Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Deployed around the world, Special Operations Forces (SOF) are prosecuting our global war on terror with extraordinary energy and skill. They are fighting this war, largely unseen, in every corner of the world, proving again their great capabilities and enormous value to our country.

As a member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, I have been deeply impressed by the effectiveness of these warriors in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines and other countries, where America’s vital interests are at risk. They have hunted down and killed or captured terrorists in every region of the globe.

President Bush has provided critical support to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). He has worked with the House Armed Services Committee to increase the size of SOCOM by 3,700 personnel over the next five to seven years. This includes the addition of two more SEAL Teams, four Reserve and two Active Psychological Operations companies, two Reserve civil-affairs battalions and two Active civil affairs companies.

Additionally, Mr. Bush has sought to identify incentives that would help the United States retain experienced personnel and add a limited number of active duty units to SOCOM. These incentives and increased personnel should relieve much of the stress on SOCOM and their families.

In stark contrast to Mr. Bush’s reasoned decisions about SOF, Mr. Kerry’s lack of knowledge of how the SOF works as part of our national security is disturbing. John Kerry stated that if elected he would double the size of our country’s SOF. This is a classic political promise — sweeping, bold and utterly ignorant of the true needs of its supposed beneficiaries.

In reality, the number of men actually mentally and physically capable of finishing SOF training cannot instantly be doubled upon a president’s directive. History shows that even when the military opens up more SOF opportunities, only a limited number of men can actually qualify. For example, Fort Bragg increased the number of people it allowed into its top language schools, but the washout rate now hovers around 75 percent. Also, though the Army sought to increase the number of men allowed to try out for its Special Forces, the increase in trainees did not correlate to an increase in trained operatives.

SOCOM personnel (Gen. Bryan Brown, Commander SOCOM and Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Martens, Senior Enlisted Adviser, SOCOM) have also testified that it would be a bad idea to increase the number of personnel too quickly. Inexperienced operatives must be integrated slowly into Special Forces units so they can learn and develop into competent and professional soldiers. Most of our operators in the field today possess at least nine to 10 years of experience, and new recruits must assimilate and gain the trust and respect of these high-caliber personnel.

Special Forces cannot be mass-produced. Mr. Kerry shows his lack of knowledge about SOF and SOCOM when he advocates doubling our Special Operations Forces more by fiat than careful planning.

As Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Force/Low-Intensity Conflict Thomas O’Connell stated in a subcommittee hearing, “Quality is better than quantity.” Gen. Brown has also stated, “A small number of people, carefully selected, highly trained and well-led is the key to our quality force.”

In the global war on terror, we are fighting an adaptive and intelligent enemy. Our country is using asymmetric means and requires that operations be conducted across the full spectrum of options. In this war, our SOF and SOCOM have again demonstrated that determined and disciplined soldiers, well-trained, well-equipped and well-led, are the ultimate combat system.

However, to look like a strong leader, Mr. Kerry would have to lower standards substantially. This would put our SOF and the SOCOM mission at serious risk, jeopardize our ability to bring terrorists to justice and endanger the lives of American soldiers.

That is too high a cost for any political promise.

Rep. W. Todd Akin, Missouri Republican, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities. He also serves on the House Special Operations Forces Caucus.

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