Red Tape No Excuse for Giving Special Ops Autonomy
First, fix the bureaucracy, then the real debate over secretive U.S. military operations can begin
February 17, 2012
Special operations forces should not be given more autonomy. Current law already grants authority to the president and secretary of defense to designate U.S. Special Operations Command as the supported commander. Specifically, Title 10 of the U.S. Code allows special operations activities (the mission) to be conducted under the command of the regional unified combatant commander.
Special operations forces are a small, elite community of warriors who operate mostly in the shadows. They have been granted ever greater responsibilities for planning and conducting counterterrorism operations around the globe by the current administration and the one before it.
The temptation to grant them more autonomy grows increasingly seductive as President Obama has dramatically escalated U.S. counterterrorism operations in countries like Yemen and Somalia and increasingly leans on this community to help facilitate a speedier exit from Afghanistan. It sounds reasonable enough: Just grant the commander authority to maneuver forces across geographic lines of authority established by the Pentagon's unified command plan.
But instead of a knee-jerk, blind approval of more authority or autonomy, civilians should not give away more control to the U.S. military without serious debate. Congress should be carefully examining the growing other special operations forces that have traditionally fallen under the purview of the CIA.
In fact, a recent report by the Congressional Research Service has already suggested that Congress examine "the conditions or rules that apparently enable U.S. special operations forces to operate more secretively and more rapidly under CIA control than under U.S. Special Operations Command control." The report goes on to state that another "possible concern is whether U.S. SOF are operating under CIA control in order to 'get around restrictions placed on military operations.'"
While no one disputes that the Department of Defense is a big bureaucracy—slow in its decision-making processes—giving this community even more autonomy to go around rather than fix the bureaucracy is the wrong solution.