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DoD Official Updates Congress on Special Ops Transformation

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2004 – With the help of special operations forces, the United States has made significant progress in the war on terrorism a Defense Department official told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 25.

But sustaining that progress is not without its costs, he added.

Thomas W. O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said in his prepared statement that for the U. S. Special Operations Command to continue to gain momentum in the war on terrorism, it must modernize and transform. And he said SOCOM will use $6.546 billion -- its share of the President Bush's fiscal 2005 budget request to do so.

"I believe that the United States is at a critical moment in this war," O'Connell told the committee. "We have realized initial successes and achieved a degree of momentum that together support a general assessment that we are making progress in winning this war. But sustaining that momentum and continuing the successes against terrorists and their supporters now and into the future is just as critical."

O'Connell said the president's budget submission for SOCOM will continue the modernization and transformation efforts started by the command in fiscal 2004.

Those efforts, he said, included:

-- Transforming special operations forces' capabilities to better locate and track individual terrorists across the globe and conduct small, surgical operations with minimal risk to the employed force;

-- Maintaining sustained operations in areas where terrorist networks are operating;

-- Continuing to invest in critical "low-density/high-demand" aviation assets that provide special operations forces with the mobility necessary to deploy and to execute their missions quickly, and in key command, control and communications to more effectively support the war on terrorism; and

-- Supporting personnel SOCOM has added to better support worldwide deployments and 24-hour-a-day operations.

"This funding is essential to sustaining the necessary operations in the war on terrorism and to ensuring we can meet essential transformation requirements," he said.

In explaining SOCOM's need for modernization and transformation, O'Connell said the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed how DoD defines "defense" and how, as a consequence, the war on terrorism fundamentally is a different type of war from those the United States has fought before.

"Prior to then, we perceived and responded to the threat of global terrorism in terms of transnational criminal activity, albeit politically or religiously motivated," he explained. "Today's international terrorist is far different than those of the past, as terrorists now have global reach, infrastructure and significant resources."

He added that while special operations forces always were a part of the equation in addressing terrorism, the "posture and role" of those forces today in combating and defeating global terrorism has changed.

"Previously, we were postured to defend against a state projecting force across great distances, and we built extensive capabilities to provide us early warning and tools to deter aggression," he noted. "But the potential destructiveness of an attack of the type we suffered on 9/11 means that we are no longer afforded an opportunity to determine an 'appropriate response,' nor make a clear determination of when decisive action is too little or too late."

O'Connell pointed out that special operations forces originally were conceived to be used for "supporting or leveraging" larger conventional forces in battle, or for undertaking discrete and limited strategic missions. The new reality of war, he said, has given them a more "prominent, front-line, essential role."

That essential role forced SOCOM to set several new priorities aimed at transforming its capabilities in order to fight terrorist cells scattered across the globe, O'Connell said. Besides low-density/high-demand aviation assets, the priorities include sizing, training and equipping the command to engage in "any threat environment against any adversary," he said. Special operations forces should be culturally, linguistically, politically and regionally focused, and more rapidly deployable, he added. They also must be capable of conducting exceptionally precise strikes against specific targets and able to achieve operational and tactical superiority, he said.

O'Connell told the committee the end priority is to develop operationally and strategically agile joint forces that can develop and execute unconventional, audacious and high pay-off courses of action.

"Transformation of SOF is a journey, not a destination, and there is no mark on the wall that will indicate we are finished transforming," he said. "Transformation is a continuing process that not only anticipates the future, but also seeks to create that future."

O'Connell testified that he had recently visited both special operations and conventional forces in Iraq. He told the committee that "these forces make us proud and should cause potential adversaries to pause before seeking to harm the United States."

Special operations forces have gained much from their experience, he observed. "The commitment of SOF to pursuing terrorists to all corners of the globe is embedded in their mindset," he said. "The experience gained in defeating the Taliban and disrupting al Qaeda in Afghanistan, destroying the brutal regime in Iraq and aiding friends and partners in other corners of the globe, such as Colombia and the Philippines, has matured our warfighters to a keen edge. Our challenge is to maintain that edge."

Contact Author

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Thomas W. O'Connell

Related Sites:
O'Connell's Testimony as Prepared for the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 25, 2004
Senate Armed Services Committee
U.S. Special Operations Command

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