- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

U.S. special operations, the top command in fighting the global war on terrorism, is reorganizing itself to show more of its softer side.

Realizing brute force must be tempered by outreach and diplomacy, Special Operations Command (SoCom) is shifting some personnel away from the battlefield and toward the training of foreign armies, who in theory would then be able to hold al Qaeda in check without U.S. military intervention.

SoCom’s main mission of attacking terrorists abroad in hours, not days, and for killing or capturing the enemy remains. But it hopes small teams of trainers sent today to North Africa, the Middle East or the Pacific will mean the U.S. would not have to send thousands of troops later to fight terrorists.

“U.S. SoCom is expanding its capacity to perform FID across the components,” said a SoCom statement in response to questions from The Washington Times. FID stands for the Foreign Internal Defense mission — a task performed by special operations for decades, but now getting new emphasis.

Until now, Army Special Forces, better known as Green Berets, did virtually all such missions. Now, the Marine Corps have gotten involved, as well as Navy SEALs.

“We have done some internal reorganization,” said Maj. Cliff Gilmore, spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). “Certainly, the foreign international defense mission is a set of missions that is becoming more common, and there is a great demand for them.”

Adm. Eric Olson, who became chief of U.S. Special Operations Command last year, signaled a change last summer when he told Congress, “We know that we cannot kill or talk our way to victory … Our actions must demonstrate our values and be convincing locally, regionally and — ultimately — globally.”

A few months later, Marine Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, who heads the year-old MARSOC, convened an off-site conference with unit commanders. The result: Gen. Hejlik decided to reduce “direct action” personnel and shift them to the training mission.

Plans for nine special operations companies of 120 Marines each, which focuses on combat missions, were reduced by one. Each company will now have 80 to 90 combatants.

Gen. Hejlik shifted the billets to special operations advisory groups — the teams that deploy to such places as North Africa, the target of al Qaeda bombings, to teach counterinsurgency tactics. The number of those teams is going up from 24 to 30, and from 11 Marines each to 14.

“A small team can have a profound effect, long-term,” Maj. Gilmore said. “We’ve really been global with our small teams already. We’re watching as we grow to make sure we grow in the right direction.” The shift to a softer approach is not confined to MARSOC, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The command is adding five Army Green Beret battalions, as well as 200 trainers to the Air Force unit that specializes in foreign training. Navy SEALs, which for years concentrated on direct combat, are adding two training teams.

“As the mission has evolved in Iraq and Afghanistan, the SEALs have become more involved in” foreign internal defense in U.S. Central Command countries than before, said the SoCom statement.

Said a special ops veteran officer, “The SEALs have concentrated on direct action and strategic reconnaissance missions for the command. Many of the younger SEALs want to expand their role and to show what they can do in other special operations areas.” The added personnel will allow commandos to go back to countries they had to exit because their services were needed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, SoCom said.

SoCom headquarters has added a new planning section, dubbed J-10, that is responsible for irregular warfare, which includes the foreign training mission. Its statement said the Marine reorganization was not ordered by Adm. Olson.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld designated SoCom as the lead worldwide combatant. In 2003, he signed a secret order authorizing SoCom to devise a plan for attacking terrorists.

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