June 16, 2009:
U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is seeing their budget jump, to $8.65 billion for next year. That's up from $5.7 billion this year. Last year, they got $6 billion, and $8 billion in 2007. Meanwhile, troop strength has gone up from 46,000 in 2007 to 50,000 this year. In 2003, SOCOM had 46,000 people and a budget of $4.8 billion.
Despite the success of the U.S. Army in Iraq, many American politicians believe that special operations units, particularly Special Forces, can win wars against irregulars and terrorists better and cheaper than regular troops, no matter how well trained, can. In practice, more Special Forces, working with regulars, can do the job better. But there are only so many special operations troops available, and you can only expand the force a few percent a year, at most. But the ratio of Special Forces to regulars will be more favorable in Afghanistan, because there will be less than half as many regulars there as were in Iraq.
The U.S. Special Forces are a unique military organization, the only one in the world with troops who specialize in the language and culture of nations they may be operating in. The Special Forces are also elite troops, very selective, and requiring several years of specialized training before they are ready for action. But the Special Forces, and SOCOM in general, need a lot of special equipment (especially aircraft and helicopters) to be successful. SOCOM has worn a lot of their gear out over the last eight years, and much of the additional money they are getting is simply going to replace or refurbish the used up equipment.
The U.S. Army Special Forces tactics are becoming very popular in the war on terror. These techniques involve going in and making friends with as many people as possible, and then waiting for the people you have helped to reciprocate with information, or even actively joining your efforts to chase down terrorists. The first thing you have to do is make an assessment, and this is why Special Forces training includes learning the languages of the area they will specialize in. The five active duty Special Forces groups (brigades) each specialize in a different region of the world. Going around to villages or neighborhoods to introduce yourself usually goes over very well. The Special Forces is an exotic visitor who speaks your language, knows your customs and is very respectful. Two men in each twelve man Special Forces team are medical specialists, and being able to provide professional medical attention in Third World countries is a great ice breaker. Since they know the culture, the Special Forces operators know when it is polite to offer something, how to do it, and when to keep quiet. The people in these poor countries know of America as a rich, generous country, so its not difficult for the Special Forces to offer assistance. After all, America has so much, and likes to share, and there are so many poor people.
The Special Forces will usually say why they are there, to catch terrorists who threaten the United States. For that reason, the Special Forces will get cozy with locals who are not Islamic radicals. Its all about establishing relations, and maintaining them. The army Civil Affairs battalions actually belong to the Special Forces, and specialize in working long term with locals to improve living and economic conditions. Something as simple (for Americans) as having a veterinarian check local herds for diseases, and then inoculating the animals to cure, or prevent livestock diseases, creates lots of good will. Flying in equipment to drill water wells, or passing out battery powered short wave radios (with a wind up mechanism to recharge the battery) builds long term good will. The Special Forces know what goods and services will be most useful, and appreciated, by the locals.
Once the good will is established, the Special Forces then have an invaluable intelligence tool; the ability to go to villagers and just sit and talk. And ask questions that will be answered. Did any armed strangers pass by the village in the last week? The imam (Moslem clergyman) in a nearby town is preaching hatred of the West, is anyone paying attention to him? Are the Islamic radicals more, or less, popular than he was a year ago. Getting honest answers is not automatic, you have to gain trust first.
The Special Forces training also makes it easier for the operators to detect when they arent making progress. To detect when they are being lied to or patronized. This is important, because the Special Forces and Civil Affairs troops might we working an area for months, or years, before the locals decide that the foreigners are OK and can be trusted, and spoken to freely and frankly. The war on terror is being fought, and won, with thousands of good deeds and kind words. These are tools that are often more effective than bombs and bullets.