10 March, 2012

Fighting the hidden war

SOCOM II .308 (Photo credit: ~Steve Z~)

The Long War is far from over.  It is, however, being fought differently. And despite whatever you may have heard, it's expanding.  In a year, American forces have conducted "engagements in more than 100 countries worldwide."

First, look at the numbers: tell me your budget, and tell you what you care about.  With that in mind, here's the numbers, courtesy of Defense Industry Daily.  Although the Army has the greatest reductions in funding for combat operations (logical, figuring the drawdown from Iraq), its baseline spending does surprising well in relation to the other armed services.
DoD FY12 vs FY13, by Department

And how about by function?  Again, the numbers tell a story.  Oddly enough, although overall military personnel spending is down, it shows an astonishing increase under OCO, as does the ever-popular "Other".  The increases are more than balanced by cuts in OCO operations, procurement, and R&D, so the total under OCO hides an important story.  Clearly something is going on here.

 DoD FY12 vs FY13

So what is it?  My first guess is (a) Special Operations Forces, and (b) drones.  It fits the numbers, and recent public statements.  Anyone have a better idea?

There are other reasons to focus on a growing SOF budget. Special Operations Forces, like drones, allow an administration to run a war with minimal visibility.  Big armies are expensive--not only in terms of money and lives, but in terms of political risk.  Politicians would rather mobilize and use the Leviathan Force (to use a term coined by Thomas P.M. Barnett) as a last resort.  It's so much better to send robots, or small teams of SOF.
Emblem of Air Force Special Operations Forces ...
Image via Wikipedia

Besides, we have word of those who know.  Admiral McRaven, commander of SOCOM, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week on what the Special Operations Forces are doing:
The direct approach is characterized by technologically-enabled small-unit precision lethality, focused intelligence, and interagency cooperation integrated on a digitally-networked battlefield…. Extreme in risk, precise in execution and able to deliver a high payoff, the impacts of the direct approach are immediate, visible to the public and have had tremendous effects on our enemies’ networks throughout the decade.

However, the direct approach alone is not the solution to the challenges our Nation faces today as it ultimately only buys time and space for the indirect approach and broader governmental elements to take effect. Less well known but decisive in importance, the indirect approach is the complementary element that can counter the systemic components of the threat.

The indirect approach includes empowering host nation forces, providing appropriate assistance to humanitarian agencies, and engaging key populations. These long-term efforts increase partner capabilities to generate sufficient security and rule of law, address local needs, and advance ideas that discredit and defeat the appeal of violent extremism.
What I find most interesting, though, is his statement that SOF are engaged in "more than one hundred countries worldwide."

Think about that for a second.  There are 193 member states of the United Nations.  Call it two hundred countries.  American SOF, "throughout the year... conducts engagements in more than 100 countries worldwide." They are operating, one way or another, with or without the permission of the local government, against some perceived threat to American interests in over half the countries on earth.

And for the most part, people either don't know or don't care.  That's part of the point of using those kinds of forces.  But if there are that many enemies mobilized against us, in so many places, is it inappropriate to ask the question: could we be doing something wrong?

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