Marine Special Ops Needs to Do More than kick down doors, says Berger

  • The top naval general takes the corps back to its naval roots in the midst of a shift to superpower competition.
  • This has implications for the corps’ special operators, Marine Forces Special Operations Command.
  • Marine Raiders have “great value” that conventional forces do not have, says General David Berger.

U.S. special operations forces have been at the forefront for more than 20 years.

These forces have played a major role in US counter-terrorism and insurgency campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. But with Russia and China posing a growing challenge, the Pentagon is looking at how to apply these operators’ unique skills in a different environment.

Every U.S. military branch has brainstormed how its special operators can contribute. For the Marine Forces Special Operations Command, the issue is particularly relevant.

SOCOM’s newest member


US Marine Raiders in front of a Japanese dugout at Bougainville in the Solomon Islands in January 1944.

US Marine Corps image

The other U.S. military branches established their special operations commands in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The US Special Operations Command, a combatant command that oversees each branch’s special operations component, was formed in 1987.

The Marine Corps opposed invitations to contribute to SOCOM because of a belief that “every Marine is special” and that Marines did not create separate special forces. However, the corps eventually gave in, and MARSOC joined SOCOM in 2006.

The Marine Raider Regiment, as the naval unit attached to SOCOM is known, specializes in direct action missions such as raids, special reconnaissance operations and foreign internal defense – training and advising partner forces. They can also carry out unconventional warfare, which involves working with proxy fighters and counter-terrorism operations.

“MARSOC originally started with a unique organizational structure and capabilities,” which was unparalleled in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command or in the Naval Special Warfare Command, retired Marine Raider Maj. Fred Galvin to Insider.

Marine Corps Special Operations MARSOC

Marines attend MARSOC’s Assessment and Selection Course in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, January 30, 2015.

US Marine Corps / Sgt. Donovan Lee

“These capabilities provided a very robust ‘raid’ capability with an organic infantry security team that even Tier 1 units do not have in their organic organization, nor do Tier 1 units have available for integrated training throughout their training life cycle. before deployment. “, Galvin added.

Galvin is the author of “A Few Bad Men”, an account of the first Marine Special Operations combat deployment to Afghanistan and how it overcame attacks from all sides.

Throughout the global war on terror, the Marine Raiders deployed and fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and across Africa. The Marine Raiders made headlines in January 2020, when they were the first to respond to an al-Shabab attack on a Kenyan military base that killed three Americans.

With the end of major combat operations in the Middle East and the consequent decline in the demand for counter-terrorism and insurgency, MARSOC has competed with Naval Special Warfare and Army Special Operations for funds and missions.

Culture, language and low-visibility operations

Marine Raider Battalion

Marines with 3rd Marine Raider Battalion during urban combat training in Camp Lejeune, 17 November 2016.

US Marine Corps / Cpl. Christopher A. Mendoza

During a conference in February, U.S. Marine Corps Commander-in-Chief David Berger offered an insight into how Marine Corps special operations forces can fight in the future.

With the war on terror settled, SOCOM has declared a need to better balance the deterrence of strategic rivals with counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Having a forward-looking force working with allies and partners around the world to build credible defenses against almost equal opponents, such as China and Russia, is as important as targeting violent extremist organizations.

In order for MARSOC to support such a focal point, Berger described an emphasis on low visibility and operational preparation of battlefield operations, which are not combat operations but prepare a combat space for potential kinetic actions.

Marine Raider Regiment free parachute

Members of the Marine Raider Regiment perform a freefall jump from an MV-22B Osprey over North Carolina, September 1, 2015.

US Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Austin A. Lewis

Marine Marine’s “great value is their persistent presence going forward and in their deeper cultural and linguistic” skills, as well as “their connection through the national team into the nation,” Berger said. “Conventional forces usually have none of that.”

For example, a Marine Raider team could enter Kenya to map roads, secure homes, active or potential runways, and other points of interest that could be used to support the rapid deployment of special carriers in response to an attack.

To conduct such operations, special operations units must have mature troops capable of interfering with the environment, and the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the American special operations community facilitates this goal. For example, units such as the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group, which is affiliated with Central and South America, emphasize these cultural connections and tailor their language teaching to that region.

Special operators with these backgrounds and skills can interfere in where they operate, making it easier to connect with potential partners and harder for rival forces to detect them.

‘Back to naval roots’

Marine special operations helocast VBSS

Marines with 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion helocaster during visit, board, search and seizure training near Camp Pendleton, California.

US Marine Corps / Cpl. Kyle McNally

Berger has sought to reorient the Marine Corps against the maritime empire after years of fighting in places like Afghanistan, and he said he would like to see a similar shift for the Marine Raiders.

“Hopefully, if you were to look two or three or four years into the future, [MARSOC] would follow a similar path as the rest of the Marine Corps, back to the naval roots [and] how does it support naval expeditionary forces going forward, “Berger said at the National Defense Industrial Association conference.

Berger’s push to drop “big heavy stuff” and build a smaller, lighter, more naval-focused force has won support in Congress and among Pentagon leaders, but it has also withdrawn. More than two dozen retired generals have launched a campaign against it.

Like other U.S. special operations units, the Marine Forces Special Operations Command has felt the strain of the last 20 years of almost constant combat operations in the Middle East and Africa. But that experience has also provided the experience and capabilities that the command can use for great power competition in the future.

MARSOC has come a long way in developing “greater combat capabilities and integration with more assets, giving their deployable forces increased mortality that did not previously exist,” Galvin said.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (National Service with 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

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