Special Operations Makes Mark on Global War on Terrorism
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
SAN DIEGO, Jan. 12, 2006 Demand for special operations forces capabilities has increased dramatically since Sept. 11, 2001, the deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command said here yesterday.
Navy Vice Adm. Eric T. Olson, deputy commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, discusses the demand for special operations forces in the global war on terror with a group of WEST 2006 conference attendees Jan. 11 in San Diego . Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"There's been much demand for our capabilities," Navy Vice Adm. Eric T. Olson said, "more than we can meet." Olson spoke at WEST 2006, a technology, communication and national security conference co-sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the U.S. Naval Institute.
First on the ground in Afghanistan in October 2001, SOCOM used nearly every tool in its toolbox to remove the Taliban from power and render al Qaeda less effective, Olson said. The success in Afghanistan led to and increased demand for the special forces' capabilities in Iraq.
"They were involved in every significant action of the opening weeks of the (Iraq) campaign and since," he said.
He added that in the recent past, nearly 85 percent of deployed special operations forces have operated in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. But, the admiral pointed out, "we still woke up in about 50 non-CENTCOM countries this morning."
"We have to win in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to win the war on terror," Olson said. "But the war on terror will not be won in just Afghanistan and Iraq."
SOCOM's participation in the global war on terror has turned the spotlight on the command, bringing it out of the shadows, he said. This added attention has brought more support, which translates into more capabilities.
"With more capability ... come higher expectations and greater authorities," Olson said.
That greater authority is evidenced in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's declaration nearly three years ago that SOCOM is the supported commander for the global war on terror, Olson said.
Under the unified command plan, SOCOM became the lead combatant command for planning and synchronizing and, when directed, executing global operations against terrorist networks. That meant that as the supported command SOCOM, which has the geographical responsibility for the area, receives support from other commands.
This responsibility is carried out with individuals as well as technology, Olson said.
"The core of our capability will always be the ... individual. We do take seriously equipping the man, not manning the equipment," Olson said.
But the command doesn't slouch when it comes to technology. SOCOM starts with what's available and creates what it needs. For instance, Olson said, an Army Chinook helicopter gets the SOCOM treatment and, when completed, has all the bells and whistles needed for special operations missions.
"I want to emphasize the (importance) that we're placing on ensuring that our SOF human weapons systems have the hardware and the training that they need to maximize their effectiveness," Olson said. "It's a holistic approach that we're taking."
The approach, through everything from recruiting to training, education and equipment, is creating what he calls "multimission humans." They are physically fit and mentally agile enough to accomplish what no other force is specifically trained to do, he said.
"Our force is in good shape and they're more capable today than at any other time in our history by far," Olson said. U.S. Special Operations Command was established by an act of Congress in October 1986 to help bring a new focus to special operations forces. Its creation was in response to a period of special operations forces decline that culminated in the 1980 Iran hostage crisis and 1983 bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, Olson said.
On Feb. 24, SOCOM will officially welcome Marine Special Operations Command to the special operations family. The Marine Corps did not provide forces when SOCOM was established. The addition will make SOCOM representative of all services, Olson said.