Much has been written about how certain U.S. special forces moved away from training foreign forces towards "direct action" during the last two decades. This trend was accelerated since 2003 in part because the training requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan could not be stemmed even by the badly inflated USSOCOM, but required training by conventional combat troops as well. The extreme casualty avoidance of the same period led to a preference for highly trained special forces for deliberate raids.
The old paradigm is best displayed by the old assertion that if you send a special forces squad into the hills, you'd have an indigenous militia army there in a few months.
The "direct action" paradigm is best illustrated by the Delta Force's involvement in Somalia in the early 90's.
The trends look a bit different in other nations, but many Western nations have some sort of much-enlarged "direct action" special forces establishment today. Germany kept its special forces very small with exaggerated entry requirements, so the following text is not really about the Bundeswehr.
The problem with these special forces organizations is one that has already been complained about many times (1), but the complaint doesn't seem to have much effect: The special forces leech quality personnel from the infantry, grow in numbers way beyond what's necessary for real "special" missions and in the end the SF replace the infantry in many challenging missions. The infantry branch deteriorates, loses the trust of superiors in its competence and its own confidence.
The leeching effect on infantry personnel is especially problematic because it concerns only the best personnel. This loss can indeed cripple the regular infantry because this best fifth of its personnel is vital for infantry effectiveness in battle.
If you left them alone then some ten percent of the soldiers were the ones who actually took the initiative, moved, fired their rifles, threw hand grenades, and so on. The other 90% would defend themselves if they had to, but would not do the other things unless an officer or a sergeant directly ordered them to do it, in which case they usually would do it. I learned that you couldn't depend on them doing things simply because there was a plan to do it, or because of some generalized order to do it, and this included the junior officers. You had to say, ""do this," "do that," "now fire here," and "now move there." You would always end up with a good sergeant or a good officer and three or four men doing all of the work. Unfortunately, the rest contributed to the casualties.... I came away absolutely impressed with the fact that the average man, like nine out of ten, or eight out of ten, does not have an instinct for the battlefield, doesn't relish it, and will not act independently except under direct orders....
It's absolutely essential to mix great personnel with average personnel in order to form powerful line-of-sight combat units. This applies to infantry as well as armour.
The general infantry performance of many nations wasn't stellar in Afghanistan, which is largely an infantry war. Many raids and other normal infantry actions were reserved for special forces while infantry was often easily pinned down and calling in fire support.
The glorification of special forces and their inflation should be reversed. Infantry should be capable of most jobs assigned to special forces today. Even quickly-trained World War infantry was capable of difficult infiltrations and exfiltrations, reconnaissance, night combat without night sights and GPS, river crossings under fire and many other difficult missions. Regular infantry - even quickly trained conscript forces led by well-trained superiors - can do most of today's "special forces" jobs; the "direct action" thing. They won't do it as quickly, as neatly - but they can do it a hundred times as often per month.
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The path to special forces is a path to the icing of the cake without the cake. It's a path to tiny quality forces with a disregarded, largely ineffective conventional force.
We should not focus on tiny SF missions, but on the ability to defeat conventional opposition, for that is the only kind of opposition that could really dare to invade us (wars of necessity) while we will face "insurgents" only if we invade other places (wars of choice). This requires forces which pay attention to quality AND quantity, not only quality. It's a long-known fact that peacetime armies focus on quality in peacetime, but rally towards the necessary quantity at the expense of some quality in wartime. A focus on quality alone is no preparation for (against) war, but a primitive and typical peacetime mistake.
It's about time to reform the infantry in many if not all Western armies. The Special Forces establishments can provide the necessary manpower for this reform.
(1): One example is the Article "We Were Soldiers Once... - The Decline of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps?" in the Autumn 2008 issue of the Australian Army Journal.
edit: I just looked at this published blog post (it appeared on a set time) and the beginning looks a bit awkward. "Glorified cannibals" directly followed by "U.S. special forces" is not the intended link. I wrote "glorified" because of the SF-related hype of the last two decades (which was most likely pushed by B-movies and video games) and I wrote "cannibals" because I had all Western special forces in mind which draw selectively many of the best soldiers from normal combat units.