After more than a decade of costly, direct combat for the nation’s elite troops, cozying up with friendly nations is likely the best way to cope with emerging extremist threats, U.S. Special Operations Command’s Adm. William McRaven said on Tuesday.
“This will mean strengthening our existing allied relationships and building new ones,” McRaven said, in testimony to present the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget request before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “No nation alone can stem the rise of extremism. And we need our friends and allies more now than ever before.”
Alongside McRaven, Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said, “We are moving from a state of perpetual war to perpetual engagement — engaging with partners to build their capacity, engaging problems before they become too big to fix and engaging in direct and indirect action to disrupt and destroy our enemies.”
Special operations forces are currently working in more than 70 countries. But as Syria and other hotspots continue to attract a growing number of foreign fighters, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said, “demand for these elite troops continues to far exceed supply, placing enormous strain on the readiness of the force.”
While the Defense Department seeks to cut costs in the coming years, including by reducting active duty troop totals for the Army and Marine Corps, special operations commanders plan to continue adding to their numbers. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve doubled the size of the force from 33,000 [in 2001] now to coming up on 69,000. So there is available capacity out there,” McRaven said. Even more elite forces are on the way, now at a price of more than $10 billion annually, compared to just $2.3 billion allocated for special operations in 2001, before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. At the tail end of that war era, conventional forces are shrinking while special operations units are growing, to meet the global demand. McRaven warned Congress about what he called the “irreconcilable” extremists growing out of Somalia, Yemen, Syria and North Africa. “No amount of negotiations,” he said, “no amount of placation is going to put them in a position where they’re prepared to support universal values as we know them.”
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