- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

The Bush administration is cool toward a September 11 commission recommendation to give more power to American special-operations forces, in addition to clout and money already delivered to covert warriors by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Modernizing U.S. Special Operations Command (SoCom) and giving it a license to hunt terrorists has been a hallmark of Mr. Rumsfeld’s response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Now, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States is urging the Bush administration to go even further. Among its recommendations is a policy shift that would put the Pentagon — and thus the Tampa, Fla.-based SoCom — in charge of all paramilitary operations, a task now primarily directed by the CIA.

“Lead responsibility for directing and executing paramilitary operations, whether clandestine or covert, should shift to the Defense Department,” says the commission’s 567-page report completed two weeks ago.

The commission justified its recommendation on grounds that the government needs a single agency to carry out secret military operations. “The United States cannot afford to build two separate capabilities for carrying out secret military operations, secretly operating standoff missiles, and secretly training foreign military or paramilitary forces,” the commission said.

But Bush policy-makers are said to be cool at best toward the idea and are described as “hard-pressed to see the benefits.” Officials say that SoCom and CIA offer “unique capabilities” — a signal that the two agencies should be allowed to do what they do best separately.

A Pentagon spokesman said the recommendation is still being studied.

The commission criticized the CIA for mounting unimpressive paramilitary operations that often relied on “proxies” who lacked military training. “Before 9-11, the CIA did not invest in developing a robust capability to conduct paramilitary operations with U.S. personnel,” the report said. “The results were unsatisfactory.”

Some authorities on special operations say the Pentagon and CIA should accept the recommendation. They say paramilitary operations — like those mounted against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan using a mix of CIA officers, military troops and indigenous fighters — are a prime weapon against terrorist fighters.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Robert Andrews, a former Army Green Beret and CIA officer. “In some cases, it’s a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket and watch it like a hawk. There is no sense in dividing up responsibility for something as sensitive as this.”

Added Mr. Andrews, a top special-operations policy-maker in the Pentagon before and after September 11: “You’re facing enemies that are better organized. These are guys who don’t mind dying for what they believe. With the rise of Islamic terrorists, you need a standing special-operations force that can do these things, instead of a pickup [team]. That kind of mission is a main mission for SoCom. It’s a secondary mission for CIA.”

The Washington Times has reported that as war plans were being drawn up and executed for Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, planners discovered that the CIA’s standing paramilitary army was depleted and aging. The Pentagon tried to overcome the shortfall by transferring special-operations forces, including Army Green Berets and Navy Seals, to the CIA.

During the Afghan war, CIA officers would team up with special-operations forces, including the elite Delta Force, to mount missions. Currently, CIA paramilitaries participate in joint military task forces that are hunting high-value terrorists targets, including Osama bin Laden.

“The history of CIA paramilitary operations has been very mixed because the CIA itself places varying degrees of emphasis on it,” Mr. Andrews said. “They ignored it for a number of years. Then they picked it up. You can’t run special paramilitary operations with a pickup team. You’ve got to be consistent. You’ve got to have a consistent doctrine. You’ve got to have an institutional memory.”

In the commission’s scenario, the CIA would continue organizing paramilitary units, but the final planning and execution would be directed from the Pentagon.

“Each agency would concentrate on its comparative advantages in building capabilities for joint missions,” said the commission report. “The operation itself would be planned in common.”

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