WASHINGTON - United States
Special Operations Command (SOCOM) chief Admiral
Bill McRaven and deputy director of Operations,
Brigadier General Sean Mulholland, want to
establish a worldwide network linking special
operations forces of allied and partner nations to
combat terrorism, it was recently reported.
If created, the network would comprise
regional security coordination centers, organized
and structured similarly to North Atlantic Treaty
Organization special operations forces (SOF)
headquarters in Mons, Belgium.
to Mulholland, these centers would not be
command-and-control nodes but rather centers for
and coordination to gain
regional solutions for regional problems.
Mulholland estimated it would cost less
than US$30 million a year to operate and maintain
each regional node, although that is a figure that
some observers consider laughably small.
SOCOM plans to stand up the first one in
Miami-based US Southern Command later in 2013,
with Mulholland tapped to command integrated SOF
in Central and South America.
may seem ultra-ambitious but given the demand on
and pace of US SOF activities in recent years it
hardly comes as a surprise. The forces will be
conducting missions in 120 countries by year's
end, up from about 75 currently. And while they
account for only 3% of the military as a whole,
they make up more than 7% of the forces assigned
to Iraq and Afghanistan.
This activity is
increasing as the US Special Operations Command's
budget is set to remain flat. The command's fiscal
2013 budget request is $10.4 billion - essentially
the same as its current budget. But the budget for
the Special Operations Command has more than
quadrupled since 2001, as has the number of
The new edition of Joint
Publication 3-05, published in April for Special
Operations, lists 11 "core activities" versus nine
in the previous edition, reflecting the addition
of "security force assistance" - aiding the
development of foreign security forces - and
SOCOM, based in Tampa,
Florida, has about 66,000 military and civilian
personnel. At any given time, 54,000 are training
or redeploying, and 12,000 are deployed around the
world. About 9,000 are in Afghanistan.
SOCOM expects to add about 8,800 troops
over the next four years - 2,500 this year, 2,300
in 2013, and 2,000 in 2014 and 2015. Planned
additions to the SOCOM force structure
include: United States Army Special
Operations Command (USASOC): Increases the
authorization for one Special Forces Battalion
(the fifth of the five mandated by the 2006 QDR);
increases aircrews assigned to the 160th Special
Operations Aviation Regiment; increases 75th
Ranger Regiment personnel; increases military
personnel for the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade and
the 4th Military Information Support Operations
(MISO) Group; and increases authorizations for
military personnel providing combat
support/service support to USASOC.
Air Force Special Operations Command
(AFSOC): Increases authorizations to
provide support for the 1st Special Operations
Group, 1st Special Operations Wing, 27th Special
Operations Group, and 352nd Special Operations
But because the selection process
can take weeks, and training generally takes at
least two years, the new troops will not provide
immediate relief for the majority of special
operators that are deployed.
Some past SOF
officials worry about the impact of the increased
demand on SOF capabilities.
In a February
14 Foreign Policy article titled "SOF Power",
retired Lieutenant General David Barno, a former
Army Ranger and former commander of US and
coalition forces in Afghanistan, said the Barack
Obama administration had not adequately addressed
important questions about the impact on the
culture of special operations forces.
high demand for special operations over the past
decade had contributed to a shortage of adequate
support, such as helicopters dedicated to special
operations forces, he said.
people point to happened last August when 30
troops, including 22 Navy SEALs, were killed in
Afghanistan when Taliban fighters shot down their
helicopter - a Chinook, which typically is used
for heavy transport and flown by a conventional
One does not have to look hard to
find examples of US SOF around the world.
In Yemen, as part of the escalation of the
US's covert war there, at least 20 US special
operations troops have used satellite imagery,
drone video, eavesdropping systems and other
technical means to help pinpoint targets for an
offensive. The US forces also advised Yemeni
military commanders on where and when to deploy
Obama said in 2010 that he
had "no intention of sending US boots on the
ground" to Yemen. But retired Army General David
Petraeus, now head of the Central Intelligence
Agency, offered to secretly put US special
operations troops in the country, leaked State
Department cables show. Then-president Ali
Abdullah Saleh rebuffed his proposal.
Obama later authorized a small team of
special operations trainers to help Yemeni forces
take on al-Qaeda. Based mainly in the capital,
those trainers were withdrawn last year but
apparently began to filter back early this year.
In early May the Wall Street Journal
reported that US military leaders have developed
new proposals to speed the deployment of US SOF to
a growing number of the world's trouble spots.
Under the new military plan, US SOF would
deploy either as strike groups or trainers for
local armed forces. The proposal fits with a new
Pentagon military strategy put in place by Obama
in January that advocates greater use of
The plan for
special operations forces would streamline
procedures in the Defense Department for deploying
troops, relaxing review processes and giving
regional US commanders greater ease of access to
special-operations forces and equipment.
Currently, staff officers in the Pentagon
review most requests to deploy troops around the
globe. The system has been criticized for
duplicating the Special Operations Command's
planning process, but defenders say that getting
Washington's input on troop movements, however
small, is critical.
Under the new proposal
Admiral McRaven would assign SOF to the military's
various combatant commanders. In the event of a
crisis, the combatant commander could order those
units to a trouble spot without going through a
formal process to request forces.
would have the power under the new proposal to
deploy more forces during a crisis or conflict,
without going through the formal Pentagon approval
process. The plan also would allow SOCOM to move
support assets, aviation units, surveillance
equipment and intelligence specialists into
trouble spots to aid commando teams.
critics say regional commanders may not be aware
of the wider strategic signals moving assets
around the globe might send to other nations.
Review of all deployments, these officials say, is
a critical safeguard against the US inadvertently
exacerbating regional tensions.