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Joint Special Operations University Press Publications

Occasional Paper

Sun Tzu and Machiavelli in Syria: Attacking Alliances by Richard Rubright

The purpose of this short work is to contextualize the ongoing conflict in Syria through the combined lens of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, juxtaposed to the normative trend the West has followed ever so ineffectually since the conflict began in Syria. This work is an alternative view of the conflict that should be read as a cautionary tale concerning our lack of proficiency in strategy. It is broken down into three distinct parts. The first part contextualizes the conflict and the actors involved, to include the proxies. The second part lays out the strategic principles of Sun Tzu as pertaining to the conflict to provide a strategic framework with which the reader may make sense of the conflict's complex nature.  The final part focuses on U.S. action keeping in mind Machiavelli within the Syrian conflict as informed by Sun Tzu's strategic principles. Dr. Rubright is a senior faculty member at the Joint Special Operations University and teaches in the fields of special operations, strategy, and counterinsurgency. 

Occasional Paper

Maskirovka 2.0: Hybrid Threat, Hybrid Response by James Q. Roberts

In this paper Mr. Roberts describes the irregular and hybrid tools and techniques that Russian President Vladimir Putin, his security forces, and his intelligence forces have used, first in the attack against Georgia in 2008, then in the assault on Ukraine, and now in Syria, to advance renewed Russian regional hegemony and strategic reach. The paper also describes the mobilization of Russian minority populations, the co-option of the Georgian and Ukrainian regimes, and the West's seeming inability to effectively counter these Russian moves. Since this paper was finalized Russia has moved into Syria and the assessment of Russia's Syrian adventure is still very speculative at this time. Nevertheless, many aspects of the Syrian case are fully congruent with Russia's hybrid approach in Georgia and Ukraine. Mr. Roberts holds the Office of the Secretary of Defense chair at the Eisenhower School, National Defense University. His prior assignment was as the principal director, Special Operations and Combating Terrorism, Office of the Secretary of Defense.


Countering Violent Extremism in Mali by Mark Moyar

Dr. Moyar analyzes U.S. and international efforts to counter Mali's panoply of extremist organizations. Violent opposition to Mali's government has deep roots, which include historic tensions between the Tuaregs and other ethnic groups, as well as the emergence of Salafist extremist groups in Algeria. Extremist attacks on Mali's democratic government in late 2011 and early 2012 culminated in a military coup that allowed rebels to take control of northern Mali. Because Mali had received extensive military and nonmilitary assistance from the United States and other foreign countries in the preceding years, these disasters led to the questioning of aid practices, including those of United States Special Operations Forces (USSOF). This study adds to a growing body of knowledge on special operations and counterterrorism in Africa. It also contributes to the general understanding of the troubling events in Mali, where the government continues to confront violent extremism and other forms of rebellion. Perhaps most significantly for USSOF, the monograph offers insights into the building of partner capacity.

Special Report

Tactical Operations for Strategic Effect: The Challenge of Currency Conversion by Colin S. Gray

Dr. Gray examines the currency conversion between tactical behavior and its strategic consequences. All strategy is comprised of tactical actions and Special Operations Forces (SOF) are often tasked with tactical operations with the expectation they will have desired strategic effect. A SOF community seeking to explain its functions needs to be crystal clear in distinguishing between the fundamentally distinctive meanings. If there is confusion about these two concepts-and the author believes there is-then charting a sensible relationship between them is then impossible. The author explains as an example that, "there are no, indeed there cannot be, any 'strategic' troops, forces, or weapons, for the simple reason that all troops, forces, and weapons have strategic meaning, be it ever so slight, or even arguable." This monograph attempts to reinforce the understanding of strategy and tactics by using historical examples where the two have failed each other. In the end, there must be the necessary direction and leadership that provides solid strategic sense so that SOF may achieve the effects needed to advance U.S. policy.

Research Topics 2016

Special Operations Research Topics 2016

The JSOU Special Operations Research Topics 2016 publication represents a list of SOF-related topics that are recommended for research by those who desire to provide insight and recommendations on issues and challenges facing the SOF enterprise. As with the past several years' topics publications, this list is tailored to address priority areas identified by USSOCOM. There are five SOF priorities: Ensure SOF Readiness; Help our Nation win; Continue to build relationships; Prepare for the future; and Preserve our force and families. This publication also includes the Key Strategic Issues List (KSIL) developed and maintained by the USSOCOM J5; Strategy, Plans, and Policy Directorate. These topics reflect a consensus of the SOF experts who participated in the Special Operations Research Topics Workshop as particularly worthwhile in addressing immediate SOF needs and in building future capacity for emerging challenges. Topics may be narrowed or otherwise modified as necessary to suit school writing requirements or maximize individual interests and experiences.


The 2005 Iraqi Sunni Awakening: The Role of the Desert Protectors Program by William Knarr

Dr. Knarr tells the story of Al Sahawa, the Awakening, in Iraq from a different perspective than most narratives. Many associate the beginning of the movement with Sheikh Sattar Albu-Risha's 14 September 2006 proclamation in Ramadi, where he coined the term Al Sahawa. However, Dr. Knarr contends that the Anbar Awakening, as a movement, started  12 months prior to the Sheikh's proclamation. As a movement, the Awakening began in the northwest of Al Anbar, in Al Qaim District along the Syrian/Iraqi border with the Albu-Mahal tribe. The Albu-Mahal, in what would become a fight for survival, realized that they could not fight Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) on their own and pleaded for help from the Coalition and the Government of Iraq. The foundation for developing that partnership was a little known program called the "Desert Protectors." The development of the Desert Protectors has tremendous lessons for today as a newly formed Coalition organizes to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant(ISIL), an outgrowth of AQI.


Saudi Arabia: Modernity, Stability, and the Twenty-First Century Monarchy by Roby Barrett

Dr. Roby Barrett's newest monograph will help Special Operations Forces better appreciate the historical, domestic, regional, and other influences on the worldview and decision-making of Saudi Arabia's leaders, particularly those issues that have a significant impact on U.S.-Saudi security relationships. His monograph is a fascinating, condensed history of Saudi Arabia, focused on events and decisions that influence the modern political worldview of citizens in that country. For example, a history of tribes being ruled by outsiders; the pros and cons of alliances with the British and (more recently) the U.S., the impact of global geopolitics (e.g. Cold War), and the impact of regional neighbors' policies and events on Saudi Arabia's domestic and foreign policies (to include its relationship with the U.S.). This volume explains the importance of politically shrewd and pragmatic leaders and the ways that Iran's ambitions and policies threaten Saudi Arabia's regional influence, as well as how the historical fracturing of the U.S.-Iran relationship played well for Saudi Arabia. This monograph will useful to strategists, planners, and leaders interested in the region and the U.S. relationship with the Kingdom.

Special Operations Reference Manual 2015, 4th edition


This fourth edition of the Special Operations Forces Reference Manual was redesigned to support the Joint Special Operations University's academic mission. It provides general information on U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force Special Operations Forces (SOF). More specifically, this document is designed to accomplish three broad purposes:
1. Provide a single primary source of reference material on all SOF components.
2. Provide an overview of special operations and SOF to facilitate a broader understanding of SOF capabilities to academic institutions and personnel who may not routinely use this data.
3. Provide standard SOF reference data to SOF faculty members at professional military education institutions for use in their instruction. 

The target audience for this manual spans from special operations staff officers and enlisted personnel at United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), its component and subordinate commands, the theater special operations commands, conventional force/unified commands and their staffs that may employ SOF in their areas of responsibility to partner-nation staffs, and both civilian and military educational institutions.


2015 Special Operations Essays

JSOU partnered with the Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) Chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) in sponsoring this year's annual essay contest. The first-place winner is recognized each year at the NDIA SO/LIC Symposium and awarded a $1,000 cash prize. The runner-up receives $500. The competition is open to resident and nonresident students attending Professional Military Education (PME) institutions and has produced outstanding works on special operations issues. Essay contestants can choose any topic related to special operations. Submissions include hard-hitting and relevant recommendations that are original, imaginative, and unbridled. Some entries submitted are a synopsis of larger research projects required for PME graduation or an advanced degree, while others are written specifically for the essay contest. Regardless of approach, these essays add value to the authors' professional development, provide an outlet for expressing new ideas and points of view, and contribute to the special operations community as a whole.


Building Partner Capacity by Harry R. Yarger

Dr. Rich Yarger discusses Building Partner Capacity (BPC) as a strategic necessity and contends that BPC is an essential strategic concept for any practical U.S. grand strategy. He addresses the questions of how SOF and others might think strategically about BPC in the 21st century environment and the implications of such thinking. In order to best develop this grand concept, he maintains that decision makers, strategists, and planners need to comprehend and develop a high level of strategic understanding and be able to distinguish between cooperation, partnering, and strategic partnerships among states and other  international actors. While recognizing the Joint Force and all the services and agencies play important roles in this larger picture of BPC, he reasons that USSOCOM and SOF are presented with unique opportunities and challenges in pursuit of the grand strategy. There are multiple ways of viewing the role of BPC as part of a U.S. grand or defense strategy and the place of SOF in these strategies. 

ISIS and Social Media

This is the award winning paper from the 2015 Lieutenant General Samuel V. Wilson Writing Award sponsored by the Joint Special Operations Command's Center for Counterterrorism Studies.  The author analyzes ISIS's use of social media and offers recommendations to the combatant commander on what can be done to counter the threat. The author discusses social media and demonstrates how social media represents a paradigm shift in communication, complete with significant opportunities and challenges for the operational commanders and their staff. This paper offers a brief history of ISIS as a historical frame of reference and details how ISIS uses social media in its operations. It also discusses the important role social media plays in ISIS's operational and strategic objectives and how that impacts the combatant commander's intelligence collection, lines of effort, and current/future operations. Finally, the author provides tailored suggestions for the combatant commander and staff to consider when prosecuting an information operations campaign against ISIS consistent with U.S. policy and first amendment constitutional concerns.