THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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
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
BY STEVEN KASHKETT
ON DIPLOMACY AND DEFENSE