Special Operations Imperatives for Preparedness, Part One – Forward Observer Shop

Special Operations Imperatives for Preparedness, Part One

United States military doctrine recognizes 12 “Special Operations Imperatives” that are critical to mission-planning and execution for operational success. Although developed for Special Operations Forces (SOF), these imperatives apply to any organization engaged in Unconventional Warfare (UW), whether paramilitary resistance or a group of families concerned with preparing to defend against the onslaught of Cannibalistic San Franciscans.

1. Understand the Operational Environment

Too often, the untutored in UW consider the concept that guerrillas must “know their area” as simply knowing the physical terrain of their immediate operational area. The reality is that understanding the operational environment involves both internal and external factors. Understanding the external factors is critical to maximizing the effective use of critical limited resources in order to accomplish the tactical, operational, and strategic goals. The internal factors are necessary in order to guide the actions of the resistance in a fluid and unstructured environment.

Internal factors obviously include knowing, and more importantly understanding, the Mission/Enemy/Terrain & Weather/Troops-Time Available/Civil Considerations (METT-TC) factors of their operational environment, as in any military operation. Leaders and planners must also understand the motivations and causes of the resistance, the claims to legitimacy, lest they illegitimize the movement themselves, through improper or inappropriate decision-making and the demographics of both the resistance and the local civilian populace. Leaders and planners must know the strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and actual power centers of friendly, enemy, and unaligned organizations and social networks, as well as the goals of each organization, and the relationships that exist between different organizations.

For the “generalist prepper,” these considerations still apply. What are your ultimate goals? Simple survival, or are you seeking a certain quality of life within that goal of survival? How does the anticipated conflict impact that quality of life goal? What do you know, or what can you learn, about the other non-governmental organizations and alliances in your area, and how do you anticipate that those will impact your plans? Is there a militia group in your area? What will the Sheriff’s Department personnel do in a grid-down? What about other “prepper” or survivalist groups in the area? What about criminal gangs or organizations?

Ultimately, as with any conflict, the civilian populace is the critical factor at play in the battle space. Resistance leaders and planners must understand the demography, culture, beliefs and taboos, customs, history, goals, and expectations of the civilian populace. Most critically, they must understand the dynamics of these factors, and their inter-relationships, among the different aspects of society within their operational environment. They must be aware of who can influence and control whom, how that influence can be achieved and exercised, and the limitations of that influence.

What can you do to ensure the support of your neighbors who are not preppers? Is there someone in your group or community that has an inordinate impact and influence on the local community? How can you leverage that to ensure voluntary compliance of the neighbors with your goals and aims? What are the likely actions of your neighbors in your community, absence any influence? Will they stay home and starve? Will they step up and go to raising food? Will they go hunting for food wherever they can mass enough force to take it?

External factors must include an understanding of the role outside influences play on the resistance. These can range from the influence of foreign government and non-government organizations, the impact the national and international press, and the goals and motivations of each and every external player in the conflict, as well as the inter-relationship dynamics at play between those organizations.

Leaders and planners must be able to understand, visualize, and act on unforeseen circumstances and events. They must possess a thorough and clear comprehension of the actual goals of the resistance, and their organization within the resistance.

2.  Recognize Political Implications

Clausewitz famously stated that “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” Nowhere within the spectrum of armed conflict is this more true than in UW. Due to the impact that the opinions and beliefs of the local civilian populace has on the ability of irregular forces to operate effectively, UW is ultimately nothing but politics. Every act, from informal conversations with locals to the planning and execution of military actions, has a political impact. Machismo-laden hyperbole has no place in the development and prosecution of a resistance. Resistance leaders and planners must consider both the short- and long-term implications of their acts on the political institutions and allegiances within the operational environment.

What impact is your planning and execution of your survival planning going to have on your relations with neighbors? It’s a cool idea to string concertina wire around your property, and throw up guard towers and anti-tank ditches, but how is that going to impact your relationships with your neighbors?

What about the fact that, post-breakdown, you obviously have food and security, while your neighbors are worried about whether their kids are going to be eaten before they starve, or end up kidnapped and sold into servitude? How will you address the political implications of your preparedness in light of the lack of preparedness in the general population? You can’t shoot everyone, and hiding only works until somebody stumbles across your hiding place. You’d better have a realistic, workable plan for dealing with the politics.

3. Facilitate Interagency Activities

As a result of its inherent political nature, military operations represent only one small part of the effort, and these are generally not the most important part. Resistance leaders and planners, especially within the guerrilla force, must recognize the vitality of both the underground and the auxiliary to their success. UW is an interagency effort. Throughout the operational planning process, leaders and planners must strive for unity of effort and recognize the importance and difficult, of ensuring that all elements are seeking not only the same operational and strategic objectives, but are not getting in the way of each other in doing so.

Can you develop relationships now between your group and other groups in the area that will facilitate post-disaster coordination? Have you started developing contacts within your community amongst those that don’t have the ability, physical or mental, to provide active security, to engage in barter for goods in return for security? If you know you can’t realistically provide for the community security through active patrolling tasks, have you started developing that capability in others? Have you made attempts to communicate with your local militia group or other prepper groups to let them know that you have assets to support their efforts to provide community security?

4. Engage the Threat Discriminately

The UW leadership must know when, where, and how to apply the focused force of assets based on short- and long-term operational and strategic objectives. This involves three concepts that must be considered constantly.

The first concerns the selection and distribution of resources, both personnel and materials. The selection of personnel for operations must not be made on the basis of “faces filling spaces.” Personnel need to be capable, qualified, trained, and necessary. Minimizing the number of people and the amount of equipment necessary to achieve an objective, while maximizing the chances of achieving that objective, is the desired outcome. This means that training should be realistic, effective, and continuously on-going, to ensure that there are always personnel available that are capable, qualified, and trained. Your 90-year old granny, who suffers from narcolepsy is probably not the person to throw into a LP/OP for security. At the same time, if you’re 60 years old, with bad knees and back, and are 50lbs overweight, besides cutting out the excuses and getting yourself into better shape, you’re probably not the guy that should be conducting the security patrol. Figure out what valuable skills you have to use instead. The second concept in play is the limitations of resources in the UW environment, especially for the resistance. Even today, in the absence of active violent resistance, with relative freedom-of-movement still possible, financial and time resources can be extremely limited. Those resources must be used to maximum advantage. This includes not wasting time and effort on ineffective or inappropriate training tasks, while leveraging the available training opportunities to be multi-functional and cover as much ground as possible. Focus on developing training that takes advantage of the resources you have available to you now, but that require little, if any modification, as more advanced or greater resources become available. The third concept for consideration under this imperative deals with tactical considerations. Tactical operations must be carefully targeted to ensure success, through leveraging the tactical strengths of the resistance, while avoiding alienating the civilian populace through the indiscriminate application of force. It can also relate to the second concept above, by focusing training tasks and standards on the achievement of discriminate marksmanship and tactics. You know, things like, “don’t kill the wrong people.”

5. Consider Long Term Effects

Unconventional Warfare has also been termed “the Long War.” UW efforts are inherently long-term efforts. Tactical-level victories are useless if they do not support the long-term operational and strategic goals, even if those goals are non-military in nature. Each problem the resistance faces must be viewed and studied through the lens of the broader political, military, and sociological/psychological prism.

Accept the realistic political constraints to avoid strategic failure in your problem-solving, while achieving short-term tactical successes that are pointless. Never sacrifice the long-term out of a misguided desire for short-term “feel good” tactical successes. Planning and execution of operations must remain always consistent with the movement’s strategic goals at all times.

At the same time you’re planning short-term operations to achieve long-term goals, accept the reality that shit ain’t going to get better next week. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for the long haul. A year’s worth of food storage is great…until it’s a year and a half later, or ten years later. Plan for the long term. If it takes less time, well, then you get bonus points.

6. Maintain Legitimacy and Credibility

Due to the significant moral and political implications inherent to an UW effort, legitimacy in the eyes of the civilian populace is the single most important factor in developing and maintaining support. Without this support, the resistance will lack the ability to function on even the most limited basis, without risking compromise from disgruntled members of the community. Legitimacy can most readily be destroyed if the resistance is seen to either not act in accordance with its stated purpose and beliefs, and through an inability to provide the services the civilian populace demands of it, in lieu of those same services from the regime.

Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, compromise the morals values you hold dear, even at the cost of your life. If you compromise your values, you’re giving up the life you claim to want to keep. Maintain your moral discipline.

Next Monday, we’ll publish SOF Imperatives for Preparedness 7-12.

John Mosby is a former U.S. Army Special Operations soldier. He lives somewhere in the mountains.

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