News Release

October 31, 2016

For Immediate Release
Contact: Fiona Gettinger, Communications Associate, 703-824-2388

Special Operations Commanders Offer Advice for the Next Administration

Arlington, VA — Today CNA released a new report based on a meeting convened by the research and analysis organization of six former special operations Commanders and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, with the participation of dozens of active duty special operations forces.

In an environment of anonymity, the experts spoke with a level of candor rarely seen. "Special operations Commanders don’t usually offer their opinions about policy and strategy to their political superiors, so it was noteworthy to have such a thoughtful, focused discussion of recommendation for the next administration," said Dr. Jonathan Schroden, director of CNA’s Special Operations Program.

The Obama administration dramatically expanded the use of special ops, with many notable successes such as killing Osama Bin Laden. Though the budget for the United States Special Operations Command increased from about $6 billion to some $11 billion and staffing grew from around 56,000 to 70,000 personnel, demands have outpaced resources. Panelists warned that continuing at the current pace of deployments risks burning out the force.

Participants offered these specific recommendations: 

  • Re-examine the balance between surgical-strike and special-warfare capabilities and resources, because the current high demand for surgical-strike operations is out of balance with force capacity.
  • Certain low-level tasks, such as some sniper operations and basic training of foreign forces should be transferred to general purpose forces.
  • Give special ops forces a more active voice in decisions about their use, for example by placing their own general officer on the National Security Council Staff.
  • Increase the use of Special Operations Joint Task Forces, successfully employed in Afghanistan, to insert special operators into the chain of command and operational level decision-making.
  • Grant more leeway in running missions and determining the rules of engagement to those with on-the-ground expertise, micromanaging special operations forces less from Washington.
  • Enable alternative careers paths and lateral transfers into special ops forces, especially for civilians with advanced technical skills.

In general, panelists felt that both the public and politicians need to better understand the role and capabilities of special operations forces and came up with their own definitions of special ops.  In the words of one participant, special operations "get people into places they’re not expected to be with stuff they’re not expected to have." Another summed up the mantra of special operations forces as: "Knowledge beats doctrine. Finesse beats mass."

To download a copy of the report, visit

CNA is a nonprofit research and analysis organization dedicated to developing actionable solutions to complex problems of national importance. With nearly 700 scientists, analysts and professional staff, CNA takes a real-world approach to gathering data. Its one-of-a-kind field program places analysts on carriers and military bases, in squad rooms and classrooms, and working side-by-side with a wide array of government decision-makers around the world. In addition to defense-related matters for the U.S. Department of the Navy, CNA’s research portfolio includes criminal justice, homeland security, energy security, water resources, enterprise systems and data analysis, and education.

Note to writers and editors: CNA is not an acronym and is correctly referenced as "CNA, a research organization in Arlington, VA."


Elizabeth Cutler
Sr Communications Specialist

John Stimpson
Communications Associate