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Special Operations: Force Multiplier in Anti-Terror War

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2003 - Multitalented special operations troops provide senior U.S. military commanders with an array of options in addressing the multifaceted challenges presented by the war on global terrorism, said DoD's top special operations official.

Army, Air Force and Navy special operators have proved their worth in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, noted Thomas O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict.

These troops, O'Connell pointed out, are conducting combat missions, strategic reconnaissance, psychological, civil affairs, counternarcotics, and training operations worldwide in support of the global war on terrorism.

"There's no doubt," O'Connell maintained, that American special operations forces "have done a magnificent job and have made a dent in the terrorist infrastructures" and networks.

"They've been extremely successful," he continued, noting that not all special operations' triumphs are publicized, due to security considerations.

For example, O'Connell noted, American intelligence gathering might be compromised if the enemy knew right away that special operations had captured a key operative.

An SOF member, O'Connell continued, is "an extremely well-trained, highly motivated, mature individual who is willing to endure incredible hardship and make very significant sacrifices for the welfare of his country."

Special operators, he pointed out, provide myriad options for combatant commanders, whether it's a Navy SEAL "takedown of a ship at sea," an Army Ranger airfield seizure, or an Air Force special operations combat control mission.

"These are extraordinarily dangerous missions," O'Connell emphasized. He said special operations troops "go and train repeatedly to an extremely high standard, so that when the call comes, they're able to execute those very difficult missions."

The concept of joint operations is embedded in special operations doctrine, O'Connell said, noting special operations forces "are clearly a force multiplier."

"They've got to be able to operate in any theater . for any combatant commander, conducting an extremely wide range of missions," O'Connell continued. Illustrating the inherent flexibility of special operations, he pointed to a SEAL team that had operated on land in Afghanistan.

And, O'Connell noted, many technological advances -- such as night-vision devices, miniaturized communications equipment and global positioning systems - - came from special operations research and development programs.

"All (of) these things eventually benefited the conventional forces," he pointed out.

Recognizing the importance of unique special operations capabilities in prosecuting the war on global terrorism, DoD increased special operations' annual budget for fiscal 2004 from $5 billion to over $6 billion. The increase would pay for more MH-47 helicopters, according to DoD documents, and 1,900 more special operations troops.

Special operations is also investing in the future, O'Connell noted, pointing to the transformational capabilities of the long-awaited V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that's slated to enter initial field-testing in 2005.

Osprey "bugs," such as leaking hydraulics and landing stability problems attributed to the aircraft's unique tilt-rotor system, have been addressed over the past several years, O'Connell noted.

Yet, "humans are much more important than hardware" within the special operations arena, O'Connell noted.

"No matter how much the force transforms - technologically - it will always be the special operations forces individual that is the key to special operations success," O'Connell emphasized.