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Friday, April 8, 2011

U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress

Andrew Feickert
Specialist in Military Ground Forces

Thomas K. Livingston
Air Force Fellow

Special Operations Forces (SOF) play a significant role in U.S. military operations, and the Administration has given U.S. SOF greater responsibility for planning and conducting worldwide counterterrorism operations. U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has close to 60,000 active duty, National Guard, and reserve personnel from all four services and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians assigned to its headquarters, its four components, and one sub-unified command. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) directs increases in SOF force structure, particularly in terms of increasing enabling units and rotary and fixed-wing SOF aviation assets and units. USSOCOM Commander, Admiral Eric T. Olson, in commenting on the current state of the forces under his command, noted that since September 11, 2001, USSOCOM manpower has nearly doubled, the budget nearly tripled, and overseas deployments have quadrupled; because of this high level of demand, the admiral added, SOF is beginning to show some “fraying around the edges” and one potential way to combat this is by finding ways to get SOF “more time at home.” Admiral Olson also noted the effectiveness of Section 1208 authority, which provides funds for SOF to train and equip regular and irregular indigenous forces to conduct counterterrorism operations.

Vice Admiral William McRaven, the current commander of the Joint Special operations Command (JSOC) has been recommended by the Secretary of Defense for nomination to replace Admiral Olson, who is retiring this year, as USSOCOM Commander. USSOCOM’s FY2012 Budget Request is $10.5 billion—with $7.2 billion in the baseline budget and $3.3 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, representing an increase of seven percent over the FY2011 Budget Request of $9.8 billion.

There are potential issues for congressional consideration. U.S. SOF in Iraq are in the process of transitioning counterterror operations in Iraq to Iraqi SOF and lessons learned could assist Congress in its oversight role. Another issue is that on January 6, 2011, Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen announced starting in FY2015, the Army would decrease its permanently authorized endstrength by 27,000 soldiers and that the Marines would lose anywhere between 15,000 to 20,000 Marines. Because USSOCOM draws their operators and support troops from the Services—primarily from the non-commissioned officer (NCO) and junior officer ranks—USSOCOM will have a smaller force pool to draw its members from. In addition, because the Services will have fewer troops, they might not be as receptive to USSOCOM recruitment efforts in order to keep high-quality NCOs and junior officers in their conventional units. Another implication is that these force reductions might also have an impact on the creation and sustainment of Army and Marine Corps “enabling” units that USSOCOM is seeking to support operations.

Another potential issue involves initiatives to get more “time at home” for SOF troops to help reduce stress on service members and their families. One of the major factors cited by USSOCOM leadership regarding “time away from family” is that SOF does not either have access to or the appropriate types of training facilities near their home stations, thereby necessitating travel away from their bases and families to conduct pre-deployment training. While the creation of additional local SOF training facilities might seem to be an obvious solution to this problem, the availability of land for military use as well as existing environmental regulations could make it difficult for USSOCOM to create new training facilities or modify existing facilities to suit SOF training requirements.

Date of Report: March 28, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS21048
Price: $29.95

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