Small Wars Journal

Women: A NATO Special Operations Forces Force Multiplier

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 8:45am

Women: A NATO Special Operations Forces Force Multiplier

Marius Kristiansen


Women’s rights in society have been discussed for decades. Questions about rights to vote, right to work, right to choose whom to marry, and right to abortion have all been considered in countries around the world. Each of these questions indirectly addresses whether providing basic human rights to women is important. As of now, in the developed world, most people agree that women should be provided with these rights (if they do not already have them) and that these rights should be preserved and protected for women. Another question addresses women’s right to serve their country by doing military service. In several countries, including the United States, the discussion has transitioned from a discussion of whether women should even have the right to perform military service at all to whether women should have the right to serve in combat units.

Different Practices Based on Different National Opinions

Several countries have acknowledged for years that women have a right to serve in the military, and some countries like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have further acknowledged that women have the same rights as men when it comes to serving in a combat unit.[1] It is important to be aware that opinions differ at the national level; thus, some nations have allowed women to serve in combat units, and some nations have not. Some nations have granted this right for purely short-term political reasons; it was a politically necessary campaign issue at the time of one or more elections. Some nations have allowed this because of a small population; they need everyone to contribute in some way. Some nations have done this because of long-term political reasons, based on overarching national policies or international policies, such as United Nations resolutions. But few nations have opened military service to women based upon an analysis of military necessity or whether a mixed distribution of gender in all units will enhance the effectiveness of the military organization.  

What Value Does Mixed Gender Distribution Add to Military Organizations?

Based upon a combination of what I know about the current conflict environment and my personal predictions about the future conflict environment, I find the question of whether a mixed distribution of gender adds value to military organizations to be highly relevant. Since men have historically been allowed, and sometimes required, to serve across the entire military organization, the actual question here is what difference, if any, adding women to the mix will make.

Do women only add value? Do women only subtract value? Is it that black or white? In my opinion, the answer to these questions is not that simple. Given the range of military specialties, I do not think it is possible to argue that women in the infantry, for example, will always add or subtract the same value as women working in logistics. Along the same lines, it does not seem fair to argue that the same value always will be added or subtracted by women working in staffs that develop overarching joint and interagency policies when compared to women working in staffs that develop tactical plans covering fire and maneuver at the battalion level. There also appears to be a difference in the value added by a female general leading a coalition of forces in a stability operation versus a female general leading an army in an existential war against a highly capable enemy. I am not arguing—at least not yet—that gender adds or subtracts any particular value while filling these different positions. I do think that there is a difference in the impact of women’s military service, depending on where they are assigned to serve.

Cohesion—A Tricky Concept

The question of the impact of women’s military service is connected to the concept of cohesion, which is important for most organizations to function smoothly. Cohesion is a tricky concept because it is challenging to measure, it can change over time, and it concerns both the individual and a group. Cohesion is connected to culture, which has many of the same attributes as cohesion. Academics define culture in numerous ways, and there is no universal understanding of what the concept of culture—or cohesion for that matter—consists of. There is some agreement that culture is connected to values, and since different people have different values, there will be different cultures. This applies to a military organization: even though the military can select its personnel and shape a social group to a larger extent than other organizations and cultural groups, different cultures can exist within different military units based on the different values of the members of these units. Cohesion forms in different units based on different things, and likewise, cohesion can be ruined or degraded by factors that differ across units. In an infantry unit, where the core values often are related to being effective, masculine, tough, strong, just, and unaffected when facing an enemy at close range, cohesion is generated and degenerated in ways that differ from how cohesion is generated in a logistics unit, where the core values often are related to being effective, precise, solution-oriented, cooperative, and supportive when providing logistical support to own forces. Cohesion forms and degenerates still differently in a Special Operations Forces unit as well. The values of a unit will define its culture, and since culture and cohesion are interconnected, the values are what determine whether cohesion forms. That is why I believe it is possible to integrate women in many military units, without degenerating cohesion to the extent that the net value added is negative. I actually believe that cohesion will increase in some cases. But at the same time, we must be honest enough to admit that in some units it is not possible to produce this positive effect. But in my opinion, that is not (or at least, should not be) the case for Special Operations Forces.

Do We Need a Mixed-Gender Organization?

I personally believe the following: women and men should in general have the same rights; it is healthy for most environments and organizations to have a balanced mix of men and women; keeping relevant standards is important for the military; women and men should be held to the same standards if they do the same job; and it is possible for women to meet SOF standards. It is important for some nations in the developed world to be good role models for implementation of resolutions like UN 1325,[2] which addresses Women, Peace and Security, to make other countries adopt it in a relevant manner. Military necessity in the existing security environment and the potential for a more effective military organization should be the deciding factors for whether women should be able to serve in combat units. If, after a rigorous analysis of these factors, the net sum of value added and subtracted is positive, then women and men should be permitted to serve together in the same units.

I suspect that not many people would disagree with me on that count. If a new type of organization is more efficient than another, then it is foolish to continue using the old construct. Therefore it is quite interesting for me to see that the current debate often bypasses foundational questions covering military necessity in a more or less elegant manner.

There appears to be a lack of interest in acknowledging the fact that a military organization needs women to meet the challenges in the existing environment and that a mixed gender organization will then indirectly make the military more effective. The current debate addresses questions that seem to me to be childish, populist/tabloid, and of a character that is not appropriate for an important discussion like this one.

The Discussion of Women in the Military

Instead of being based on relevant analysis of identified operational requirements, the current discussion just drowns in a pool of arguments that I find damaging for both the debate and the development of a more efficient military.

To better explain myself, I would like to provide a caricature of the current debate. On one hand, there are arguments made by mainly angry, middle-aged white men saying that women are not strong enough physically or psychologically, have menstrual periods, and ruin cohesion in units because all men view women as sexual objects first and human beings next, and because men will not be able to operate effectively with women present. On the other hand, there are arguments made by middle-aged women of all shapes, sizes, and races, who often have no desire to serve in the military, arguing that women by principle should have the same rights as men, and that alone should force the military to have a 50-50 gender representation in its organization. Some of these women even argue that, since women have been excluded from military service for so long, they should be given special benefits and held to different standards—meaning lower standards—than men when they do military service. Both sides in this debate seem to be more emotionally invested in keeping women out of the military or getting women into the military on principle, than actually considering what is best for an efficient military organization for the future.

The Current Security Environment vs. Future Security Environment

The current security environment is more complex than that of the past. Today’s militaries encounter asymmetric conflicts of unconventional, irregular, hybrid, and sometimes, conventional character.[3] Several academics and military officers have tried to explain what the environment currently consists of and what to expect in the future. Most of these explanations have been criticized in some way. Some have been accused of focusing too much on the European context, some have been accused of being too focused on the irregular context of warfare, some have been criticized for focusing on old tactics while discussing the current battlefield, and some have been accused of being too focused on new domains and technologies. Nevertheless, from a NATO point of view, I find all of these perspectives relevant for gaining situational awareness of both the current and the future security environment.

The Current Security Environment

The explanations for why the current environment is more complex compared to the past are many. William Lind describes his view of modern war and the current conflict environment: modern conflicts are smaller and more local, more culture-based, more diverse, and more political than earlier conflicts.[4] At the same time, Lind acknowledges that not everything is new, innovative, or unprecedented when investigating the tactics now in use. Indirectly supported by retired General James Mattis,[5] Lind argues that many of the tactics that may be defined as new by some people are, in fact, rather old tactics—some as old as the concept of the nation-state—reappearing in what he defines as the fourth generation of warfare.[6]

The retired British general Sir Rupert Smith argues in his book, Utility of Force, that lately there has been a paradigm shift in warfare, from wars mainly between nation-states, described as “interstate industrial wars,” to a “war amongst the people.” Smith highlights six areas where it is possible to divide the two paradigms:

  • The ends we fight for have changed.[7]
  • The fighting is now conducted where people live.[8]
  • The conflicts seem to never face an end.[9]
  • The conflicts consist of mostly non-state actors.[10]
  • Some actors are not willing to do what it takes to win a conflict.[11]
  • Weapons systems and ways of organization, developed for interstate industrial war, are applied to the new paradigm.[12]

The Future Security Environment

The famous Danish scientist Niels Bohr is known for saying, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”[13] With my limited capacity, I am quick to acknowledge that predicting future events can be challenging. Nevertheless, some acknowledged academics have tried to do so, and I now present three different future predictions to show that the future security environment represents challenges beyond what we have acknowledged in the past.

David Kilcullen

In his book Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla, David Kilcullen points out four trends in his attempt to predict what the future conflict environment will look like. Urbanization, severe population growth, littoralization, and enhanced connectedness in underdeveloped countries are the trends that he believes will affect the conflict environment the most.[14]

John Arquilla

In his book Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World, John Arquilla conducts a historical analysis of a number of wars that had an irregular character. His assessment, is that future fights “are more likely to take an irregular hue,”[15] and that “conflicts will unfold largely along irregular lines, in either the physical or virtual world, or both.”[16] Arquilla argues that there are five related pairs of concepts that shape the irregular conflicts of today and that these will continue to shape the future in important ways.[17] These concepts are

  • transformation and integration,[18]
  • cooptation and infiltration,[19]
  • narratives and nation building,[20]
  • networks and swarming,[21] and
  • deep strikes and infrastructure attacks.[22]

To be able to succeed in future conflicts, a deep understanding of how to employ the mentioned concepts is needed.[23]

Martin Van Creveld

In his book The Transformation of War, Martin Van Creveld predicts the future security environment to consist of mainly low-intensity conflicts. Future low intensity conflicts will represent significant challenges compared to what the world is prepared for. Creveld argues that the future security environment will need other types of military organizations beyond those that exist today. The world will have to face an intermingled fight that will be rooted in a population,[24] not fought by militaries but by fanatical ideologically-based organizations.[25] The security organizations for the future fight therefore need to be of an unconventional character and must be prepared to participate in an intermingled fight on behalf of a political community instead of a conventional military.[26] These conditions lead to a number of changes, or developments, beyond the earlier conventional understanding of the security environment and its conventions of warfare.

How Does the Environment Relate to Women in SOF?

From the descriptions of the current security environment and the predictions of the future environment presented so far in this article, it is obvious to me that including women in the organizational mix will add value and make the military more effective. While adding women may not make the military more effective in every setting or situation, I am confident that the net sum will be positive. By not integrating women, we will limit our military’s effectiveness. We should make serious effort to make the internal cultural transition/shift—which is necessary if someone is in doubt—and integrate women into relevant roles.            

The Current Environment

Rupert Smith described the current security paradigm as “war amongst the people,”[27] a fight for new ends,[28] never-ending conflicts,[29] conducted by non-state actors that are willing to do what it takes to win,[30] versus some actors that are not willing to do what it takes to win.[31] Lind described modern conflicts to be “smaller and more local, more cultural based, more diverse, and more political than earlier conflicts.”[32] Almost half of the world’s population consists of women.[33] Some cultures prohibit interaction between men and women, and some cultures do not allow women to contribute officially in politics but give them significant roles in other aspects of society. By not having women represented in our military organization, we will limit our own reach in the current security environment as described by Smith and Lind.

The Future Environment

If we look at the future security environment, the limitations in the military organization will most likely be even more obvious. World population is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050.[34] The anticipated growth in the world’s population is in line with David Kilcullen’s predictions about the future conflict environment.[35] The other trends he identifies—urbanization in littoral areas and enhanced connectedness[36]—are also limiting military effectiveness if our fighting force lack women. John Arquilla’s argument about networks and swarming makes it even clearer that we are limiting ourselves.[37] Without integration of women, our own network is limited in many situations, which indirectly limits our potential access to an opponent’s network. This also points back to what Arquilla argued in regards to transformation and integration,[38] cooptation and infiltration,[39] narratives and nation building,[40] and deep strikes and infrastructure attacks.[41] It is important to have a relevant fighting force, and in the future, women will be an important component in the “skillful blending of conventional and irregular troops and operations,”[42] which according to Arquilla is a key characteristic. Having women integrated and operating in relevant roles within our fighting force will provide the military organization with new ways to infiltrate other networks or organizations; new possibilities when it comes to recruiting potential proxies; access and cover in the new types of terrain, and thereby indirectly an increased mobility and an increased reach for deep strikes and infrastructure attacks; and new ways to communicate a compelling narrative to a larger audience.

Martin van Creveld’s future prediction also calls for a military organization consisting of both men and women. The low intensity conflict–type of intermingled fight he describes will require unconventional and innovative approaches conducted by people who are willing to go to the limits of their personal and professional morale to get the job done. No one will be protected for the new types of conflict.[43] According to van Creveld, in the future, a strategy will still be necessary to win a war, even though it may be more challenging to construct.[44] Understanding a potential enemy will be essential to producing a relevant strategy for outwitting and deceiving an enemy in order to win a future fight. For example, a recent Council on Foreign Relations analysis of 30 countries shows that, because women are substantially more likely than men to be early victims of extremism, women are well positioned to detect early signs of radicalization.[45] This kind of information and understanding is highly relevant to appreciate when constructing future strategies. So, without a female perspective while building understanding, and without the ability to relate to a large portion of a population, strategists could produce a more limited strategy than they would if women figured in the analysis.

The future demands a military capable of conducting policing operations,[46] not only high intensity warfare. This also requires women in the organization to exploit its full potential, that is, if the military takes policing responsibilities seriously. The military must be able to help, support, and interact with the population as a whole, and without female presence, it will not be possible, especially in locations where the local culture limits the interactions between men and women.

While conducting these types of policing missions, new types of technologies and tactics must be applied. It will not be acceptable, or desirable for that matter (at least from a strategy perspective), to employ expensive and overwhelming/massive weapon systems while fulfilling a policing function. Instead of avoiding risk to the warfighter’s own personnel by killing people from a distance, in a classic 2001–2005 counterinsurgency fashion, future warfighters might have to be willing to accept personal risk and interact with people in a police fashion. By accepting the fact that police-type missions and interactions will be more important in the future, the military indirectly accepts a higher risk. Situational awareness and understanding of the population will become even more important than ever, especially related to personal security for the members of the force. Even though it is likely that future conflicts will include tactics like improvised explosive devices, assassinations, and the use of child soldiers, the willingness to gain information and an advantage in situational awareness must be something to work toward. It is clear that women integrated in relevant roles in the force might help us gain that advantage.

What Are Relevant Roles?

Martin van Creveld has argued that women have no relevant function in the military.[47] Nevertheless, in his prediction of the future, he states that the intermingled fight which is to come “will affect people of all ages and both sexes.”[48] Further, he argues that “in vast parts of the world no man, woman, and child alive today will be spared the consequences of the newly-emerging forms of warfare.”[49] My understanding of this prediction is that everyone will potentially be affected and that everyone can potentially contribute to the fight in some function or role. According to David Tucker and Christopher J. Lamb in their United States Special Operations Forces, “there is no compelling evidence that women in SOF will make SOF more effective.”[50] But they also argue that it might be beneficial to have women in designated roles and functions, such as Civilian Affairs and PSYOPS.[51] So, from this, it is clear to me that there is a huge potential for women’s participation within Special Operations Forces and its mission-set. There are several roles where women can add value, and the culture in SOF should be more open to women compared to other units, based on general values promoted by SOF. “Humans are more important than hardware. People—not equipment—make the critical difference. The right people, highly trained and working as a team, will accomplish the mission with the equipment available. On the other hand, the best equipment in the world cannot compensate for a lack of the right people.”[52] Also, “Quality is better than quantity. A small number of people, carefully selected, well trained, and well led, are preferable to larger numbers of troops, some of whom may not be up to the task.”[53] With values like these as a foundation, SOF culture should be able to integrate women if they are able to get the job done.

A Comparison of U.S. and NATO Doctrine

It is important to be aware that NATO Special Operations Forces doctrine and US Special Operations Forces doctrine differ slightly. Both doctrines recognize that SOF consists of specially selected, trained, educated, and equipped personnel; SOF operations can be applied throughout the whole spectrum of conflict; and SOF operations can be independent or in combination with conventional operations in order to fulfill strategic effects. But unlike U.S. SOF doctrine, NATO doctrine scales operations based on intensity, with the underlying assumption that peace and conflict are cyclic conditions. U.S. doctrine scales operations based on purpose, themes, or functions. The resulting difference is that NATO SOF doctrine, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations (AJP-3.5),[54] outlines three core tasks for SOF—Direct Action (DA), Special Reconnaissance (SR), and Military Assistance (MA)—while U.S. SOF doctrine, Special Operations (JP 3-05),[55] outlines a higher number of thematic and functional operations as SOF core tasks—SR, DA, Counterterrorism (CT), Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD), Counterinsurgency (COIN), Military Information Support Operations (MISO), Foreign Internal Defense (FID), Security Force Assistance (SFA), Unconventional Warfare (UW), Civil Affairs Operations (CA), and Foreign Humanitarian Assistance (FHA).

This different doctrinal approach and the difference in size of U.S. and NATO SOF allows U.S. SOF to assign different SOF units to one or more of the specialized doctrinal tasks, but this is not the case in most NATO countries, where SOF units often focus simultaneously on all the doctrinal tasks. The distinction between combat units and support units within SOF is not as evident in NATO as it is in the United States. Even though the distinction between combat units and support units within U.S. SOF is less noticeable today than it was earlier, it still exists,[56] which may make it more challenging to integrate women into all the roles that the situation actually requires them to fill. The current divide between combat units and support units makes it much easier to keep the women in support units even though there are roles in combat units that are suited to women. This is not automatically the case in several NATO countries.

Based on a short analysis of what the doctrinal tasks consist of, historical examples, and discussion of what the current and future security environment will demand of SOF, this article further highlights different roles that women should fill within NATO SOF in order to become “a capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of the force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment”[57]—also known as a force multiplier.

General History of SOF in NATO

Most SOF units in NATO countries originated during the Second World War. Many countries phased out their SOF units when WWII ended, just to reestablish them a decade or two later. The general public opinion after WWII was that women should not be members of the armed forces because it was a man’s job. The SOF units established after WWII were established by men for men, which led to a homogenous environment. As highlighted earlier in this article, the security environment and the ways wars are fought have changed since then. It is quite clear to me that the homogeneous, masculine, secretive SOF environment has produced social constructs,[58] which has limited SOF’s full potential for quite some while.  

Special Reconnaissance (SR)

So what is actually SR? [59] The core activity Special Reconnaissance is defined as a mode of operations applied in order to “provide specific, well-defined, and possibly time-sensitive information of strategic or operational significance.”[60] It is used to place “persistent ‘eyes on target’ in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive territory.”[61] SR can be used to “complement other collection methods where constraints are imposed by weather, terrain-masking, hostile countermeasures, or other systems’ availability.”[62] And SR can be done by using “advanced reconnaissance and surveillance techniques, JISR assets and equipment, and collection methods, sometimes augmented by the employment of indigenous assets.”[63] Activities within SR can include Environmental Reconnaissance, Threat Assessment, Target Assessment, and Post-Strike Reconnaissance.[64]       

Unexploited Potential in SR

To exploit the full potential that lies within the complete Intelligence cycle (direction, collection, processing, and dissemination),[65] the use of SR and the deliberate use of women in different intelligence-collection roles have been, and will continue to be key. There are mainly two reasons for why using women for these roles is key when it comes to future SR operations.

Psychological and Cultural Access. Women may obtain unique access to information derived from other human beings, also known as human intelligence (HUMINT). There are at least three possible scenarios that where women may be the only ones able to gain access to unique information. First, when information can be accessed and derived only from other women, especially in cultures where only women can interact with other women. Here, the unique cultural access is relevant. Second, when the information can be accessed and derived from men who will reveal this information only to women. Here it is the unique psychological access that makes a difference. Third, when information can be accessed and derived from other human beings only by introducing women as a surprising element and exploiting the potential information-momentum this may cause, for example, during tactical questioning on a target or during interrogations in an appropriate facility. In situations like this, it is a combination of the different types of access that is relevant to this discussion.

Physical Access and Concealment. Women may be able to get unique physical access to areas where they can collect information, through both HUMINT and observation or through other technical collection means. There are mainly three different scenarios where this could play out, but there are numerous of facets of these scenarios if the psychological and cultural access aspect is also taken into account. First, when the environment demands only female operators in order to avoid detection throughout the whole operation—during infiltration, the collection phase, and exfiltration. Second, when the environment demands only female operators in at least one of the phases of an operation in order to avoid detection. Three, when the environment demands female operator’s presence in one or more phases of the operation to avoid detection, as part of a mixed team. 

SR History 1 - WWII

Throughout history, there are several examples of effective SR involving women in essential roles. One example is the operations conducted by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in France during WWII. In 1941, the SOE established a unit responsible for France as its area of operations (AO), Section F.[66] When established, this unit consisted of both men and women, based on an analysis of the security environment of the time, which suggested to the SOE that gender roles in French society would affect the SOE’s operations. When the SOE recruited operators for this unit, the two most important selection criteria were French language skills and an operator’s ability to appear French.[67] The environment of the time demanded men and women to act differently to fit in.[68] For example, men who lived in rural areas were expected to be more socially active compared to women, something that made it more challenging for male SOE operatives to keep their cover compared to the female operatives. This led to women working for longer periods and gaining more intelligence without being compromised compared to men.[69]

SR History 2 - SR/FET in Afghanistan

Another example of SR involving women in essential roles is the use of Female Engagement Teams (FETs) in Afghanistan, which was initiated by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in 2009–2010.[70] These teams consisted of female soldiers, NCOs, and officers. The intent was to “develop trust-based and enduring relationships with the Afghan women they [encountered] on patrols,”[71] “in order to engage the female populace” in Afghanistan.[72] Even though the FET concept has received criticism for having a vague mandate, personnel not being prepared for the task,[73] and for creating false expectations future Afghan governments cannot fulfill,[74] I believe that if the FETs had been prepared for the task before them and if these teams had been used as they were intended, these teams would have obtained physical access to areas, and psychological and cultural access to information, where men could not get access.

SR Roles that Demand Women

So, the partial conclusion here is that there are roles and tasks/missions within SR operations that demand women if an operation is to be executed successfully. There is a demand for a female SR-operator in several roles for SOF to be a relevant and effective tool for the future. The spectrum of roles stretches from being an individual operator who is the main effort during a SR-operation and who collects intelligence through HUMINT, observation, or other technical means on one end, to being an operator as a part of a team, who is only a supporting—but essential—asset gaining physical, psychological, or cultural access to information on the other end of the spectrum.

Direct Action (DA). What is actually DA? [75] The core activity Direct Action is defined as “offensive operations conducted by SOF which [are] limited in scope and duration in order to seize, destroy, disrupt, capture, exploit, recover, or damage high value or high pay-off targets.”[76] DA consists of different types of offensive operations, including “raids, Ambushes, Assaults, Terminal Guidance Operations, Recovery Operations, Precision Destruction Operations, and Opposed boarding operations.”[77]

DA can represent a high level of risk for own forces, and the techniques used in DA are potentially physically demanding. The level of precision expected during DA might be high; it is anticipated specific effects by the use of DA; and, DA operations usually involve a “planned withdrawal from the immediate objective area.”[78] From my point of view, this activity is the most concrete of NATO’s defined core activities. DA is the activity where the physical condition of a SOF unit’s personnel and equipment matters most. A unit consisting of operators who are the strongest, have the best endurance, shoot the most accurately, shoot the fastest, and so on will be better suited to DA operations compared to a unit consisting of operators who are weaker, have less endurance, shoot less accurately, shoot more slowly, and so on. Because women in general are not likely to be stronger or to have better endurance compared to the men that usually sign up for SOF duty, there are no obvious reasons why women should contribute to any DA role.  

Nevertheless, the less obvious reasons make the difference here. The less obvious reasons tell us that, in the future, it will be highly relevant to let the very few extraordinary women who actually have the physical and mental capacity to meet SOF standards participate in DA operations. These include the following.

Psychological effect on specific adversaries and groups within the population, both home and abroad. Having women conduct DA can potentially create different psychological effects on adversaries compared to if only men conduct DA, if it is advertised and presented in the correct manner. In some cultures, especially among Islamic fundamentalists, for example, certain members of the Islamic State (IS), there is actually a difference between being killed by a man and being killed by a woman on a battlefield. Based on extreme interpretations of religion, these fundamentalists believe that, if men kill them, they will become martyrs, and if women kill them, they will not.[79] The psychological effects women are able to produce by conducting DA can be exploited to more than only affecting a potential adversary psychologically; they also might help tell a more convincing narrative to groups of a population that are undecided on which combatant to support in order to gain favor. Or, as John Arquilla puts it, we might be able to tell a “story that impels individuals to action.”[80] It is also possible to use this to gain public support at home. To create either of these psychological effects, to affect either an adversary or a group in the population, women are needed to do DA. Of course it is possible to pretend that women do DA without actually doing it, but my assessment is that doing so will create more negative effects when the truth is revealed. For example, it opens up opportunities for an adversary to create a negative counter-narrative, and the credibility of the military involved then takes a huge blow. The support in a population might be lost, and this kind of deceit can backfire. If the narrative is used to gain public support at home for the troops fighting in a conflict, the disclosure of a lie might also have negative effects.

Physical access and concealment, and psychological and cultural access. As mentioned earlier, women may be able to obtain unique physical access to particular areas, such as areas where a man’s presence would be detected or where a woman’s presence represents something unexpected, or an element of surprise. In some DA scenarios, physical access and the ability to conceal oneself can be of critical importance for successful mission execution. Risk to both mission and force are potentially affected. There are numerous of potential scenarios where physical access and concealment are essential for mission success. Nevertheless, I highlight only three scenarios.

First, we have a scenario where a SOF unit is tasked to produce a specific kinetic effect on a specific target. The best available course of action is to conduct a Terminal Guidance Operation, which is described in NATO SOF doctrine as DA.[81] Since the rules of engagement in this scenario require the SOF unit to designate the target, the unit needs to move operators to a location that makes the designation possible. In this particular scenario, the only location that makes this target designation possible is in an area that only female operators will be able to access without being compromised. Without an operator in that location who is able to designate the target, the SOF unit will be unable to produce the specific kinetic effect that it is tasked to produce.

Second, we have a scenario where a SOF unit is tasked with producing a specific effect on a specific target. In this scenario, the effect requested is of a time-sensitive and well-defined nature. The best course of action available to secure mission success is to conduct an ambush, which is described in NATO SOF doctrine as DA.[82] The best location to set up an ambush is within an urban area where there usually are no challenges for either men or women to move freely. Nevertheless, there is a better chance for women to leave this urban area without being compromised after incidents like an ambush, a car bomb, or an assassination. This is because the security forces in the area consist mainly of men and because the security forces often prioritize the arrest of all males present in situations like this, while they let females go, based on cultural norms and expectations. The unique physical access is here represented by the ability to “withdraw from the immediate objective area,”[83] which is defined as one of the characteristics of DA operations.

Third, we have a scenario where a SOF unit is tasked with searching for, locating, and returning sensitive equipment in an adversary controlled area. The best course of action available to return the sensitive equipment is to conduct a Recovery Operation, which is described in NATO SOF Doctrine as DA.[84] The area where the sensitive equipment is expected to be located is within an urban area that men will not be able to access without being compromised. In addition, sources indicates that a local group of widowed women, which is known to be semi-supportive to your cause, is in possession of the particular piece of sensitive equipment needed. The group is known to speak more supportively about the FETs in the area, compared to other units. The overall assessment tells us that this group is more likely to cooperate with a unit consisting of female operators, compared to a unit consisting of only men or a mix of men and women.

Justification and validation of the doctrinal activity MA. Often when MA operations are conducted, NATO SOF emphasizes the importance of having both women and men in the organizations the military assistance is directed towards. To be able to advocate the integration of women and men in their organization, in cultures where it is not obvious, with any kind of credibility, the advising organization should set a good example of this integration. If women are excluded in any manner in the organization that gives advice, it will become more challenging to convince the advised organization that it is the right thing to do.

DA History

There are several examples of this from WWII and from the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan that show how women can make a relevant contribution to SOF-type DA operations. During WWII, a group of young women joined the Norwegian resistance movement in the northern parts of Norway.[85] These women ended up working as snipers in a guerilla-like war against the Germans. The women were able to operate without being compromised or detected in areas and in ways men could not. One of these women, Mary Hunstad, gained tremendous respect within the resistance movement. She had the reputation of being the most accurate sniper at the time, with numerous confirmed kills on German elite troops operating in that part of Norway.

During the conflict in Afghanistan, a small number of capable women contributed in high-intensity fights. The Norwegian Provincial Reconstruction Team’s Task Unit (PRT TU), operating in the northern parts of Afghanistan, consisted mainly of men, but also of some extraordinary women. While providing Security Force Assistance to the Afghan National Army, the Norwegian PRT TU occasionally came under fire from insurgents, and sometimes the unit executed deliberate offensive engagements. Norwegian soldier Elise Toft is a female who shows that women can contribute to these kinds of operations.[86] As a soldier in the Norwegian PRT TU in 2011, she fought insurgents in a manner that earned her a decoration for gallantry from the Norwegian government. She was the first female to be awarded this type of decoration since WWII. In the citation for the award, it says that “while projectiles kept coming their way, Elise and the other members of her unit secured the axis and cleared it for IEDs in order to get the rest of the unit to safety. Toft executed this mission with great serenity and a courage that goes far beyond what is expected of a soldier.”[87] It is no doubt that the contribution made by Toft had an effect during the operation, both in a physical and a psychological sense, but the effect produced by her getting the award and by telling the story back in Norway, potentially gained even more effect. The psychological effect it had on the Norwegian population and on the level of support for the Norwegian efforts in Afghanistan should not be underestimated.

In the period from 2014 to 2016, a relatively large number of female Peshmerga soldiers contributed to the fight against ISIS.[88] All-female Peshmerga units have conducted several operations and have killed several ISIS fighters. The units claim they have a psychological effect on their enemy and that ISIS fighters in general are more afraid of being killed by a woman than by a man.[89]  Their claims are in line with what Islamic fundamentalists have communicated about women.

There are not, at least as far as I know, any good current examples of women doing DA in a manner that makes it is easy to convince a potential partner force of the importance of incorporating women in the partner force. Nevertheless, several conventional and SOF units are currently working with different NATO units in Eastern Europe. The NATO units are there in order to mitigate the current potential threat from Russia. Since several units, also SOF units, will be working with conventional units and not with SOF units, it might be relevant to look for other examples of where women contribute in order to get the important message of integration across. In that regard, I would like to point out one example where a woman is in charge of a Norwegian tank platoon, in Telemark Battalion (TMBN), which is a unit in the Norwegian Army’s High Readiness Force (NORAHRF). Lieutenant Silje Johansen Willassen is the platoon commander of a platoon of Leopard main battletanks.[90] She is soon deploying with her platoon to Lithuania, in support of NATO enhanced forward presence.[91] From my point of view and from can be gleaned from an interview conducted by NATO in 2017,[92] Lieutenant Willassen seems like an effective leader who shows few weaknesses. By using Lieutenant Willassen as an example, it could be possible to advise Lithuanian forces to integrate women and preserve integrity.

Partial Conclusion DA

Within DA operations, there are roles and tasks/missions that demand the presence of women if the operations are to be executed successfully. There is a demand for a female DA-operator capable of filling several roles for SOF to exploit SOF’s full potential in the future. The spectrum of roles stretches from having individual female operators capable of conducting a terminal guidance operation in a contested urban area on one end to an all-female SOF element capable of executing an ambush or a recovery operation on the other end. Additionally, if we are supposed to advise our partner nations to integrate women in their units, there is a need for a female operator that can contribute in the DA role as a part of a mixed-gender team. This is in order to maintain credibility as advisors, and in order to show potential partner units that it is possible.

Military Assistance (MA)

What is actually MA? [93] Military Assistance is the most broadly defined core activity within NATO SOF doctrine. It is defined as “a broad category of measures and activities that support and influence critical friendly assets through organizing training, advising, mentoring, or the conduct of combined operations.”[94] The definition also states that “SOF conduct MA within their field of expertise.”[95] The main question when one is trying to explain what MA consists of is then, what is SOF’s field of expertise? From a NATO standpoint, providing a definitive answer to that question is challenging, since different SOF have different fields of expertise and are potentially more “generalized SOF units” compared to, for example, US SOF. The range of MA in a NATO SOF context “includes, but is not limited to, capability building of friendly security forces, engagement with local, regional, and national leadership or organizations, and civic actions supporting and influencing the local population.”[96] MA activities may include Training, Advising, and Mentoring/Partnering.[97]

MA may include a lot of different things. Potentially it involves activities that intend to influence groups of people in different environments and cultures. Based on what NATO has done so far and what it will likely be tasked with doing in the future, it will be important for NATO to be able to influence populations as a whole. NATO will most likely be involved in operations where one of the main objectives along the way is either to rebuild—or to construct for the first time—legitimate governing entities. If NATO SOF is to be prepared in the best possible manner for these types of activities, women must be integrated into its units in one way or the other. Three reasons why this is important are highlighted.

The most obvious reason is to expand the possible reach of an MA operation to include elements of the population that are accessible only to women. As in the other doctrinal tasks of SR and DA, in MA women will in some cases represent a specific tool that makes it possible to influence more people, because the tool provides SOF units with new ways to obtain psychological and cultural access to a larger portion of the population and physical access to more locations. The concepts here are congruent with the scenarios I have outlined in the discussions on SR and DA.

A second reason is to just “prove a point” for elements of a population in order to produce a specific and intended effect. The presence of female soldiers can prove a number of things to other women, for example, that it is possible to not be suppressed by men, that it is possible for women to work, that it is possible for women to work in the military, and that it is possible for women to be integrated in the process where policy and strategy are created. The presence of female soldiers can also prove a number of things to men, for example, that it is possible to work with women, that it is possible to integrate women in security forces, and that value is added to the process when the female perspective is also covered when constructing policy and strategies. And last but not least, the presence of female soldiers can prove to a potential adversary that everyone, both men and women, is working together for a common cause.

MA History - Afghanistan

A relevant example where women have been used in a NATO SOF MA operation is a Norwegian Special Operations Forces (NORSOF) MA mission in Afghanistan. NORSOF was tasked with developing a special police unit within the Afghan Ministry of Interior. This unit, named the Crisis Response Unit (CRU), was developed to become a counterterrorist unit capable of working throughout Afghanistan while being based in Kabul. NORSOF convinced the Afghans to establish a platoon consisting of women, who would perform specific tasks, missions, and roles.[98] Skepticism related to the particular advice arose, from more than just the Afghans. The Afghans, ISAF SOF, and members of the Norwegian military establishment raised their concerns.[99] The main arguments against this were that this element would have only symbolic value, it would put personnel at risk, it would ruin cohesion within the CRU, and the women would most likely be abused.

Nevertheless, the NORSOF unit in Afghanistan at the time was able to convince all relevant actors that it was the right thing to do by focusing on three things. The element should have an operational function and it would add operational effect; the members of the element should be recognized as equal members of the CRU; and the safety and respect for the members of this element had to be ensured by the CRU at large.[100]

By doing it this way, NORSOF acknowledged all reasons why it is relevant to have women in SOF for MA purposes potentially without knowing it. These women would represent a tool in the CRU toolbox that would give the CRU psychological, cultural, and physical access it did not have at the time, and it would prove a wide range of things to a wide range of people.

Soon after the first female operators started working in the CRU, it became clear that they added operational effect, especially during arrest operations. The female operators’ main role was to search specific areas and question specific groups of personnel on target during an operation. The female operators were able to get information and access to specific types of sources that other members of the CRU were unable to obtain.[101] The operational effects were acknowledged by most of the former skeptics, and it contributed to mostly positive and intended effects in the Afghan unit and within NORSOF. This proved that it is possible to integrate women in an organization in order to add value, even in a culture like the one in Afghanistan. Based on the experiences with the female platoon in the CRU, acknowledgement of roles within SR, DA, and MA that require women, and based on the facts that current recruitment levels will not likely support the NORSOF future need for female operators, NORSOF has established its own female platoon, the Hunter Troop (“Jegertroppen”).[102]

Partial Conclusion MA

Within MA operations there are roles and tasks/missions that demand the participation of women if the operations are to be executed successfully. The requirements for the female MA operators are somewhat different from the requirements for female operators within the other doctrinal SOF tasks of SR and DA and depend on what type of training, advising, mentoring, or partnering the operator is going to be involved with.

As pointed out in a capstone project covering NORSOF’s MA capability development, which uses survey results from a survey within NORSOF conducted by the Norwegian Research Establishment,[103] competencies within DA and SR are often building blocks and serve as a foundation for doing MA within SOF’s expertise.[104] So, to advise, train, or mentor someone, or to partner and operate together with someone in operations that involve SR or DA-related activities, the operator needs to be competent within both fields. If the operator is intended to have another role, or in an extreme case, just a symbolic role, meaning just being present, there are few competencies needed or demanded to be filled. If a third type of role is what is intended to be filled, the hybrid role, then it is a combination of classic DA and SR competencies that the operator must have in addition to other competencies that may not be SOF-specific. These non SOF-specific competencies can stretch from military operational planning and driving skills to pedagogical skills like teaching people how to read, fitness training, or educating people in the laws of armed conflict. So, the future needs a female MA operator able to work both independently and in a team consisting of both men and women. In addition, the future needs MA teams that consist only of female operators.

Conclusion - How to Integrate the New Roles

Since NATO SOF consists of different SOF units, from different countries, with different cultures, and with different views on what the doctrinal tasks of DA, SR, and MA consist of, integration of women in the roles that have been illuminated here will represent different challenges in the different SOF units. For some units, it might even not be possible to integrate women because of cultural aspects specific to that unit, and for other units, it might be possible to integrate women by having a 100% female element within the unit, while in another unit, integration in a mixed team is the preferred or only possible solution.

For most NATO SOF units, this type of integration will be something new, and for others the continuation of an already ongoing process, while for a select few, it will be business as usual. Since integration of women for most NATO SOF units will be something new and since the number of roles that demand female operators to be successful is fewer than the number of roles for men, it might be worth analyzing the different roles and producing a selection and education program that suits the standards for these specific roles, instead of forcing women through the SOF selection and education programs that already exist.

By analyzing the different roles in this manner, three things could happen. First, the analysis could show that the exact same physical standards are needed for men and women, and the same standards apply in the new roles. NATO SOF will most likely not be able to integrate women in a relevant manner for the future, since the physical standards alone will effectively keep the number of potential female candidates very low. Nevertheless, NATO SOF could potentially get a very few extraordinary women meeting the standards from time to time. These women would then be able to operate individually and as a part of a team consisting of both men and women.     

Second, the analysis could show that the physical standards needed for the new roles are different, and it appears that higher standards are needed. NATO SOF will most likely lose some male SOF operators in addition to effectively keeping almost all women away from SOF. SOF will then go into the future with fewer operators in total, and most likely with no women integrated into any of its units. NATO SOF then will not have women in an individual capacity, and certainty not as female teams.    

Third, the analysis could show that the physical standards needed for the new roles are different, and it appears to be lower standards that are required. NATO SOF will have to produce a specialized SOF element within its larger SOF organization. This is not how most NATO SOF countries operate today, but specialized SOF elements is what will most likely get a relevant number of qualified female operators to fill the new roles. NATO SOF will then have the capability to use female operators in individual capacities, but also as teams, filling the defined roles.

Based on what I know about potential relevant roles for female operators; culture, cohesion and maturity within NATO SOF; the level of risk NATO SOF is expected to handle in order to solve missions; and what might be expected of SOF in the future, I believe it is the third outcome that is most likely. By not having women integrated in the military organization, and especially in SOF, the military organization is not utilizing its full potential. The future is expected to involve conflicts of irregular, unconventional, hybrid, and sometimes of conventional character. Low-intensity conflict is expected to be the new norm. SOF is expected to contribute to the fight in a relevant manner, and the future calls for SOF. The future also calls for SOF that is able to connect to, communicate with, understand, relate to, and influence a population as a whole. Since half the world’s population is women, and in combination with some cultural aspects that are present in the world, SOF will not be able to do this in a relevant manner without women integrated in the military organization, and especially in SOF.

Since there are women who are both physical fit and eager to get into the fight, there is nothing else to do than to immediately speed up integration of women into NATO SOF. In spite of this, it seems highly unlikely that SOF will suddenly be filled with women. Since the distinction of potentially being the first one ever to make it through SOF selection will no longer be available, and the fact that relevant standards still must be met, the number of female SOF will still be low. In addition, potentially unnecessary to say, but this job will still continue to be a job that most people, men or women, do not actually want.  

End Notes

[1] NATO/IMS, “Committee on Women in the NATO Forces: Denmark,” 26 March 2002, ; RT Question More, “Girls in the Army: Norway Passes Bill on Mandatory Military Service,” 20 October 2014, ; Aftenposten, “The Parliament Passes Bill for Mandatory Conscription for Women 14 June” (in Norwegian), 21 April 2013, ; Rick Noack, “World: Swedish Military to Start Drafting Women to Help Fend Off Threats Such as Russia,” National Post, 6 October 2016,

[2] United Nations, “UN Resolution 1325: Women, Peace, and Security,” 31 October 2000,

[3] Frank G. Hoffman, “Hybrid Warfare and Challenges,” Joint Force Quarterly, 52, no. 1 (2009).

[4] W. S. Lind, “Understanding Fourth Generation War,” Military Review (September-October 2004), 12–16.

[5] Ibid.

[6] W. S. Lind, “The Fifth Generation of Warfare?” 3 February 2004,,13190,Lind_020304,00.html

[7] Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Penguin Books, 2006), 267–69 and 270–78.

[8] Ibid., 267–69 and 278–89.

[9] Ibid., 267–69 and 289–92.

[10] Ibid., 267–69 and 292–97.

[11] Ibid., 267–69 and 301–305.

[12] Ibid., 267–69 and 297–301.

[13] Arthur K. Ellis, Teaching and Learning Elementary Social Studies (Allyn and Bacon, 1970), 431.

[14] David Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 107.

[15] John Arquilla, Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World (Lanham, MD: Ivan R. Dee, 2011), 270.

[16] Ibid., 279–80.

[17] Ibid., 269

[18] Ibid., 270.

[19] Ibid., 276.

[20] Ibid., 271.

[21] Ibid., 274.

[22] Ibid., 272.

[23] Ibid., 279–80.

[24] Martin van Creveld, Transformation of War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009), 197.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 194.

[27] Smith, Utility of Force, 267–69 and 278–89.

[28] Ibid., 267–69 and 270–78.

[29] Ibid., 267–69 and 289–92.

[30] Ibid., 267–69 and 292–97.

[31] Ibid., 267–69 and 301–305.

[32] Lind, “Understanding Fourth Generation War,” 12–16.

[33] The World Bank, “Population (Female % of Total),” October 2016, . According to the World Bank, the world’s population of 2015 consisted of 7.34 billion people, 49.55% women and 50.45% men. In countries where open conflicts were ongoing, as in Afghanistan and Syria, the population consisted of respectively 48.4% and 49.4% women. In countries where low intensity conflict were on going or expected to erupt in the near future, like the African nations of Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, the population consisted of respectively 49.9%, 49.6% and 50% women.

[34] United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs, “World Population Projected to Reach 9.7 Billion by 2050,” July 2015,

[35] Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains, 107.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Arquilla, Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits, 274.

[38] Ibid., 270.

[39] Ibid., 276.

[40] Ibid., 271.

[41] Ibid., 272.

[42] Ibid., 270.

[43] Van Creveld, Transformation of War, 223.

[44] Ibid., 195.

[45] Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein, “Women Are Key to Counterterrorism—Investing in Women Will Go Further to Fight Terror than Donald Trump’s Refugee Ban Ever Will,” U.S. News, 8 February 2017, ; Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein, “How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution Advances U.S. Interests,” Council on Foreign Relations, October 2016,

[46] Van Creveld, Transformation of War, 207.

[47] Martin van Creveld, “Military Women Are Not the Cure, They Are the Disease,” 24 November 2016, ; Martin van Creveld, “To Wreck a Military,” Small Wars Journal, 28 January 2013,

[48] Van Creveld, Transformation of War, 203.

[49] Ibid., 223.

[50] David Tucker and Christopher J. Lamb, United States Special Operations Forces (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 42.

[51] Ibid., 43.

[52] United States Special Operations Forces Command, “SOF Truths,” 2016,

[53] Ibid.

[54] NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations (AJP-3.5), Version A, 1st ed. (Brussels: NATO Standardization Agency, 2013).

[55] Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Special Operations (Joint Publication 3-05) (Washington, DC: Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2014).

[56] Tucker and Lamb, United States Special Operations Forces, 42.

[57] U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Special Operations: Task Force Operations (Joint Publication 3-05.1) (Washington, DC: DoD, 2007).

[58] F. B. Steder, Military Women: The Achilles of the Armed Forces? (in Norwegian). (Oslo: Abstrakt forlag, 2013), 56.

[59] SR as it is defined in NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations: “SR is conducted by SOF to support the collection of a commander's Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIRs) by employing unique capabilities or Joint Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (JISR) assets. As part of the Allied theatre INTEL collection process, SR provides specific, well-defined, and possibly time-sensitive information of strategic or operational significance. It may complement other collection methods where constraints are imposed by weather, terrain-masking, hostile countermeasures, or other systems’ availability. SR places persistent ‘eyes on target’ in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive territory. SOF can provide timely information by using their judgment and initiative in a way that technical JISR cannot. SOF may conduct these tasks separately, supported by, in conjunction with, or in support of other component commands. They may use advanced reconnaissance and surveillance techniques, JISR assets and equipment, and collection methods, sometimes augmented by the employment of indigenous assets.”

[60] NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations, 2-2.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Intelligence Counter Intelligence and Security (AJP 2), Edition A Version 1 (Brussels: NATO Standardization Agency, 2014), 4-1, 4-2.

[66] J. Pattinson, Behind Enemy Lines: Gender, Passing and the Special Operations Executive in the Second World War. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007).

[67] Ibid., 25, 32.

[68] Ibid., 61.

[69] Ibid., 70.

[70] U.S. Army, “Female Engagement Teams: Who They Are and Why They Do It,” 2 October 2012, , and NATO, “United States Marine Corps Female Engagement Team, presentation by 1st LT Zoe Bedell,” May 2011,

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Gary Owen, "Reach the Women: The US military´s experiment of female soldiers working with Afghan women" 20 June 2015, (accessed 19 FEB 2017)

[74] Natalie Smbhi, “Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan,” 15 February 2011,  (accessed 19 FEB 2017)

[75] DA as defined in NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations, 2-3. “DA is a precise offensive operation conducted by SOF which is limited in scope and duration in order to seize, destroy, disrupt, capture, exploit, recover, or damage high value or high pay-off targets. DA differs from conventional offensive actions in the level of risk, techniques employed, and the degree of precision utilized to create a specific effect, and usually incorporates a planned withdrawal from the immediate objective area. DA is focused on specific, well-defined targets of strategic and operational significance, or in the conduct of decisive tactical operations. SOF may conduct DA independently, with support from conventional forces, or in support of conventional forces. Activities within DA can include: raids, Ambushes, Assaults, Terminal Guidance Operations, Recovery Operations, Precision Destruction Operations, and Opposed boarding operations.”

[76] NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations, 2-3.

[77] Ibid., 2-3, 2-4.

[78] Ibid., 2-3.

[79] Norma Costello, “ISIS in Iraq: The Female Fighters that Strike Fear into Jihadis—Because They’ll Rob Them of Paradise,” Independent, 10 April 2016,

[80] Arquilla, Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits, 271.

[81] NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations, 2-3, 2-4.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Allan Klo, “NRK: The Girls Who Became Snipers” (in Norwegian), 16 November 2016,

[86] Rune T. Ege, “VG: Elise (23) Gets Historic Award” (in Norwegian), 25 October 2013,

[87] Ibid.

[88] Geoff Earle, “ISIS Fighters Terrified of Being Killed by Female Troop,” New York Post, 19 September 2014, and Babak Dehghanpisheh and Michel Georgy, “Kurdish Women Fighters Battle Islamic State with Machine Guns and Songs,” Reuters, 4 November 2016,

[89] Ibid.

[90] U.S. Army, “Norway’s First Female Tank Commander,” 12 February 2017,

[91] Ibid.

[92] Ibid.

[93] MA as defined in NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operation, 2-1: “MA is a broad category of measures and activities that support and influence critical friendly assets through organizing training, advising, mentoring, or the conduct of combined operations. The range of MA includes, but is not limited to, capability building of friendly security forces, engagement with local, regional, and national leadership or organizations, and civic actions supporting and influencing the local population. SOF conduct MA within their field of expertise.”

[94] NATO, Allied Joint Doctrine for Special Operations, 2-1.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Malin Stensønes, On Our Behalf: Accounts from Soldiers of the Afghan Conflict (in Norwegian), (Oslo: Aschehoug, 2012), 99.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Elisabeth Braw, “Norway’s ‘Hunter-Troop’: The World’s First All-Female Special Forces,” Foreign Affairs, 8 February 2016,

[103] Frank B. Steder, ed., FFI Survey: On Military Assistance in NORSOF (Kjeller, Norway: Forsvarets Forsknings Institutt (FFI), 2016).

[104] Marius Kristiansen and Andreas Hedenstrom, NORSOF Military Assistance Capability Development (Master’s thesis/Capstone project, Naval Postgraduate School, 2016), 67–68.


About the Author(s)

Marius Kristiansen is an active duty Norwegian Army Officer. He holds a B.A. in Military Leadership and Land Warfare from the Norwegian Military Academy, an Advanced Certificate in Terrorism Studies from the University of St. Andrews, a M.S. in Defense Analysis at Naval Postgraduate School, and is a graduate of United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College.


J Harlan

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 1:09pm

This article only makes sense if you expand the definition of SOF to include virtually every aspect of modern war. If you limit the term "Special Operations" to those which conventional units cannot perform without extensive retraining then the need for female participation on the ground doesn't exist.

The need for SOF of any kind is limited. The conventional force has practice in building host armies and night raids. Most sabotage and assassination missions of WW 2 can now be performed with PGMs. The courier tasks that women did in SOE can now be done with wireless technology. Most SR can be done by satellite, drones etc. Infiltration of facilities to make sabotage look like an accident is a job for cyber specialists or locals recruited by the CIA.

That leaves us with hostage rescue in very specific conditions- aircraft and ships and operations requiring (not just wanting) to use special delivery systems- scuba, free fall etc. Both are so rare that more than a battalions worth of people trained to do this seems overkill.

Bill C.

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 12:10pm

Given that the U.S./the West's goal today is "expansionist" in nature; that is, to gain greater power, influence and control throughout the world by transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western lines and incorporating same more into the Western sphere of influence,

Then to suggest that a primary role that women might play today -- re: our special operations and other forces/other activities -- that this is in the example that is set by their (the women) being involved in each and every aspect of our such endeavors.

This, possibly more than anything else one might think, do or say, indicating/confirming:

a. What U.S./Western values, attitudes and beliefs are (for example, on the subject of equality/women's rights) and

b. Our across-the-board commitment to same -- even into such critically important things as military and special operations.

Bottom Line Thought:

If one hopes to "preach" western political, economic, social and value attributes throughout the world, and, more importantly, to "convert" the populations of the outlying states and societies of the world as to same, then best not to just "talk the talk" but, indeed, "walk the walk?"


a. In this exact such strategic context/light to

b. See the value (and/or the necessity?) of having women in our -- especially forward-deployed -- special operations and other forces, etc., today?

(In the alternative, to consider that this exact such "shoving our values, etc., down their throat"/forcing the indigenous populations to "drink from the fire hose" approach to advancing our alien and profane way of life, values, etc.; that this such approach is -- across-the-board -- counterproductive in the extreme. Thus, the proper approach, as to advancing all such alien and profane "modern western" things, is to operate in a much less demanding and immediate, much less "in your face" and now and, thus, a much less provocative manner? If this such alternative thinking is adopted as to achieving our objectives [noted in my first paragraph above], then women in our special operations and other forces would not be deployed where they would, in the strategic light offered here, possibly/probably do more harm than good?)


Mon, 05/22/2017 - 8:59am

In reply to by Luddite4Change

Militias at the state level maybe, but not Federal service, otherwise Washington would have had an easier time building and maintaining troop strength.

The Draft Act of 1863 was the first instance of compulsory service in the federal military services. All male citizens, as well as aliens who had declared their intention of becoming citizens, between 20 and 45 were at risk of being drafted. No married man could be drafted until all the unmarried had been taken.

Even with a draft, service is not a right, but an obligation if "privileged" enough to be selected.


Mon, 05/22/2017 - 7:54am

In reply to by Greywolf

<Lastly, I see you are a Norwegian, so this point is only from my perspective as an American, but there is no right to join the military...male or female. Military service is a privilege.>

From the early founding of the first colonies until 1903, military service via the militia was a legal obligation of every able bodied male between the ages of 18 and 45. It is only in the later half of the 20th century that the destructive idea of service being a privilege has taken hold.


Wed, 05/17/2017 - 11:39am

Would be a good paper, until you introduced "there are arguments made by mainly angry, middle-aged white men saying that women are not strong enough physically..."

I'm wondering if this assertion comes from in depth research? Probably not.

Try this: query all Infantry platoon leaders (most are not angry, middle-aged white men) in the Army and Marine Corps, ask them how many women they would like in their platoon. Their answers need to be confidential of course, because we know how independent thought is often a career-ender. If you come up with a majority saying it makes no difference...I'll shut up.

Lastly, I see you are a Norwegian, so this point is only from my perspective as an American, but there is no right to join the military...male or female. Military service is a privilege.