The war against the Taliban and international terrorism focused global attention on the U.S. military. In the first months of this new war, the United States conducted both air and ground operations in Afghanistan in support of the Northern Alliance and moved politically and militarily closer to Pakistan. As 2001 came to a close, the U.S. military campaign appeared to be successful, although the political outcome remained unclear. The air campaign captured the initial spotlight, but soon the more intriguing focus was on the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces (SOF), because they functioned on the ground in close conjunction with the Northern Alliance.
The war on terrorism may be a new sort of conflict, but the role played in it by the Special Forces is not at all “new.” The origins of Special Forces stem from the legacy of unconventional conflicts in the American past, and while their history has been difficult and at times troubling, their place in the American political-military system has become increasing secure.