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SOCOM’s SOF Alphabet Soup
Most deployments have, however, been training missions designed to tutor
proxies and forge stronger ties with allies. “Special Operations forces provide
individual-level training, unit-level training, and formal classroom training,”
explains SOCOM’s Ken McGraw. “Individual training can be in subjects like
basic rifle marksmanship, land navigation, airborne operations, and first aid.
They provide unit-level training in subjects like small unit tactics,
counterterrorism operations and maritime operations. SOF can also provide
formal classroom training in subjects like the military decision-making process
or staff planning.”
From 2012 to 2014, for instance, Special Operations forces carried out 500 Joint
Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions in as many as 67 countries each
year. JCETs are officially devoted to training U.S. forces, but they nonetheless
serve as a key facet of SOCOM’s global engagement strategy. The missions
“foster key military partnerships with foreign militaries, enhance partner-
nations’ capability to provide for their own defense, and build interoperability
between U.S. SOF and partner-nation forces,” according to SOCOM’s McGraw.
And JCETs are just a fraction of the story.
SOCOM carries out many other multinational overseas training operations.
According to data from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense
(Comptroller), for example, Special Operations forces conducted 75 training
exercises in 30 countries in 2014. The numbers were projected to jump to 98
exercises in 34 countries by the end of this year.
“SOCOM places a premium on international partnerships and building their
capacity. Today, SOCOM has persistent partnerships with about 60 countries
through our Special Operations Forces Liaison Elements and Joint Planning
and Advisory Teams,” said SOCOM’s Votel at a conference earlier this year,
drawing attention to two of the many types of shadowy Special Ops entities that
These SOFLEs and JPATs belong to a mind-bending alphabet soup of special
ops entities operating around the globe, a jumble of opaque acronyms and
stilted abbreviations masking a secret world of clandestine efforts often
conducted in the shadows in impoverished lands ruled by problematic
regimes. The proliferation of this bewildering SOCOM shorthand — SOJTFs and
CJSOTFs, SOCCEs and SOLEs — mirrors the relentless expansion of the
command, with its signature brand of military speak or milspeak proving as
indecipherable to most Americans as its missions are secret from them.
Around the world, you can find Special Operations Joint Task Forces
(SOJTFs), Combined Joint Special Operations Task Forces (CJSOTFs), and Joint
Special Operations Task Forces (JSOTFs), Theater Special Operations
Commands (TSOCs), as well as Special Operations Command and Control
Elements (SOCCEs) and Special Operations Liaison Elements (SOLEs). And that
list doesn’t even include Special Operations Command Forward (SOC FWD)
elements — small teams which, according to the military, “shape and coordinate
special operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of
theater special operations command, geographic combatant command, and
country team goals and objectives.”
Special Operations Command will not divulge the locations or even a simple
count of its SOC FWDs for “security reasons.” When asked how releasing only
the number could imperil security, SOCOM’s Ken McGraw was typically opaque.
“The information is classified,” he responded. “I am not the classification
authority for that information so I do not know the specifics of why the
information is classified.” Open source data suggests, however, that they are
clustered in favored black ops stomping grounds, including SOC FWD Pakistan,
SOC FWD Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon, as well as SOC FWD East Africa, SOC
FWD Central Africa, and SOC FWD West Africa