went Bad

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The value of special-operations forces lies in its human capital. When these units take casualties, they cannot easily replace losses; each individual operator represents years of intensive training, along with a rare set of physical, mental and emotional traits. But unfortunately, shrapnel and plane crashes do not respect human capital. When special operators are pushed into conventional tactical situations where they cannot leverage their capabilities, they suffer and die like any other soldier. And in these cases, the loss to the country is immense, not only because of the political importance of specific operations but also because of the loss of some of America’s finest warriors.

Since World War II, the U.S. military has experimented with special-operations forces, small groups of warriors with the equipment and training to undertake extremely difficult missions. In effect, special forces exist to leverage human capital in unusual tactical situations. Soldiers selected for high physical and mental capabilities, then intensively trained, can theoretically achieve objectives that normal soldiers cannot.

The successes of special operators are well known; they include, most notably, the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. But special operations have always faced criticism from more conventionally oriented parts of the military. The basic tradeoff involves the loss of human capital that regular line units suffer when their best soldiers and officers join special-forces formations. Training resources dedicated to special operators may also, in some cases, shortchange conventional forces.

There are also organizational problems; while some commanders have proven overly conservative regarding the use of special operators (keeping them out of the fight in anticipation of some unknown job on the horizon), others have expended special forces in conventional operations, where the high human capital of the units has limited effect. And politicians, with a limited sense of military utility, tend to find special operations attractive without fully evaluating their costs.

In his new book Oppose Any Foe, Mark Moyar turns a critical eye on the history of U.S. special forces, taking seriously the costs that developing such units imposes on the rest of the military, and taking account the strategic limitations of special operations. Moyar argues, among other things, that the glamor and undeniable heroism of special operators has helped deflect scrutiny of some of their more egregious failures, and of the special-operations enterprise as a whole.

Here are five of the most disastrous raids in the history of U.S. special-operations forces:

The Makin Atoll Raid

In August 1942, the recently formed Marine Second Raider Battalion launched its first raid, against Japanese-held Makin Atoll in the South Pacific. Submarines delivered 222 specially selected and trained Marines within a distance of the island; their mission was to attack and destroy Japanese installations, thus showing a sense of strategic vulnerability in the Japanese high command.

The Raiders quickly lost the element of surprise, but nevertheless managed to inflict some casualties on the defending Japanese. The commander, Evans Carlson, decided that the remaining Japanese resistance was too stiff to accomplish the main objectives, which included the destruction of radio sets. However, the unit’s efforts to leave the island were stymied by high seas; only a small contingent was capable of swimming back to the waiting submarines.

When day broke, the Americans discovered that most of the Japanese were, in fact, dead. The Marines destroyed the remaining Japanese facilities, and a submarine returned to pick up the survivors. Unfortunately, at least one boat could not survive the surf. Altogether, thirty of the Marines committed to the operation died, with many more injured. The middling success of the raid gave U.S. commanders a sour taste regarding further such operations in the Pacific.

North Korea: Hill 205

On November 25, 1950, as part of the broader U.S. offensive into North Korea, the Eighth Ranger Battalion, a unit established in August, was assigned the job of capturing and defending Hill 205, along the Chongchon River. Unbeknownst to the Americans, regular Chinese forces had infiltrated North Korea in great numbers and were preparing to launch a major counteroffensive.

The use of special operators (even when hastily assembled) as the spearhead of a conventional offensive was neither new nor outside the traditional missions of such units; similar units had regularly undertaken such jobs in World War II. But the risks in such an approach soon became evident, as the Rangers took serious casualties attacking a hill with a stouter-than-expected defense. The situation grew worse when the counterattack came; Chinese infantry and artillery swamped the Rangers’ defenses during the night of November 25, in six separate assaults. Eighty-eight Rangers attacked Hill 205; forty-seven survived to defend it; only twenty-one left the hill alive.

The performance of the Eighth Ranger Battalion was undoubtedly heroic, but not so much better than a regular infantry battalion as to make the sacrifice worth it. The commitment and massacre of many of the Army’s best soldiers caused little more than a hiccup in the Chinese advance.

Operation Eagle Claw: Escape from Tehran

As the hostage crisis in Tehran drew on, the Carter administration began to consider military options for resolving the standoff. A conventional attack on the Iranians seemed to make little sense, and there was not much reason to believe that a coercive air campaign could force the Islamic Republic to give up the hostages.

The military responded with a plan to rescue the hostages by air, using primarily Rangers and Delta Force operatives. The complex raid involved landing helicopters near the embassy grounds, incapacitating or killing the Iranian guards, then loading the hostages into the aircraft before regular Iranian forces could react. It was carefully orchestrated, and needed to be; one wrong step could either result in the deaths of dozens of hostages, or the addition of a few special operations to the hostage list.

But on the day of the raid, little went right. Mechanical problems affected several of the choppers, leaving the contingent with too few aircraft to successfully pull off the operation. After the order to scrub was given, one of the helicopters crashed into one of the C-130s, killing eight servicemen. The failed raid helped guarantee President Carter’s defeat in the 1980 presidential election.

Grenada: Three Days of Confusion

Displacing the government of Grenada seemed like an operation well within the capabilities of the United States military. Although defended by contingents of Grenadian and Cuban soldiers, the government had little real ability to resist a concerted U.S. assault. And indeed, the main period of conflict only lasted three days, in 1983.

But in those three days, U.S. special operators ran into a host of problems. Insufficient appreciation of the weather led to the drowning of four Navy SEALs on the night of October 23; an air assault on Richmond Hill prison faced unexpected fire from antiaircraft batteries, after a delay left the Black Hawk helicopters flying in daylight; an effort to seize an empty barracks on October 27 led to the crash of three helicopters and the death of three Rangers.

All in all, thirteen of the nineteen U.S. dead from the Grenada invasion were special operators. Commanders blamed the difficulties on poor communications, and on a poor understanding by conventional officers of SOF capabilities. The problems in Grenada helped drive reform not only of the special-operations forces but also of the military as a whole; the framers of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 paid special attention to the difficulties that the invading forces faced.

Mogadishu: What Are We Doing Here?

The United States entered the Somali civil war under the aegis of a humanitarian mission, designed to restore food supplies to the greater portion of the civilian population. Before long, however, U.S. goals expanded. It didn’t help that a transition from President George H. W. Bush to President Bill Clinton left created political incoherence; Clinton had little foreign-policy experience and an unclear notion of precisely what outcomes he wanted in Somalia.

On October 3, 1993, in an effort to apprehend the top lieutenants to the warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, a group of U.S. Rangers and Delta Force operatives attempted a combined air and ground raid against targets in central Mogadishu. Both prongs of the operation quickly went wrong; the ground vehicles struggled to find their way to the target area, while one of the helicopters crashed after taking a hit from a rocket-propelled grenade. The ensuing melee lasted most of the night and resulted in the crash of another helicopter, the loss of nineteen American operators and the death of upwards of a thousand Somalis.

The value of special-operations forces lies in its human capital. When these units take casualties, they cannot easily replace losses; each individual operator represents years of intensive training, along with a rare set of physical, mental and emotional traits. But unfortunately, shrapnel and plane crashes do not respect human capital. When special operators are pushed into conventional tactical situations where they cannot leverage their capabilities, they suffer and die like any other soldier. And in these cases, the loss to the country is immense, not only because of the political importance of specific operations but also because of the loss of some of America’s finest warriors.

Most of these operations combine an excessive degree of military optimism about the parameters of possibility with a lack of political understanding of the risks and costs of failure. But these problems are not incidental to the special-operations-force paradigm; high-human-capital individuals tend to have a strong sense of their capabilities, and a strong belief in their ability to get tough jobs done. And civilians lacking in military expertise often have reason to take these beliefs at face value, especially when the SOF offer quick, easy solutions to knotty problems.

The post first appeared a few years ago on The National Interest and was written by Rob Farley.

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