|April 1, 2012
Source: The Hill
As the Pentagon begins to wind down the war in Afghanistan, the smaller conflicts elite U.S. forces are fighting around the world are heating up.
But DoD needs more than just men and materiel to meet these challenges. It needs additional authority from Congress to do so.
“Most of the authorities that we have right now are narrowly construed to counterterrorism … [but] I think for some countries we may need a little bit more flexibility to go in there,” Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told lawmakers on Tuesday.
The majority of counterterrorism missions by U.S. special forces have been focused on al Qaeda and Taliban cells in Afghanistan and the Middle East region.
But growing numbers and types of threats, particularly in Africa and South America, require a new approach to U.S. counterterrorism operations, Sheehan told members of the Senate Armed Services’ subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities.
“If we have a broader range of authorities, we can respond with more agility to each country with a different set of programs,” Sheehan said. “I think that’s the direction we’re thinking.”
Subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and subpanel member Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) pressed Sheehan on what exactly DoD was looking for, in terms of legislative authorities.
While not going into too much detail, Sheehan said the lines between terrorism and crime have become increasingly blurry and current U.S. statutes to address either have not kept up.
Under current federal authorities, counterterrorism is strictly a military operation conducted by DoD. Pursuing transnational criminal groups falls to law enforcement and is done by the Department of Justice.
“Some of these threats are not pure terrorism,” Sheehan explained. DoD needs to be able to go after groups that straddle the line between terrorism and organized crime.