At a time when the military is looking to reduce the size of all branches of service, it’s notable that the Pentagon hopes to expand a specialized group: Special Operations Forces.
These are the highly trained, elite forces that include Army Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALS and other units. These elite personnel carried out the mission that killed Osama bin Laden and were in the news recently for capturing a terrorist leader in Libya and raiding a terrorist camp in Somalia.
It’s understandable that the Pentagon is looking to bolster these forces. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Special Forces made up only about 5 percent of the personnel in action but accounted for a significant portion of successful operations, reports StrategyPage.com, a news service covering national security issues.
“Most military commanders were well aware of this and were always asking for more SOF [Special Operations Forces], but there was never enough to meet the demand,” StrategyPage notes.
The budget for Special Forces has increased from $2.3 billion in 2001 to more than $10 billion now, and the number of personnel in these elite units has doubled to 60,000. Given their intelligence capabilities, intensive cultural and linguistic training and combat nimbleness, these units are especially valuable in combating terrorists and irregular military forces.
Burnout unfortunately weighs heavily on the Special Forces, with their prolonged overseas duty and on-the-ground exposure in global hot spots. Even with significant re-enlistment bonuses, these units often have difficulty meeting their personnel targets.
As the fight against terrorism continues, it’s important to understand the growing role of Special Forces as well as the obstacles they face in meeting the challenges that lie ahead.