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Inside the Ring
Question of the Day
The commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command said recently that the mission of special operations commandos has not been downgraded and that there is no “meaningful gap” with policy-makers on the use of commandos.
“There was no decision to ‘downgrade U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM),’” Adm. Eric T. Olson, the commander, said in response to the July 10 Inside the Ring article that reported such a downgrade as of May. “SOCOM has not ‘reverted to its previous coordination and training role.’”
“There is no meaningful gap between USSOCOM and [Office of the Secretary of Defense] policy,” he stated in a private e-mail to a military chat group. “[Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates and [Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael G.] Vickers, in particular, have been strong, steady and knowledgeable in their decisions and judgments regarding special operations forces.”
Adm. Olson was responding to special operations officials who are critical of the Pentagon and the command for not employing elite troops more effectively in the war on terrorism, specifically the hunt for such al Qaeda leaders as Osama bin Laden, and for the failure since 2002 to conduct U.S. commando operations in the ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan, where the senior leader is believed to have been hiding.
The officials privately told Inside the Ring that one of the problems is the refusal of the Bush administration and intelligence community to implement the recommendation of the 2004 9/11 Commission to give the Pentagon lead responsibility for directing and executing all covert and overt paramilitary operations.
Adm. Olson stated in his e-mail that the command and the intelligence community “are operating together more closely than ever before.”
He declined to be interviewed, but a command spokesman provided some answers to questions submitted to the command.
Other special operations officials close to the command, however, said the report in this space was “spot on” in identifying policy constraints that have been placed on the use of special forces by policy-makers, many of whom prefer less aggressive intelligence-related operations against al Qaeda terrorists.
Adm. Olson stated in a speech earlier this year that SOCOM does not direct specific activities that are in areas of operations of other commands, which is contrary to what former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld wanted the command to do to more aggressively capture and kill terrorists.
Asked if Adm. Olson regarded that as a change or downgrade of mission, SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw stated in an e-mail: “USSOCOM is meeting all of its responsibilities and using all of its assigned authorities. These authorities have not been scaled back or downgraded by anyone at the Department of Defense or USSOCOM.”
Current law and policy give combatant commanders responsibility for all military operations in their regions and “deployed USSOCOM forces serve under the operational control of the [regional combatant commanders],” Mr. McGraw said.
However, the law and policy that allow commandos to conduct operations “as directed” by the president or secretary of defense “does not by itself permit USSOCOM to conduct activities without the full knowledge and support of” other commanders, he said.
The 2004 Unified Command Plan gives SOCOM the role as “lead planner and synchronizer” for all operations in the war on terrorism, not just special operations, he said.
“The authorities granted to USSOCOM by the 2004 [Unified Command Plan] have been inaccurately described by others as permitting unilateral [Special Operations Forces] operations globally,” Mr. McGraw said. “Adm. Olson was simply correcting this misperception” in the May speech.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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