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More Special Ops Troops Will Better Answer Global Needs, Official Says

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 27, 2007 – Special Operations forces will grow by 17,000 active-duty members over the next six years, a senior military official said today at the 18th annual Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium here.

“We are fielding … the largest growth in special operations history without sacrificing quality along the way,” Navy Vice Adm. Eric T. Olson, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said.

The admiral said SOCOM’s role has been enlarged since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In 2003, “the secretary of defense said, ‘I hereby designate special operations the lead combatant commander for planning, synchronizing and, as directed, conducting defense activities against terrorists and their networks,’” Olson said. “This was a huge charter for us.”

Military planners are using a carefully vetted threat model to develop direct and indirect strategies in combating terrorism, he said.

“The direct approach is the one that gets the headlines,” he said. “It’s often kinetic and sometimes violent; it’s about finding terrorists and engaging them directly in order to render their networks less effective.

“Most importantly,” he said, “the direct approach buys us time for the other, longer-term, indirect approach.”

The indirect approach changes the environment by building U.S. partners’ capabilities, reducing local support to prevent terrorist safe havens, and eroding underlying conditions that contribute to terrorism, he said.

Olson cited the Jan. 28 battle in Najaf, Iraq, that reportedly killed 200 insurgents, to illustrate special operations’ direct and indirect approaches. “The Iraqi military forces attacked on their own and fought for 45 minutes before the arrival of the first U.S. forces, which was the Special Forces A-Team,” he said.

“That A-Team commander took charge of his piece of it and contributed as best as he could,” Olson said. “He posted snipers, called in fixed-wing air support (and) began to turn the tide of what had been sort of an inconclusive fight.”

Snipers picked off targets, a quick-reaction force arrived, and the A-Team coordinated what became a more complex fight that “ultimately became a significant victory,” Olson said.

“The Iraqi forces provided most of the manpower and most of the fighting forces,” he said. “It was Iraqi forces that had been trained by U.S. forces; (they) responded quickly, took initiative to launch their own assault; … and they were there as the victors.

“The beauty of this is that it all worked,” Olson said. “That is a complex international incident that we would not have thought possible not too long ago.”

Efforts to deny terrorists safe havens in Iraq and Afghanistan are important, Olson said, but the global threat is not limited to those two countries.

“Direct and indirect activities must be carefully synchronized to be most effective,” he said. “To help synchronize these efforts, SOCOM, other agencies in departments of our government and our partner nations are beginning to build a global combative terror network.”

The admiral cited the 2002 U.S.-Philippine combined action against the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group as an example of the international cooperation needed to effectively combat the common threat.

“Terrorists in the southern Philippines associated with the al Qaeda network (were) an intimidating presence for many years until the arrival of American forces led by Army Special Forces,” he said.

U.S. Special Operations Forces there trained and assisted Filipino forces, Olson said. “At the end of the day, through persistent military training and local humanitarian efforts, Abu Sayyaf was essentially run off Basilan Island, and they’re struggling now to make their presence known in other areas of the Philippines.”

The struggle there continues, but it was “a great local success of a different flavor and another powerful demonstration of how this is coming together as a synchronized global effort,” he said.

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