The reach of the U.S. military is virtually endless, with nearly every nation on earth having some kind of American armed forces presence. The commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has said that in 80 of those countries there are now Special Forces troops.
The U.S. Special Forces are a kind of army within an army. There are about 69,000 sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines in the Special Operations Forces (SOF), which operate as part of USSOCOM under Army General Joseph Votel.
Votel testified (pdf) to the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities last month, outlining the mission and capabilities of USSOCOM. Votel described the reach of SOF troops, pointing out that in 80 countries around the world, about 3,500 are stationed in “forward” positions and 7,000 in support of Geographic Combatant Command operations. Missions, he said, include working with governments to improve local security to “high-risk counterterrorism operations.”
U.S. Special Forces are stretched thin, Votel said, with most having done between four and 10 deployments, and often less than a year off between overseas tours. “SOF and their families have been under unprecedented levels of stress; it is imperative to address the effects of more than 13 years of combat operations,” Votel testified.
One reason U.S. Special Forces are stationed in so many places might be that other countries don’t have equivalent troops they can deploy. In an op-ed written for CNN, Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew and Stuart Bradin of the Global Special Operations Forces Foundation argued that more of our foreign military spending ($5.65 billion in 2015), the bulk of which goes now to Israel and Egypt, should instead be used to bolster other countries’ own special forces.
Keeler-Pettigrew and Bradin pointed out recent terrorist attacks in Kenya and the threat posed in Nigeria by Boko Haram. Those countries get no more than $1.2 million and $600,000 respectively in U.S. military aid. Increased funding directed to counter-terrorist forces in those countries and others could lessen the need to U.S. forces to be sprinkled so liberally around the world.
To Learn More:
Gen. Joseph Votel Statement (House Armed Services Committee) (pdf)
Special Forces: What U.S. Gets Wrong (by Meaghan Keeler-Pettigrew and Stuart Bradin, Global Special Operations Forces Foundation)
U.S. has Military Bases in at least 38 Countries and Sent Weapons to 94 Countries in Last 5 Years (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)
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