The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has always been a bad idea. It was formed in the 1980s after the Carter administration wanted to undertake the Iranian hostage rescue mission. The civilians learned that both the Army and Marines had focused on fighting major wars with the Soviet Union and neither had an effective long-range commando force. The Pentagon made a clumsy attempt to form a joint task force for the mission, with predictable results. The Marines have been the nation's worldwide commando force, but lost most of those skills as their generals became enthralled with fighting division-size land battles. The Marines were offended by the SOCOM idea, so refused to allot units and trained their deployed 2000-man amphibious units for special operations.
The Army put their Special Forces "Green Berets" into SOCOM, as well as the 75th Ranger Regiment and Delta Force. The Navy added its SEALs, who saw an opportunity for more funding. The U.S. Air Force added some C-130s and its big CH-53s. While this joint command seemed to make sense, SOCOM headquarters became just another U.S. military bureaucracy run by conservative career-minded generals and admirals who engage in petty joint service squabbles. As a result, the CIA has proven more effective at unconventional operations than SOCOM. CIA agents often spend their career focusing on one nation or region, while SOCOM officers change assignments every two years because of the U.S. military's ticket-punching dance, then must retire in their early 40s.
Eliminating SOCOM will free the special operations units in each armed service to focus on an area of expertise, and eliminate a thousand or so headquarter slots. In particular, it will eliminate the SOCOM "component command" appendage now found in each regional unified command. SOCOM officers in these commands prefer to work completely independent of nearby American forces, and are reluctant to ask for help. In 1993, this was disastrous in Somalia when Rangers and Delta operators became stranded and suffered heavy casualties for over four hours before they asked soldiers from the nearby 10th Mountain Division for help. It took these soldiers a couple of hours to organize a rescue because the SOCOM guys had never told them what was happening. This was also a problem in Afghanistan. The Washington Post ran an excellent series "Ambush in Takur Ghar" on May 23, 2002 that noted:
"Although [Lt. Gen.] Hagenbeck was the senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan with responsibility for much of Operation Anaconda, he did not control the Ranger mission. That authority fell to Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory Trebon, who ran a separate [SOCOM] unit overseeing special operations. Trebon's command post also was at Bagram, but set apart from Hagenbeck's. A liaison officer who reported to Trebon sat next to Hagenbeck. Trebon declined to be interviewed. "Literally, we were spectators watching," Hagenbeck said. "We did not know what the [SEAL] rescue squad on the ground had been reporting. I still don't know to this day what they reported to the commander here and what was transmitted to the Rangers on board the helicopter -- whether they said there's no other way to get here, or if they said we can suppress the enemy fire, or if they said we're going to lose some guys but it's the only way to do it. We were just looking at a [Predator UAV video] screen without any audio to it."
SOCOM headquarters and its component command appendages should be eliminated. The Marines can continue to provide sea-based special ops, and eliminate its new redundant MARSOC command component formed just last year. Navy SEALs should be re-equipped and tasked to serve as naval commandos, filling a void. Delta Force can retain its special worldwide mission as the Pentagon's hip-pocket strike force. The 75th Ranger Regiment can continue its role as a symbolic training unit for Army Rangers, who can be attached to Army Corps or Divisions as needed. The Air Force would be happy since it will soon deactivate its CH-53s and can scrap its new CV-22s that didn't meet expectations. It became angry at SOCOM's low priority for combat search and rescue during the 1991 Iraq war, so it has formed its own units to save downed pilots.
An independent Army Special Forces command can better focus on counterinsurgency operations. It has struggled to expand because of SOCOM insistence that all "Green Berets" are commandos too, so they must meet high physical fitness standards and parachute out of aircraft each month. This forces many of their highly trained soldiers out each year due to minor injuries or age. In addition, desperately needed linguists often fail to meet high physical fitness standards, so they are turned away. The Army has thousands of soldiers fluent of foreign languages, but most are not interested in running around in the bush doing the commando thing. As a result, not all Green Berets should be expected to operate behind enemy lines as part of "A" teams. Soldiers that are aging, injured, overstressed, or those less motivated for field work yet have language skills, should be formed into teams that train foreign soldiers at safe military bases, which is what most Green Berets do today. If this upsets the ego of "Green Berets" perhaps soldiers in these training teams can wear a different color beret.
One reason SOCOM was founded is that senior generals always gave funding priority to large ultra-expensive weaponry. The small varied items needed for special operators never made the procurement list. This was solved as SOCOM has its own budget. This practice should continue under the existing Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC). He could control the budget lines for special operations procurement, operations, and training, funded "Defense-wide" like National Missile Defense. Since use of Marine Corps units vary, this office would fund items considered unique for special operations, not basic equipment. While the SOCOM bureaucracy will instinctively fight this idea, those on the operational level would appreciate this decentralization of their training and control. This would allow them to specialize and participate directly with other American units, without continually checking with SOCOM bosses back in the USA.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com
G2mil editorials may be freely distributed without permission
Summer 2007 Articles
Letters - comments from G2mil readers
Fighter UAVs - coming soon
Naval Commandos - a mission for SEALs
Satellite Wars - war in space?
Commander's Veto Sank Gulf Buildup - Admiral rejects war with Iran
Aircraft Losses in Iraq - Wikipedia's tally
A Failure in Generalship - a U.S. Army LTC blames his Generals
New Land Warrior Gear - why soldiers don't like it
What Soldiers in Iraq Really Think (pdf) - a new U.S. Army studyArmy's New Counterinsurgency Manual - reinventing the wheel
Assessments of Weapons Systems (pdf) - GAO March 2007
British Fight a Subtle War - in Afghanistan
The Myth of War Prosperity - wars make most people poorer
December 2006 Selected Acquisition Report - released 04-07-07
The Semiwarriors - high-level warmongers
Previous G2mil - Spring 2007 issue
The Spectrum of Future Warfare - Carlton Meyer's book
Past Editorials - by Carlton Meyer
Library Tour - visit G2mil's library
Library Entrance - members only
All material in G2mil Copyright 2007 G2mil,
patents pending on some items. Links to www.G2mil.com are encouraged.
All material in G2mil Copyright 2007 G2mil, patents pending on some items. Links to www.G2mil.com are encouraged.