Tag Archives: SoCom

SOCOM; the power of the United States Special Operations Command

Admiral McRaven’s [head of the SOCOM] broad goal is to obtain new authority from the Defense Department to move his elite forces faster and outside normal Pentagon deployment channels. That would give him more autonomy to position his personnel and their fighting equipment where intelligence and world events indicate they are most needed. It would also allow the Special Operations forces to expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

At a time of declining Pentagon budgets and a waning public appetite for large wars of occupation, the Obama administration hopes to rely more on foreign troops and security forces to tackle extremist threats abroad. These new realities have led to a larger debate within the military about its future priorities, and not all senior officers welcome Admiral McRaven’s ambitious proposals, suspecting a power grab that might weaken the authority of regional commanders.  “I was trying to figure out how to stand in front of this juggernaut that is the Special Operations Command, particularly in today’s world,” Adm. Timothy J. Keating, a former head of the military’s Northern and Pacific commands, said at a Special Operations conference in April in Washington. “I don’t fundamentally understand what needs fixing.”

While it is not unusual for branches of the armed services or combatant commands to lobby Congress for troop benefits or weaponry, like new fighter jets or artillery systems, the Special Operations Command’s hurried pitch because of the pending legislation did not go down well.  In its request in April 2012, the command sought a new $25 million fund to buy uniforms, build barracks and ferry foreign troops rather than using existing Pentagon and State Department aid programs that could have added months to the process. That required changes in the law, so the command asked to tuck them into a Pentagon budget bill the House was poised to pass.

In a three-page, confidential draft legislative proposal, the command argued that by coupling the proposed changes with its existing special fast-track acquisition authorities, it could provide “a fast turnaround resource for dealing with breaking issues.” Special Operations officers would work closely with American ambassadors in each country and the State Department to support foreign policy goals.  The legislative draft filled in some details of a plan sketched out for Congress on March 27 by the Pentagon’s top civilian Special Operations policy official, Michael A. Sheehan. Citing Africa as a prime example, Mr. Sheehan, a West Point graduate who is assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and low-intensity conflict, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “We will need different authorities, we will need different types of programs in order for us to engage with the range of countries, from Libya down through Mali, which is obviously in the middle of chaos right now, to Mauritania, all the way — and, quite frankly, all the way over to Nigeria.”

But lawmakers and State Department officials were puzzled. Only last year, Mr. Gates and Mrs. Clinton, backed by Congress, agreed to pool resources from their two departments in a new fund to respond more quickly to counter emerging threats from Al Qaeda and other militants in places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa.  The program, the Global Security Contingency Fund (pdf), is small as government programs go — $250 million a year, mostly from the Pentagon — but it is meant to address many of the needs the command’s proposal outlined.

A report accompanying the military budget bill that the House approved last month summed up the objections of not only lawmakers in the House and Senate, but also high-ranking administration officials who met on May 7 at the White House to work out the dispute. “The committee is concerned that the proliferation of similar, overlapping and/or competing building partner capacity authorities creates unnecessary confusion and friction,” the House report said.

Excerpt, ERIC SCHMITT, Elite Military Forces Are Denied in Bid for Expansion, New York Times, June 4, 2012

The Benefits of War: how to train a fighting force

Perhaps no service was jolted by 9/11 more than the US Army. It reaped the benefits of developing a new way of fighting. …”The biggest change – the Army was really not an expeditionary force,” said retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who was a top aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the 2007 Iraq surge….”But ever since 9/11, the U.S. Army has been nothing but expeditionary. And soldiers who have grown up in the decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have gone through multiple deployments and have fought two wars,” he said. “So the Army has become an organization that is stressed, yes, but has also become comfortable deploying around the world and operating overseas. I think that’s one of the big changes.”

Along the way, the Army learned a new way to fight…. The big change: The Army used to stay in operating bases, launch raids into neighborhoods to kill insurgents, then return to barracks. Under the Petraeus plan, soldiers would set up shop inside insurgent territory to conduct strikes and protect civilians.  Said Col. Mansoor: “Counterinsurgents operate best when they operate among the people; … when you disperse your forces, getting them to live among the people, you generate a lot more intelligence and you insulate the people to a certain extent from insurgent violence and intimidation.”

Before 9/11, “we weren’t really thinking insurgency warfare, guerrilla warfare, irregular warfare,” he said. “We thought that was something we could pawn off on the special-warfare community. Since 9/11, obviously the U.S. Army has had to deal with it in a very serious way. And there have been a lot of growing pains in that regard, but the capabilities have increased enormously.”

Gen. Conway said that while the Army needed a new doctrine, the Marine Corps all along had been following a “small-wars manual” that had been developed over decades.  “It was new for the Army. It wasn’t new for the Marine Corps,” Gen. Conway said. “To his credit, Petraeus was always the best Army general at incorporating the things that we believe very strongly in. But the things he sort of brought to the Army were the things that we were practicing in stride.”

The irony is both of the nation’s land forces, the Marines and Army, had to switch roles. The Army became expeditionary like the Marines and then had to learn a new style of counterinsurgency. The Marines became a second land army, setting up shop in a foreign country to fight for extended periods.  “We’ve been able to morph into a second land army because that is what the country needed,” Gen. Conway said.

Counterinsurgency involves not only combat. A major challenge has been for the military to learn how to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the chief cause of casualties in Afghanistan. The Pentagon set up a new agency just for that purpose, pumping billions of dollars into electronic jammers, surveillance equipment, aircraft, metal detectors and robots.,,When Robert M. Gates succeeded Mr. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, he learned that the Marines and Army were building a new troop carrier that could repel explosions and save lives.  But why were they not out in the field? Mr. Gates demanded to know. He ordered the services to ramp up production of the vehicle known as MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) and sent them overseas.  Today, virtually every combat unit has MRAPs. The 9/11 attacks had led to a revolution in how troops move on the battlefield.

While 9/11 resulted in a gradual transformation for conventional forces, the al Qaeda strike brought immediate change for a backwater outfit in Tampa, Fla. – U.S. Special Operations Command (SoCom).Created to correct flaws discovered in the disastrous 1980 Desert One rescue mission in Iran, SoCom was more bureaucrat than war fighter….As the Pentagon still burned, Mr. Rumsfeld was thinking of SoCom as the leader of the war on terror. Commando units were the perfect organizations to hunt down and kill an unconventional enemy who worked out of ungoverned territory, safe houses and mountain caves. First, he awarded SoCom the prestige of being a “supported” command as opposed to its old role as a “supporting” one. This gave the SoCom commander authority to plan and execute what is called direct action combat.”…

Money started flowing to Tampa. The command brought in a whole new cadre of war planners and began enlarging all its special-operations components. And the Marine Corps for the first time joined SoCom and nurtured its own commandos.  “He gave them somewhere between $1.2 [billion] and $1.5 billion to take that headquarters and turn it into a war-fighting headquarters,” Gen. Boykin said of Mr. Rumsfeld.

The secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), home to Delta Force, had spent most of its time training for hostage rescues. Now, it and other commandos started preparing for how to find and hit an al Qaeda or Taliban hideout.  In less than two months, Army Green Berets were leading the invasion of Afghanistan, teaming up with anti-Taliban fighters in Pakistan and crossing the border via low-flying helicopters.  “It was a godsend because unconventional warfare was losing its luster,” Gen. Boykin said. “It was way down on the list of priorities. Afghanistan refocused attention on the [unconventional warfare] capabilities.”

Today, the command stands at 61,000 personnel, up from 45,600 on Sept. 11, 2001. It has added three Ranger companies, five Green Beret battalions, a special operations aviation battalion and an unmanned aerial squadron….

While the Pentagon built up SoCom, it also knew the expansion would be meaningless without intelligence on where terrorists and their leaders were located.  Mr. Rumsfeld created a new post, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, to coordinate information from the Pentagon’s various collection agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency. Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan now had a senior civilian to whom it could request intelligence assets for a particular mission.

In the field, it meant units such as the SEALs and Delta Force were fused into large task forces that included the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, a special military intelligence unit known as Task Force Orange, and the electronic eavesdropping National Security Agency.

The 2006 hunt for al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi illustrated the new alliance. The Delta task force intercepted communications that led it to a Zarqawi adviser, who in turn led it to his hide-out north of Baghdad. F-16s bombed the hut and killed one of the most ruthless al Qaeda operatives in the Middle East.

“They’ve really learned how to bring all the resources of the intelligence community into their operations to where the hard work is done really by the intelligence folks,” Gen. Boykin said.

The cost for all of this has been immense. The annual base defense budget since 2001 has nearly doubled to $570 billion. In addition, the wars themselves have cost an additional $1.3 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Excerpts, from Rowan Scarborough,9/11 changed war-fighting, Sept. 8, 2011