The Foreign Service Journal - June 2017
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JUNE 2017



There has been a growing convergence of interest between

diplomacy and special operations since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Special Operations and


A Unique Nexus

Steve Kashkett is a Senior Foreign Service officer

who served as the senior POLAD to U.S. Special Opera-

tions Command from 2012 to 2013. He has also served

as deputy chief of mission in Prague; principal

officer in Tijuana and Halifax; political officer in Beirut, Paris, Haiti

and Jerusalem; and in numerous assignments in Washington, D.C.

He is a former AFSA State vice president.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do

not reflect the view of the Department of State, the Department of

Defense or the U.S. government.


or most of us in the Foreign Service, one

of the most striking developments in

the 16 years since the 9/11 terror attacks

has been a dramatic increase in synergy

between the Department of State and the

U.S. military. Coordination of our military

and diplomatic activities overseas has

become a guiding principle.

The shared role of the military and

State Department civilians in managing the prolonged wars in

Afghanistan and Iraq, the broadening of U.S. military operations

across a variety of foreign areas, and the growing ascendancy of

the military in foreign policy decision-making have all contrib-

uted to the realization that State and Defense must work together

more effectively. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world

of special operations.

Embedded State foreign policy advisers (POLADs) are now


assigned throughout the special operations community within

the U.S. military. This diplomatic presence extends not just to the

U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) based at MacDill

AFB in Tampa, Florida, which oversees all special operations

forces (SOF) worldwide, but also to the headquarters of each of

the functional component special operations commands for the

four branches of the military and to the theater special opera-

tions commands in each region of the world. At the same time,

SOCOM has assigned its own dedicated SOF liaison officers to

the State Department and more than two dozen U.S. embassies.

The convergence of interest between diplomacy and special

operations can best be explained by understanding the unique—

and often publicly misconstrued—activities that SOF elements

undertake abroad.

U.S. Special Operations: Myth and Reality

Hollywood movies paint a picture of special operations as

nothing but direct action: killing terrorists in nighttime raids,

rescuing hostages, conducting drone strikes, blowing up facili-

ties behind enemy lines and undertaking similar commando

operations. To be sure, our SOF operators do conduct these kinds

of kinetic, “tip-of the-spear” direct actions, which remain at the

heart of the SOF mission and have taken the spotlight since 9/11.

But there is much more to U.S. special operations.

Particularly over the past two decades, the U.S. special opera-

tions community has expanded its focus on cultivating relation-

ships by using training and “soft” power initiatives to build partner-

ships between SOF forces and key local constituencies in other