Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces
By ERIC SCHMITT, MARK MAZZETTI and THOM SHANKER
Published: February 12, 2012
WASHINGTON — As the United States turns increasingly to Special Operations forces to confront developing threats scattered around the world, the nation’s top Special Operations officer, a member of the Navy Seals who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is seeking new authority to move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels.The officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global 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.
While President Obama and his Pentagon’s leadership have increasingly made Special Operations forces their military tool of choice
, similar plans in the past have foundered because of opposition from regional commanders and the State Department. The military’s regional combatant commanders have feared a decrease of their authority, and some ambassadors in crisis zones have voiced concerns that commandos may carry out missions that are perceived to tread on a host country’s sovereignty, like the rift in ties with Pakistan after the Bin Laden raid.
Administration, military and Congressional officials say that the Special Operations Command has embarked on a quiet lobbying campaign to push through the initiative. Pentagon and administration officials note that while the Special Operations Command is certain to see a growth in its budget and personnel when the new Defense Department spending plan is released Monday — in contrast to many other parts of the military that are being cut — no decisions have been made on whether to expand Admiral McRaven’s authorities.
The White House and State Department declined to comment on the proposal on Sunday.
The proposals are put forward as a new model for warfare in an age of diminishing Pentagon budgets, shrinking numbers of troops and declining public appetite for large wars of occupation, according to Pentagon officials, military officers and civilian contractors briefed on the plan. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.
Under the new concepts, a significant number of Special Operations forces — projected at 12,000 — would remain deployed around the world. While commando teams would be on call for striking terrorist targets
and rescuing hostages, just as significant would be the increased number of these personnel deployed on training and liaison assignments and to gather information to help the command better predict approaching national security risks.
Officials stressed that in almost all cases, Special Operations forces would still only be ordered on specific missions by the regional four-star commander.
“It’s not really about Socom running the global war on terrorism,” Admiral McRaven said in a brief interview last week, referring to the Special Operations Command. “I don’t think we’re ready to do that. What it’s about is how do I better support” the regional combatant commanders.For the past decade, more than 80 percent of the United States’ Special Operations forces have been deployed to the Middle East
. With the military’s conventional forces coming home after the full withdrawal from Iraq, Admiral McRaven wants the authority to spread his commando teams into regions where they had been thinned out to provide forces for wars after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Even more, Admiral McRaven wants the authority to quickly move his units to potential hot spots without going through the standard Pentagon process governing overseas deployments. Historically, the deployment of American forces overseas began with a request from a global combatant commander that was processed through the military’s Joint Staff and placed before the defense secretary for approval, in a cautious and deliberate process.
Shifting national security threats may argue for Admiral McRaven’s plans. With Special Operations forces concentrated in the Middle East and Southwest Asia over the last decade, commanders in other regions are seeking more of these units in their areas.State Department officials say they have not yet been briefed on the proposals
. In the past, some ambassadors in crisis zones have opposed increased deployments of Special Operations teams, and they have demanded assurances that diplomatic chiefs of missions will be fully involved in their plans and missions.
Senior Special Operations commanders pledged that their efforts would be coordinated with the senior diplomatic representative in each country. These officers also describe how the new authorities would stress working with local security forces whenever possible. The exception would be when a local government was unable or unwilling to cooperate with an authorized American mission, or if there was no responsible government in power with whom to work.
Admiral McRaven’s plans have raised concerns even within the Special Operations community. Two Pentagon consultants said they have spoken with senior Special Operations officers who worry about their troops being stretched too thin. They are also concerned that Special Operations forces — still less than 2 percent of the entire military — will become so much the “go to” force of choice that they are asked to carry out missions beyond their capacity.
“Sure, we’re worried about that,” said one senior Special Operations officer with several command tours overseas. “But we also think we can manage that.”
The Special Operations Command now numbers just under 66,000 people — including both military personnel and Defense Department civilians — a doubling since 2001. Its budget has reached $10.5 billion, up from $4.2 billion in 2001 (after adjusting for inflation).
Over the past decade, Special Operations Command personnel have been deployed for combat operations, exercises, training and other liaison missions in more than 70 countries. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Special Operations Command sustained overseas deployments of more than 12,000 troops a day, with four-fifths committed to the broader Middle East.
Even as the Pentagon trims its conventional force, with a refocus on the Asia-Pacific region and reductions in Europe, the Special Operations Command says it needs to permanently sustain that overseas force of 12,000 deployed around the world — with troops that came out of Iraq being distributed across regions that had not had many over the past decade.Under Admiral McRaven’s evolving plans — what he calls the Global SOF Alliance — Special Operations forces would be moved around the globe at his direction, to bolster the forces available to the top Special Operations officer assigned to each theater of operation. Thickening the Special Operations deployments in these other regions would allow the United States to be ready to respond more rapidly to a broader range of threats.
Current guidelines allow the Special Operations Command to carry out missions on its own for very specific types of operations, although that has rarely been done and officials involved in the current debate say that would remain a rare event.
“He’s trying to provide global agility,” said one former military official who has been briefed on the planning. “If your network is not elastic, it’s not as agile as the enemy.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/us/admiral-pushes-for-freer-hand-in-special-forces.html?_r=1&ref=world