Special Operations: May 13, 2004

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The war on terror is actually a world wide operation, and most of the work is being done by SOCOM (Special Operations Command). While most of the attention goes to Afghanistan and Iraq, most of the troops in those two theaters are regulars. Overall, the regulars are taking most of the casualties and getting the bulk of the press coverage. SOCOM has far fewer troops, and the rest of the world to cover. And likes to keep its operations quiet. 

The cutting edge of SOCOM operations are the 354 Special Forces A teams (or Operational Detachment-Alpha, or just ODA, as their official name is these days), 48 SEAL platoons and  a few dozen DELTA force and special SEAL platoons belonging to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Each ODA has twelve men, each SEAL platoon 16 and the JSOC teams average about ten people (they have a few women on the payroll) each. Special Forces and the SEALs are understrength, so most ODAs and platoons are short a few people. In all, thats about 4,500 troops. These are backed up by the 1,600 pilots and support troops of the 160th Aviation Regiment, the 2,000 troops of the 75th Ranger Regiment and thousands of other support personnel from SOCOM (which has a total strength of 45,000). These "operators" are currently actively engaged in anti-terrorist efforts in dozens of foreign countries.

The Special Forces are the guys who get out there first, and are not only responsible for collecting a lot of first hand information on terrorists, and often acting on it. To do this, the seven Special Forces groups each specializes in a different part of the world. The men of each group learn the languages of that region and study the cultures. Each group has about 1,200 troops, and is further broken down into three battalions (each of three companies with six ODAs each.) Not all groups have their full complement of ODAs. 

The location and regional orientations of the Special Forces Groups are;

1st Special Forces Group is based at Fort Lewis, Washington and specializes in East Asia and the Pacific. The 1st constantly works on dealing with potential problems in Southeast Asia, Korea, China and the Pacific in general. This group reports to the Pacific Command. 

3rd Special Forces Group is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, specializes in the Caribbean and West Africa and reports to the European Command. 

5th Special Forces Group is based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, specializes in the Middle East and South Asia (including Afghanistan and Pakistan) and reports to Central Command. 

7th Special Forces Group is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, specializes in Latin America and reports to Southern Command. 

10th Special Forces Group is based at Fort Carson, Colorado, specializes in Europe (especially the Balkans) and reports to European Command. 

There are two groups in the reserves.

19th Special Forces Group is based in Salt Lake City, Utah and covers the same territory as the 1st and 5th Groups. 

20th Special Forces Group is based in Birmingham, Alabama and covers the same territory as the 7th Group.

Even in peacetime, the Special Forces troops spend about half their time overseas, usually training foreign troops, or working with them in realistic training exercises. When doing this, the Special Forces men are not just imparting military skills to the foreign troops, but are learning much about how conditions are in these countries. These exercises enable the Special Forces troops to improve their language skills and increase their knowledge of the local cultures. They also make contact with soldiers in their foreign armies and develop friendships and working relationships that can be very useful in the event of a future crises in the area. 

Since September 11, 2001, Special Forces troops have spent even more time overseas. The men of the 5th Group, because they know the Middle East and have many people  who speak Arabic, has been worked very hard. Special Forces ODAs and individuals from the other groups have been sent in to help out, which has more than doubled the strength of the 5th Group. But the other groups have their hands full as well. The 1st Group has men in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations (and not always officially) helping to deal with the Islamic radicals in the area. Meanwhile, the 1st Group has to maintain a readiness to deal with crises involving North Korea or China. 

Men of the 7th Group have been busy in Colombia, and many other Latin American countries where terrorist groups are known, or suspected to be, operating. The 10th Group has sent many people to help out the 5th Group, partly because the 10th has gotten a lot of experience dealing with Islamic terrorist groups in the Balkans (especially Bosnia) and working with Russian counter-terrorism organizations. The 3rd Group is spending a lot of time with West African troops, teaching them the skills that enable them to deal with the growing number of Islamic terrorist groups moving down from Algeria, or forming in the area.

The biggest SOCOM presence in Afghanistan and Iraq is the civil affairs troops. SOCOM has some 9,000 civil affairs (CA) and psychological warfare (Psywar) troops. Over 80 percent of them are reservists, because their main job is to work with civilians to help them rebuild after a war or civil disorder. Thus there is a need for people with civilian management skills. 

There are currently 28 Civil Affairs battalions (actually company size units of under 200 troops) and eight Civil Affairs brigade headquarters units to control civil affairs operations and support the civil affairs battalions assigned to the brigade. SOCOM is expanding the CA force, as it became obvious in Afghanistan and Iraq that these units are an excellent follow-up to work begun by the Special Forces ODAs. But most of the CA troops are reservists, and they can only be on active duty part of the time. This is covered by the laws that stipulate how long a reservists can be called up for a national emergency. If a formal war is declared, reservists can be called up permanently, until the war is over. But the war on terror could go on for over a decades. So the army is expanding the CA force so that it can have an average of 20 percent of them on active duty over a long period of time. Special Forces can handle many CA tasks, but these are in even shorter supply.

Many of the operations (and locations) the Special Forces are involved with around the world are secret. Some involve Special Forces troops in civilian clothes. If these operations turn up useful information, there are DELTA Force and SEAL units to come in and do the heavy lifting. If more trained manpower is needed, thats what the Rangers are for. Dont be surprised if you hear about small, sharp actions in out of the way parts of the world. Actually, some of these have taken place without attracting any, or not much, media attention. There have been several operations in Somalia, which attracted little media attention because Somalia is still a dangerous place for journalists. But not for Special Forces, SEALs or DELTA Force. 

 


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