Proposal to Give Special Ops Boss More Sway Faces Scrutiny

Lawmakers and a key military official seem reluctant to let special ops chief shift forces.


The top U.S. Army commander said Tuesday that a recent push to give special ops troops more authority to deploy worldwide was unnecessary and that the commanders of regional forces should maintain control.

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Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said the current system for "flowing" forces into global hotspots "works pretty good."

At issue is a proposal floated recently by U.S. Special Operations Command chief Adm. William McRaven that would give him more power to move his elite commandos around the globe. Pentagon brass say they are mulling the proposal.

"What Admiral McRaven is proposing is that ... he would have the ability to maneuver forces across geographic combatant command lines to keep up with an agile enemy," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told lawmakers last week.

Here's how the process works now, according to Dempsey: If Pentagon officials are considering sending a special operations unit to Mali to train indigenous forces, "right now the AfriCom commander has that authority," Dempsey said, using Pentagon shorthand for U.S. Africa Command. But in what would be a radical change, McRaven "is suggesting maybe SoCom should."

Not so fast, Odierno told DOTMIL during Tuesday's invitation-only meeting with defense reporters in Washington.

"You can only have one person responsible for what happens in an area," Odierno says. And the Army chief knows a thing or two about the topic. He was the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq from 2008 through 2010.

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But Odierno sees some value in McRaven's proposal, saying it makes sense to give the special operations chief the ability to move forces because elite commandos often need to deploy rapidly to engage al Qaeda and other extremist groups. Odierno says that should be done with the approval of regional commanders.

Some lawmakers have also warned that giving SOCOM a freer hand might undercut the regional work of government agencies, such as the State Department.

"You can't have the situation ... where people are going out there and the ambassador doesn't know and the [regional commander] doesn't know," warned Washington Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks.

But Dempsey called the matter "a non-issue."

"I assure you that we don't bring a single Soldier, let alone an organization, into a country without the ambassador's approval and then the approval of the secretary of defense," Dempsey said.

Rick "Ozzie" Nelson, a former National Security Council and National Counterterrorism Center official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies" wrote in a recent report that, if enacted, McRaven's proposal "would solidify SOF's increasingly prominent position as a truly global force."

To that end, several former military officials told DOTMIL that Special Operations Command likely will play such a large role in future U.S. military operations that it should be made its own service-complete with greater sway over its budget, personnel and equipment.

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