January 3, 2011:
The U.S. Army Special Forces are a prime source of intelligence, even when they are not in a combat zone. That's because Special Forces operators spend a lot of their time training foreign troops. Even in peacetime, about half the time, Special Forces soldiers are providing training for foreign forces. These training services are much sought after, and this provides a prime opportunity to gain intimate knowledge of foreign military organizations, as well as the countries they serve. This is no secret, but the foreign troops are learning American combat techniques, and about America. These intel efforts are more effective because Special Forces troops specialize in specific regions of the world, and can often train foreign troops in their own language.
The troops in seven U.S. Army Special Forces groups tend to spend their career in one group, the better to become experts in languages and culture in the regions each group specializes in. The 1st Special Forces Group specializes in Southeast Asia, Korea, China and the Pacific in general. The 3rd Special Forces Group covers the Caribbean and West Africa. The 5th Special Forces Group specializes in the Middle East and South Asia (including Afghanistan and Pakistan). The 7th Special Forces Group specializes in Latin America. The 10th Special Forces Group specializes in Europe (especially the Balkans). There are two groups in the reserves. The 19th Special Forces Group covers the same territory as the 1st and 5th Groups. The 20th Special Forces Group covers the same territory as the 7th Group. Each group has about 1,200 troops, and is further broken down into three battalions (each of three companies with six ODAs each.) Not all groups have their full complement of ODAs (also known as "A Teams").
The training missions enable the Special Forces operators to improve their language skills and increase their knowledge of the local cultures. They also make contact with soldiers in foreign armies and develop friendships and working relationships that can be very useful in the event of a future crises in the area.
But there are still many purely intelligence gathering missions. Many of the operations (and locations) the Special Forces are involved with around the world are secret. Some involve Special Forces troops in civilian clothes. If these operations turn up useful information, there are DELTA Force and SEAL units to come in and do the heavy lifting. If more trained manpower is needed, that's what the Rangers are for. Don't be surprised if you hear about small, sharp actions in out of the way parts of the world. Actually, some of these have taken place without attracting any, or not much, media attention. There have been several operations in Somalia, which attracted little media attention because Somalia is still a dangerous place for journalists. But not for Special Forces, SEALs or DELTA Force.