The U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are the best young men and women the U.S. has fighting to preserve our freedom and interests. Yet as Congress decides what kind of government it will fund into the future, will the U.S. squander this valuable asset or make sure it is capable of defeating those who threaten the American people?
Today SOF have superb personnel, cutting-edge tools, and a strong positive reputation. They have the right leader in Admiral Bill McRaven, a Navy SEAL. President Obama seems to have recognized the potential of these forces and is very comfortable using them. In today’s environment, SOF needs to leverage both their leader and the confidence of the commander in chief.
SOF are not a one-trick pony that can only hunt down terrorists, although they do that with an expertise that should give any would-be jihadi pause. They also can provide the kind of “pre-conflict” engagement on the ground in smoldering hot spots. If the goal is to stay out of large-scale engagements unless absolutely necessary, using SOF can help. Their language skills and cross-cultural fluency are unmatched in the military and in the entire U.S. government.
Admiral McRaven has asked for a modest expansion of his ability to engage around the world. He recognizes that his units form a scalpel that can excise the cancer of terrorism, not just by killing the terrorists but also by engaging with local communities to eliminate social conditions that gave rise to radicals.
In trying to rid the world of Islamist terrorism, the U.S. has tried radical amputation and a cosmetic Band-Aid. Neither worked. It will take a scalpel, and we need to use it.
McRaven is not asking for unlimited freedom to cowboy around the world, but he gravely needs a highly streamlined process that is built on a presumption of approval when he has the intelligence needed to act. Today, every ambassador and geographic combatant commander has a veto on SOF’s actions, and these are often exercised based on risk aversion and concerns about personal turf. SOF should certainly follow well-defined rules, but there should not be unnecessary impediments to quick and decisive action.
Congress should continue to fund SOF at present levels. The return on this investment is unmatched across the military horizon. Congress, the Pentagon, and the Administration should support the expanded worldwide use of SOF with increased authorities and freedom of action.
The challenges facing America are great. They require a great team of men and women to address them. In the SOF, the U.S. has such a team. They should be given the autonomy and resources to succeed, or they could lose that superb edge that makes them truly special.