Pentagon Watch: Plan calls for boost in special ops forces
Every four years, the Pentagon produces a document called the Quadrennial Defense Review. Excerpts of the draft document, which is to be released on February 6, have been leaked to the press. One of the most important changes in the U.S. military's structure that it proposes is the largest increase in Special Operations Forces since the Vietnam War.
The leaked document foresees more "irregular warfare" challenges like Afghanistan and Iraq. To meet them, it says, the SOF "will increase their capacity to perform more demanding and specialized tasks, especially long-duration, indirect and clandestine operations in politically sensitive environments and denied areas."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a January 25 news conference, cautioned reporters not to place too much stock in a document that he was still revising. But the outlines of an ambitious expansion of the SOF are clear:
Army Special Forces active-duty battalions will increase by one third between 2007 and 2011;
Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations units will increase by 3,500;
A new Marine Corps Special Operations unit now being formed will number 2,600;
Air Force Special Operations Command will field a new squadron dedicated to operating unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator.
There is no doubt that these elite troops are stretched thin by the current deployments and need to grow. Currently, there are five active-duty special forces groups with a total of 15 battalions. The special forces "schoolhouse" has increased its number of graduates to 750 students this year. But some veterans believe it is too ambitious to expand the force by one third in five years. One retired special forces officer cautions that it could lead to lower standards for these highly trained soldiers, as occurred during their rapid expansion during the Vietnam War.
Finding enough qualified recruits is another problem, since according to the leaked document, the conventional Army will be capped at 482,400 soldiersand that is where the lion's share of the special forces recruits come from. And the reported plan to increase classified "Special Mission Units" will be even harder, since those recruits come from the ranks of Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Rangers.