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Defense Leader Thanks Lawmakers for Support of Special Ops Forces

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2006 – Ultimate victory in the Long War requires the U.S. military to adopt more unconventional and indirect approaches in the way it fights, and the Defense Department is doing just that, the Pentagon's top special operations official told a Senate panel here today.

In testimony prepared for delivery to the emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee of the Senate Armed Service's Committee, Thomas W. O'Connell said the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review sets a course for continued special operations transformation from a reactive force with regional capabilities to a pre-emptive global force. O'Connell is assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

O'Connell said the QDR's emphasis on changing the way special operations forces and U.S. Special Operations Command operate will give the nation "a significantly expanded SOF program that will qualitatively increase not only USSOCOM's capabilities, but also its capacities to confront and prevail against the global terrorist network threat."

Fighting "asymmetrical threats" -- enemies who don't wear uniforms or observe rules of conventional warfare -- pose a challenge for the nation's special operations forces, O'Connell noted. "We are faced by interacting networks, sometimes structured, of radical extremists who inflict terror with minimal concern for their innocent victims," he said. "These networks will migrate to places where they can survive, operate and grow. Our challenge is to develop counter-networks to monitor, isolate, disrupt and destroy hostile elements."

While SOCCOM has started this process and some of its operations are visible, O'Connell said, a large investment has been made in "low-visibility and clandestine activities."

He praised the work special operations forces have done and continue to do in key fronts of the Long War in U.S. Central Command's theater of operations. "Our Army Special Forces; Army special operations aviation forces; Army Rangers; Navy SEALs and special boat units; Army civil affairs (and) psychological operations units; (and) Air Force special operations crews and staffs, combat controllers and weather teams have served CENTCOM requirements very well from their counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense roles in Afghanistan and Iraq to their work in the Horn of Africa," he said. "Most important, SOCOM forces operate in the only environment that can lead to success: joint, interagency, combined and coalition."

O'Connell thanked the senators for their support of special operations forces and told them their continued interest and support are critical, spelling out what he called "the SOF Truths" that must always be considered:

  • Quality is better than quantity;
  • Special operations forces cannot be mass-produced;
  • Competent special operations forces cannot be created after a crisis occurs; and
  • Humans are more important than hardware.

"These truths have been reaffirmed by the awe-inspiring performance of our special operations forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines, and many other countries around the world," he said. "I hope one day we may be able to fully reveal their story."

O'Connell said the posture, programming and policy for special operations forces has implications for all aspects of the nation's defense. "Our special operators have often been the innovators for the larger military," he said, "and the SOF mind-set has been the incubator of innovation. That is especially true today.

"With the shift from SOF being postured for reactive, regional contingencies to being a global, proactive and pre-emptive force," he continued, "we are witnessing a key evolution in how we must conduct our security affairs in the future and address those 'safe havens,' and build capacity to deal with those who would harm our country."

Contact Author

Thomas W. O'Connell

Related Sites:
DoD Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict
U.S. Special Operations Command

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