For U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), 2012 was a year of both achievement and ominous warning as the command remained fully engaged across the globe but with new threats emerging worldwide and challenges here at home with which to deal. In Southwest Asia, SOCOM personnel and forces continued to support America’s withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the continued proliferation of radical Islamic forces in the region remains a threat to U.S. interests across the globe. In addition, the growth of terrorist groups across Africa has become a genuine threat to American national security, as recent events have demonstrated. Finally, political infighting and the continuing fiscal crisis within the U.S. government itself is becoming a real danger to the gains made by the American special operations forces (SOF) community in the past decade.
All of these factors made 2012 a challenging year for the command staff at SOCOM and its various component commands, especially as they worked to complete the mandated expansion laid down as a result of the past several Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) cycles. Fiscal year 2013 (FY 13) is planned as the year those mandates will be completed, and 2014 will begin another round of QDR examinations and studies. And while there is every expectation that SOCOM will do well in the eyes of the Department of Defense (DoD), Congress, and the administration, there is also no expectation of any sort of “plus up” in either finance or in strength. On the contrary, the SOCOM leadership and staff are fully expecting lean times ahead in the next few years and are planning appropriately.
The Global SOF Network
From the very beginning of his time commanding SOCOM, Adm. William H. McRaven recognized that events far away from his headquarters in Tampa, Fla., would dominate the next decade of his command. Some of these included:
- Afghanistan – The decision by President Barack Obama to withdraw all American combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
- Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) – In January 2012, then-Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta issued his DSG, which included drawdowns of U.S. military forces, cancellations of some modernization or procurement programs, and a “pivot to the Pacific” for the American military.
- Emerging threats – Uncertainty over rapidly emerging threats worldwide, including a resurgent al Qaeda in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
- 2014 QDR cycle – The 2014 QDR cycle and what it will bring remain a mystery.
- Sequestration – The Budget Control Act of 2011, designed to rein in federal spending, has turned into “sequestration” and has wreaked budgetary havoc within the U.S. military.
What all of these factors translate into is one word: uncertainty. McRaven, something of a visionary during uncertain times, clearly saw the worst-case scenarios beginning to develop in 2011, and in 2012 rolled out his answer to the specter of an uncertain world and budget. Known as the Global SOF Network, McRaven’s plans for SOCOM in the post-Iraq/Afghanistan world involve the development of an international SOF network, described in answers to a series of questions put to him recently by The Year in Special Operations.
“Expanding the SOF network is about increasing and strengthening our partnerships throughout the global SOF enterprise,” McRaven said. “The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate – all under the authority of the geographic combatant commanders (GCCs) and the Chiefs of Missions (COM).
“We live in a world in which the threats have become increasingly networked and pose complex and dynamic risks to U.S. interests around the world. To address these threats, we must also be dynamic in regard to a global perspective. With SOF deployed in over 70 countries on a daily basis, SOCOM can provide a global view to help link and synchronize global effects across geographic boundaries,” he said.
“I am a supporting commander to the geographic combatant commanders and the Chiefs of Mission. To best serve the interest of the GCCs and the COMs, SOCOM is developing a plan to enhance its already global force by networking with our U.S. interagency counterparts, and our foreign allies and partners around the globe.”