By Naomi LaChance |
Americans may be worrying about rising gasoline prices, but al Qaeda-inspired terrorism is alive and viperous. Osama bin Laden is dead, yet his creation lives on as an ideological anointer of aspiring terrorist fronts. Al Qaeda-linked groups kill and maim regularly in lands from Afghanistan to Yemen and from Algeria to Somalia, plus such in-between places as the Philippines and Iraq. Disparate and scattered around the globe, these deadly cells share a convergence in lethal aim—Americans and America itself. Against these elusive networks, the Goliath power of United States—strategic bombers, aircraft carriers, and beach-storming charges—are of little use.
To confront and eliminate these terrorist threats, the savvy head of the Special Operations Command, Admiral William H. McRaven, has asked for more autonomy for his elite warriors. They not only capture and kill, but also they train indigenous troops to combat terrorist movements, liaise with local officials, and gather intelligence along with assisting in small-scale development projects to befriend villagers for recruits and information. After the withdrawal from Iraq and the planned pullout from Afghanistan, the various skills of the special operators will be in even greater demand.
Despite some grumbling from the State Department and regional combatant commanders, Admiral McRaven must be given more autonomy to position special operations forces where anti-U.S. attacks originate. The State Department concerns that specialized military units might infringe on local sovereignty as in the bin Laden raid into Pakistan are overblown. The instances are rare and undertaken only when the stakes are ultra-high. Besides, Washington approved the bin Laden attack. As for the regional four-star commanders over hotspots in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, they are eager for the capability that only special units can provide. Since the Vietnam War, a few Pentagon officials have resented and under-appreciated what special operators bring to the battlefield. This Pentagon rivalry is now being replayed as defense budgets are being cut, except for the Special Operations Command.
There are built-in restraints to any misplaced anxieties about "cowboy" operations across the globe. Special forces often rely on conventional forces. Hence conventional-service assistance, indeed participation, is needed for most of their activities. This dependence ensures coordination. They are also reliant on host countries for intelligence to conduct their missions. Thus, treading on allies' feelings is counterproductive in the long run. Moreover, special operations forces have nurtured sterling professional reputations that they themselves will uphold. Failure tarnishes like nothing else. Will there be isolated flaps? Yes, conflict is inherently chaotic. But it is a safe wager that the missteps will be rarities. A little leeway from regular Pentagon channels could well enhance our security. Bear in mind, al Qaeda and its copycats operate free of restrictive bureaucracy. Shouldn't the U.S. counter-response, too?
About Thomas Henriksen Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and at the U.S. Joint Special Operations University
Michael P. Noonan Director of Foreign Policy Research Institute's Program on National Security
Douglas Macgregor Combat Veteran and Author of Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting
Mackenzie Eaglen Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute