Magazine article National Defense

Special Operations Forces Gain Clout

Magazine article National Defense

Special Operations Forces Gain Clout

Article excerpt

Future conflicts to demand unconventional military skills and equipment

U.S. special operations forces must expand their arsenal of weapons, equipment and tactics in order to be prepared for future conflicts, their leaders told a recent industry symposium.

"In the future, combat is going to be much more fluid, violent and quick than traditional warfare," said Lt. Gen. William P. Tangney, head of the Army Special Operations Command, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. "The battlespace will extend 360 degrees around the combatants, from the ground right up into space," he said.

Tangney made his comments at the 11th annual Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition, in Arlington, Va., sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

Special operations forces are elite troops from the Army, Navy and Air Force who are especially trained to take on dangerous and sensitive assignments, while attracting as little attention as possible. The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), based at MacDill Air Force Base, in Florida, consists of 47,000 soldiers, airmen and sailors, including:

* Army Special Forces, Delta Force, Rangers, psychological operations units and civil affairs teams.

* Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) forces.

* Air Force special operations squadrons. These special operators "don't have to fear unemployment," Brian J. Sheridan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the conferees. "There's plenty of work out there." Sheridan cited several factors currently contributing to international conflict:

* The break up of the Soviet Union has left a dozen desperately poor, disorganized and strife-ridden countries in its wake.

* The end of the Cold War has left many Third-World countries without subsidies from the Soviet Union and the United States that sustained them for decades. Some, such as Somalia and the Congo, "are so weak that they border on being failed states," Sheridan said.

* Previously, terrorists were sponsored by nations such as the Soviet Union, Libya or Syria. Increasingly, he explained, "that's no longer true." Today, he noted, much terrorist activity is sponsored by private citizens, such as Osama Bin Laden.

* Alliances between the drug lords of South America and Southeast Asia and organized crime syndicates, such as the Sicilian and Russian mafias, are threatening U.S. national security, Sheridan said. "In some countries, drug traffickers basically run the governments."

The United States is having trouble coping with these emerging trends because "we don't have the right infrastructure in place," Sheridan said. "We are asking Cold War structures to solve post-Cold War challenges. It's not surprising that we have trouble doing that."

Managing Social Chaos

One basic problem, Sheridan said, is that the U.S. military is not set up to manage the kind of social chaos that it encounters in peacekeeping operations. That is supposed to be the job of international civilian agencies, he said. "Law enforcement in Bosnia and Kosovo is not a military job. But the other guys aren't showing up."

What is needed, Sheridan said, is an international agency that can deploy quickly to provide emergency law enforcement and public works services.

U.S. forces also need to stay ahead of a worldwide proliferation of military technology, warned Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton A.

Schwartz, deputy commander of USSOCOM.

Space surveillance is spreading, Schwartz said. These surveillance services are available from commercial operators to anybody able to pay. "This means that our adversaries will have forewarning of our movements," he said.

As a result, explained Maj. Gen. William G. Boykin, commander of the Army's Special Forces, "It's very difficult to launch a clandestine operation. The environment just doesn't support that anymore. …

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