U.S. Not Fighting Alone Against Global Terrorists
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 17, 2006 More than a half million U.S. and coalition forces are now engaged in the fight against global terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, a senior U.S. general said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday.
"There's well over 600,000 people under arms fighting against common foes and dealing with common problems, all designed to defeat extremism in the region," Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, said.
"Clearly, the struggle against extremism is not one that we fight alone," Abizaid said.
Today, less than 200,000 U.S. servicemembers are serving within CENTCOM's area of operations, said Abizaid, who's in charge of U.S. military efforts in a region that includes Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. That's a decrease in U.S. troop strength compared to three years ago when more than 300,000 American troops were deployed across the command's theater of operations, the general said.
More than 30,000 coalition troops are serving throughout CENTCOM, Abizaid pointed out. There are also now 240,000 Iraqi troops and police as well as 86,000 Afghan security forces enjoined in the fight against terrorism, he said.
"We also need to consider that today there are 70,000 Pakistanis and nearly 20,000 Saudis who are effectively battling extremists on their own soil independent of our operations," Abizaid added.
Abizaid also praised the efforts of U.S. special operations forces deployed worldwide, citing their unparalleled sacrifice, courage and professionalism.
Special operations troops "are absolutely instrumental in the conduct of this war," Abizaid said. Special operators' counterterrorism efforts and other work "is just absolutely superb," he said.
The chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, Army Gen. Bryan D. Brown, accompanied Abizaid at the hearing. Now is the "most dynamic and successful time in the history of special operations forces across the spectrum of our missions," Brown said. More than 7,000 special operations forces are deployed worldwide, with almost 90 percent serving within CENTCOM's area of responsibility, he said.
Brown said the training of Iraqi counterterrorism forces is one of many successes achieved by members of his command. "In a little over a year, this force has become one of the best counterterrorist forces in the region," Brown said. Iraqi special operators recently pulled off a successful rescue of a captured Iraqi general, he said.
Senior U.S. political and military leaders believe the war against global terrorism will be a prolonged endeavor, so Special Operations units are bulking up for the challenge, Brown said. The recent Quadrennial Defense Review recommends that SOCOM expand to meet the threat, Brown said, noting his command is slated to grow by 13,000 members.
"This includes five Special Forces battalions," Brown said, noting these formations "are the key to our unconventional warfare capability." QDR-directed growth is expected among Army, Air Force, and Navy special operations forces, he said.
Three weeks ago, SOCOM's newest component, Marine Corps Special Operations Command, was activated, Brown said. That command "will eventually add 2,600 Marines and keep capabilities to SOCOM for the long-term global fight," the general added.