- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced yesterday he has given new power to the nation's covert warriors to kill and capture al Qaeda operatives and other terrorists.

In a significant transformation of U.S. Special Operations Command, Mr. Rumsfeld said the command in Tampa, Fla., and its satellite units around the world, can now plan and execute their own hunt-and-destroy missions. The Washington Times first reported the changes in Monday's editions.

"The global nature of the war, the nature of the enemy and the need for fast, efficient operations in hunting down and rooting out terrorist networks around the world have all contributed to the need for an expanded role for the special operations forces," Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon press conference. "We are transforming that command to meet that need."

Previously, Special Operations Command, or SoCom, played a lesser role by providing warriors to combatant commands that planned and supervised attacks.

The defense secretary's announcement marked a major promotion in status and authority for special operations, a community that is sometimes dismissed by conventional commanders as prone to conduct risky missions with small payoffs.

In the 1980s, "Special Ops" was at a low point. The failures of the Desert One mission to rescue hostages in Iran came to symbolize an ill-equipped and dispirited force.

But the creation of Special Operations Command in 1987 boosted funding and prestige for secret warriors.

In 2001, the image of covert warriors grew greatly in Afghanistan, where they mobilized local fighters and helped turn the tide of battle. War planners also found that the post-September 11 job of finding individual terrorists often suited the stalking skills of special warriors.

Administration sources told The Times the command will get an additional 4,000 personnel. Most will be assigned to the Tampa command or to theater commands called T-SOCs, giving SoCom its first battle-planning staffs.

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Ky., will also be enlarged. New classified intelligence assets are being added to the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the Army's Delta Force and Navy SEALs who specialize in terrorist hunting.

The aim is to give Gen. Charles Holland, who heads SoCom, the tools to find terrorists and then dispatch commandos to catch or kill them in a matter of hours, not days. Before, SoCom was focused on training and equipping some 47,000 personnel. Now, it will also devise secret missions and command the operation.

"The challenge we face in the global war on terror is to root out those terrorist and terrorist networks that threaten our people, to find them, disrupt them, capture, drive them from their safe havens, and prevent them from murdering more of our citizens," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Today, we're taking a number of steps to strengthen the U.S. Special Operations Command so it can make even greater contributions to the global war on terror."

Mr. Rumsfeld did not supply specific budget numbers. But officials told The Times that SoCom's $4.9 billion annual budget will be increased to $6 billion in fiscal 2004. In all, it will receive a $7 billion increase to buy new weapons and equipment, and accommodate the new personnel.

In Pentagon parlance, SoCom is a "supporting" command. That means it supplies fighters to "supported" commands, such as European or U.S. Central commands, that do the war fighting. Now, in certain cases, SoCom will be a "supported" command and the regional "T-SOCs" will plan and supervise missions.

Said a senior defense official, "The essence of what is being asked here is that in the future, those T-SOCs, again working back through the unified command at Tampa could be in a position that they would be supported by the regional combatant commander in a military operation. And that is a significant change in relationships."

SoCom can now take charge of certain missions, and put at its disposal assets from the Navy, Army, Marines and Air Force.

"What it means in practical terms is that the theater special operations command would have access to Marine units in the region, air units, naval units, Army units and so forth, which would act in response to its direction," the senior official told reporters at the Pentagon.

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