AMMAN, Jordan — In order to defeat terrorist organizations, special operations forces worldwide need to, in a way, take a page from their book.
The Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations have no boundaries in terms of borders or bureaucracy, and special operations forces should operate in the same "transregional" way these adversaries do, according to the new commander of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
"The axiom that it takes a network to defeat a network logically drives the corollary that it takes a transregional network to defeat a similar foe," Gen. Raymond Thomas said Monday at the Middle Eastern Special Operations Commanders (MESOC) Conference. Thomas replaced Gen. Joseph Votel, who is now the head of of US Central Command.
With modern communications and social media, transregional challenges aren't just based across state boundaries but across multiple continents and regions, Thomas said.
Partnering special operations forces "must exceed traditional thresholds of cooperation," as "gaps and seams created by boundaries in designated areas of responsibilities have provided transregional terrorist organizations maneuver space that needs to be addressed," he said.
Part of combatting the spread of terrorist organizations' reach means getting "left of bang," Thomas added, which means identifying places where these groups can gain strongholds before they do.
Thomas said seeking out new levels of cooperation and information-sharing in places where terrorist groups can take root is crucial.
In response to the threat of terrorism, USSOCOM is looking to get ahead of ISIS by strengthening partnerships, particularly with Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Indonesia, which "will become increasingly important," Thomas said.
Thomas noted, to suggest its reach, that ISIS most recently declared control over a province in Bangladesh.
Special operations forces need to "seize opportunities to understand root causes and influence ahead of crises," he said, which would allow more options in order to deal with problems that are potentially less costly and present less risk.
This could mean getting to key populations to address grievances before a terrorist organization identifies instability and moves to exploit unhappy locals. However, avoiding such a scenario could require nontraditional solutions.
"As we build and adjust our special operations force networks to address today's transregional challenges," Thomas said, "the need for seamless coordination between military and law enforcement entities and the international community has never been more pressing."
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.