NEWS | March 5, 2011

Commanders cite unpredictable future threats

By Cheryl Pellerin , American Forces Press Service


A U.S. Special Forces Soldier assigned to Special Operations Task Force – South sets up his security position during a patrol Feb. 25, 2011 in Panjwai District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Ben Watson.

WASHINGTON (March 4, 2011) — America and its allies will face varied and unpredictable security threats in the years ahead, the leaders of the two most intensely engaged U.S. military commands told House Armed Services Committee members yesterday.

Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson of the U.S. Special Operations Command and Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis of the U.S. Central Command discussed the status and priorities of their commands during a hearing on their fiscal year 2012 budget requests.

Both commands have headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Olson said, and with 85 percent of Socom’s deployed forces in the Centcom area of operations, Mattis “is by far the largest customer of our product.”

Beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Olson said, the United States and its allies face a range of security challenges that make the future of warfare “complex, unpredictable and unstructured.”

Challenges include decentralization of al-Qaida’s network; revolutionary activity in the Middle East; destabilizing elements in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia; increased intertwining of violent extremism and criminality; and the persistence of piracy.

“U.S. special operations forces are universally recognized as key to our nation’s ability to address all of these challenges and others,” the admiral said, noting Socom’s high-profile diversity.

“We include many forces of legend – Green Berets, [Navy] SEALs, [Army] Rangers, Air Force Air Commanders, Army Night Stalker aviators, [Air Force] Combat Controllers, [Air Force] Pararescue jumpers, [Navy] Combatant Craft crewmen, today’s version of Marine Raiders, and others,” Olson said.

Socom also employs specialists in administration, intelligence, communications, engineering and logistics, he added, and headquarters staff members worldwide that include more than 300 representatives from at least 15 other DOD organizations and other agencies.

“In many ways,” Olson said, “U.S. Socom is a microcosm of defense, with ground, air and maritime components, a global presence, and authorities and responsibilities that mirror the military departments, military services and defense agencies.

“We take pride in the diversity of our people and our mission,” he added.

A key challenge for these elite forces “is how to meet the increasing global requirement for their capabilities … since 9/11 our total manpower has roughly doubled, our budget has roughly tripled and our overseas deployments have quadrupled,” the admiral said.

The demand is outpacing the supply, he added, and “this great force is beginning to fray around the edges.”

Potential solutions, he said, include investing in capabilities that relieve special operations forces from duties others can perform, expanding inventories of assets essential to today’s complex and irregular warfare, and promoting nontraditional skills like language and microregional expertise as essential military requirements.

“Underlying all this is the need to look after our people and their families,” Olson said.

“We must rehabilitate and return to duty those of our wounded who can, care for those of our wounded who can’t, along with their families and caregivers, and provide enduring support to the families of those who have died in action,” he said.

Mattis praised today’s skilled and professional troops, who he called a national treasure.

“Thank you for supporting our troops and their families, who carry the brunt of the physical and emotional burden in this 10th year of war,” he told the committee members.

“I also recognize the commitment and sacrifice of our international partners who operate with us from the waters off Somalia to the mountains of Afghanistan,” Mattis said, “where the largest warfighting coalition in recent history is engaged with troops from 49 nations united in the fight against our common enemy.”

Countries in Centcom’s area of responsibility include many of the most recently visible nations on the planet – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Yemen and others.

“The strategic landscape of the broader Middle East has been altered by recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere,” Mattis said. “We see pressure on government institutions from the aspirations of people seeking improved economic and social conditions.”

“Young people born in the information age are exchanging ideas in real time. While the long-term impact of this unrest is unknown, it presents as many opportunities as it does challenges,” the general said.

“The central challenge for us,” Mattis added, “is how to make common cause with our friends throughout the region.”

Solutions in the region will require the support of military and civilian teams, Mattis added.

“Robust resourcing for the State Department’s mission is one of the best investments for reducing the need for military forces to be employed,” he told the committee members.

“Undeniable security progress” in Afghanistan, the general said, is a result of increasing and unprecedented pressure on al-Qaida in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The enemy’s strategy also is being undercut by “the commitment of the international community and the Afghan government to begin this summer a process of fully transitioning responsibility” for the nation’s security to Afghanistan by 2014, Mattis said.

“In Pakistan we are strengthening our security relationship with Islamabad as we work to overcome years of mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides,” he said.

The Pakistanis have shifted a quarter of their army – 140,000 troops – to the western border and are conducting operations in close coordination with coalition forces on opposite sides of the border, the general added.

With coalition help, Iraq is emerging as a more stable country in a turbulent region, he added, and the commitment is to transition there from a military- to a civilian-led effort.

Mattis said Centcom requires “congressional authorities that enable us to continue advising, training and equipping our Iraqi partners through the new Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq.”

The general said he expects that al-Qaida in Iraq and Iranian-sponsored proxies will attempt to execute “sensational attacks” in Iraq in the coming months.

Coalition forces are disrupting al-Qaida and other violent extremist organizations that operate across the Mideast,, Mattis said, noting efforts are now being focused on the threat of extremism in Yemen, especially al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula –- the group that twice has attempted to attack the United States.

“With our international partners, our special operations forces are putting our most-violent enemies and related networks under increasingly intense pressure,” the general said.

“At the same time,” he continued, “the populace-inspired changes that are taking place across the region undercut the message of al-Qaida and other extremist groups, highlighting the bankrupt philosophies of terrorists who use violence and contribute nothing but mayhem to the innocent.”

Israel and the Palestinian territories are not in Centcom’s theater, the general said, but lack of progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace affects U.S. and Centcom security interests in the region.

“I believe the only reliable path to lasting peace in this region is a viable two-state solution between Israel and Palestine,” Mattis said.

“The issue is one of many that is exploited by our adversaries in the region,” he added, “and used as a recruiting tool for extremist groups.”