WASHINGTON — The Defense Department will add about 2,300 new special operations forces to its rolls over the next four years, including two Navy SEAL team equivalents and about 500 Green Berets, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command told Congress this week.
Gen. Bryan D. Brown said the extra personnel are needed to keep up with the current demand on the elite teams, both for small-scale individual missions and as support for larger, multiforce operations.
“The old paradigm was any place, anytime,” Brown said. “Today, we are focused on key areas that have an impact on the global war on terror.”
About 1,400 of those new troops will be ready by October 2006, Brown said. Recruitment and training for the posts usually take 12 to 24 months.
For the last year, about 6,100 special operations personnel have been deployed worldwide, the highest sustained level of activity ever, Brown said.
About 20 percent of that number are reservists, mostly serving as civil affairs and psychological operations officers.
While other military specialties are facing recruiting and retention shortfalls, Brown said he has not seen similar problems so far. All special operations personnel are eligible for education benefits, and other targeted bonuses have also kept applicants interested.
But he did admit that the global demand on the special forces “has stretched the ability to train at the level we would like to.”
The defense budget under consideration before Congress does include additional money for training and support services for the special operations teams. Brown said those plans must go forward to ensure future personnel meet the same standards as existing troops.
New focus on drugs
Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee that military forces in Afghanistan need to focus on counter-narcotics work as well as counter-terrorist efforts for that country’s new government to succeed.
“There’s no doubt we have to be concerned about poppy cultivation and the drug trade,” he said. “Counter-drug needs to be up on the overall strategy list.”
He added that he expects the process of removing the lucrative, illegal drug sales from the Afghan economy to be a long and difficult process.
“What we don’t want to do is adopt a program that will send the country back into insurgency,” he said. “We have to have a smart, well-organized strategy that doesn’t penalize the poor farmer who doesn’t have any other choices.”
However, Abizaid noted that U.S. forces cannot simply decide to take the lead role in ending Afghanistan’s drug trade.
Currently British authorities in Afghanistan are charged with monitoring and pursuing international narcotics issues within Afghanistan, and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials oversee all American anti-drug efforts around the world.
Special Forces troops deployed as part of Operation Enduring Freedom have conducted some reconnaissance and narcotics seizure over the last several years, Brown said.
Abizaid said Afghan officials have begun addressing the problem with new counter-narcotics teams and a special panel to investigate the issue.