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Last Updated: 06 February, 2017

1.0     Introduction

This article is about the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) whose remit includes joint standing development, training and exercises for US special operations forces.

The article will look at the background, organisation, and role and responsibilities of JSOC, as well as provide some useful links.

2.0     Background

Logo, JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command, US, Special Forces USSOCOMThe United States Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was established on 22 October 1980 to provide a standing headquarters (HQ) to run joint operations, as a result of the failed attempt earlier in 1980 to rescue hostages in Iran (Priest & Arkin, 2011; McNab, 2013; Naylor, 2015).

Operation Eagle Claw was conceived to rescue 52 US hostages held captive in the US embassy in Tehran, Iran. The operation, over 24-25 April 1980, involved the US Army’s Delta Force (in its first combat outing), and US Air Force and US Marine Corps assets.

After only six of the eight helicopters made it to the rendezvous site, the operation was cancelled, then a C-130 Hercules refuelling plane crashed into one of the helicopters killing eight personnel (five airmen and three marines). The remaining helicopters were abandoned at the rendezvous site.

Operation Eagle Claw was both a tragedy and a very public embarrassment for the US special operations community, and as a result JSOC was established, at Fort Bragg (North Carolina), with responsibility for coordinating inter-service training and operations between what are known as the ‘Tier 1’ Special Mission Units (such as Delta Force, the Navy Special Warfare Development Group/DEVRGU (SEAL Team Six), and the US Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron).

3.0     Organisation of JSOC

JSOC is a sub-unified command of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and is commanded by an OF-8 level officer, who is assisted by a Deputy Commander (an OF-6 level officer) and a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9).

In 2012, headquarters (HQ) JSOC had a total strength of 1,519 personnel or 2.4% of USSSOCOMs strength of 63,650 (Robinson, 2013).

As a joint command, JSOC consists of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and civilians who have passed a rigorous, selective screening process. Although JSOC posts are predominantly filled by officers, applicants must be in grades E-5 thru E-8 for enlisted and 0-3 thru 0-6 for officers.

JSOC is considered the US’s premier force (superlatively the Elite of the Elite or Best of the Best) and consequently its core consists of (Priest & Arkin, 2015):

Priest and Arkin (2011) state that: “…JSOC has grown from 1,800 troops prior to 9/11 [2001] to as many as 25,000, a number that fluctuates according to its mission. It has its own intelligence division, its own drones and reconnaissance planes, even its own dedicated satellites. It also has its own cyberwarriors, who, on Sept. 11, 2008, shut down every jihadist Web site they knew.”

4.0     JSOC Role and Responsibilities

JSOC is responsible for:

  • Studying special operations requirements and techniques;
  • Ensure interoperability and equipment standardisation;
  • Planning and conducting special operations exercises and training; and
  • Developing joint special operations tactics.

However, there has been some controversy regarding the use of JSOC (Naylor, 2015). Priest and Arkin (2011) tell us that: “Obscurity has been one of the unit’s hallmarks. When JSOC officers are working in civilian government agencies or U.S. embassies abroad, which they do often, they dispense with uniforms, unlike their other military comrades. In combat, they wear no name or rank identifiers. They have hidden behind various nicknames: the Secret Army of Northern Virginia, Task Force Green, Task Force 11, Task Force 121. JSOC leaders almost never speak in public. They have no unclassified Web site.”

5.0     Useful Links

6.0     References

McNab, C. (2013) America’s Elite: US Special Forces from the American Revolution to the Present Day. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Naylor, S. (2015) Inside the Pentagon’s Manhunting Machine: A Brief History of Special Operations, from Panama to the War on Terror. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/08/jsoc-manhunt-special-operations-pentagon/402652/. [Accessed: 01 January, 2016].

Priest, D. & Arkin, W.M. (2011) ‘Top Secret America’: A Look at the Military’s Joint Special Operations Command. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/top-secret-america-a-look-at-the-militarys-joint-special-operations-command/2011/08/30/gIQAvYuAxJ_story.html. [Accessed: 01 January, 2016].

Robinson, L. (2013) Council Special Report No.66, April 2013: The Future of U.S. Special Operations Forces. New York, NY: Council on Foreign Relations.