Special Operations Command: Strategies, Opportunities in Long War on Terrorism

By Farrell, Lawrence P., Jr. | National Defense, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Special Operations Command: Strategies, Opportunities in Long War on Terrorism


Farrell, Lawrence P., Jr., National Defense


IT IS WIDELY ACCEPTED THAT THE war on terrorism which started with the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut is going to be a protracted conflict.

Much uncertainty remains as to how we will win this war. Our armed forces around the world are making extraordinary efforts that underscore the nation's great military prowess. But they also point to the enormous difficulties of fighting the amorphous, irregular enemies the United States is now confronting.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt appropriately described this adversary as a "full-spectrum network."

In a keynote speech to NDLA's Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium, Kimmitt--who is now deputy assistant secretary of defense for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs--out lined the formidable challenge posed by al-Qaida and its associates. These terrorist groups, regrettably, have managed to create virtual and physical networks to forward their radical ideology around the world.

"The fact that it uses the most advanced methods of communications to get what it needs done is truly remarkable," Kimmitt said. Terrorist networks facilitate recruiting, and also provide operatives with access to information on chemical and biological weapons. The Internet is their medium to wire money, to share tactics, techniques and procedures and to coordinate operations.

The only way to defeat such a network, Kimmitt suggested, is by developing an even more robust network that would allow U.S. intelligence agencies, for example, to track the sources of financing for terrorist cells. We also need networks that connect us with allies around the globe to ensure that terrorists are denied safe havens. Our networks also must facilitate U.S. assistance to allies, so these partners can build their own military and intelligence capabilities to fight terrorism.

To posture for the long war, Kimmitt said, the last thing we want to do is garrison massive forces in the Middle East. That only becomes an irritant and a catalyst for jihadists to further their cause.

The fight against these non-state militants requires nimble, covert operators who understand Islamic cultures and can build alliances. That is where U.S. special operations forces come in. Their role in this long war cannot be underestimated.

To the Defense Department's credit, it has begun to take steps to boost the capabilities and size of the Special Operations Command. Navy Vice Adm. Eric Olson, SOCOM's deputy commander, said the expected growth includes the addition of 17,000 personnel, additional units and expanded intelligence gathering tools, such as a new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles. …

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