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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Bush administration has decided to change the way the U.S. military’s special operations forces do business in the coming years.

It is asking Congress for permission to add more personnel, budget more money for equipment and, for the first time, give the command that oversees special operations the option of leading global missions, instead of following directions from other commanders.

The changes to the military’s “quiet professionals” community were announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with additional information provided later in the day by a senior defense official and a senior military official.

Special operators include Army Special Forces, special operations aviation, Rangers, civil affairs, and psychological operations forces; Air Force special operations aviators and special tactics teams; and Navy Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) and Special Boat Units.

There are about 47,000 special operations personnel working under the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in Tampa, Fla.

Special operations forces took an unusually high-profile role in the military’s Afghanistan campaign and are also expected to play a key role in any campaign in Iraq.

With no end in sight to the global war on terror, “we are taking a number of steps to strengthen” the special forces command, Rumsfeld told reporters.

USSOCOM will add personnel at its Tampa headquarters and around the world and get more money for high-tech communications equipment, aircraft and other projects, the senior defense official said.

But the official declined to say how much money or how many more people the Pentagon would like for USSOCOM in 2004.

“We’re shipping [the proposed 2004 defense budget] over to the White House today, [and President Bush] will decide in the next few days what the final numbers will be,” the official said.

In 2003, Congress gave USSOCOM $5.8 billion for operations, an increase of $854 million from the 2002 budget. Most of the extra money is earmarked for modernization projects.

In addition to adding money to the proposed 2004 budget, defense officials have decided that special forces assigned overseas will not always act in support of the regional combatant commander, the senior military official said.

Instead, there will now be times when the regional commander [who used to be called the “CINC,” or “sink,” as it was pronounced], will support the special operations forces.

“In practical terms, this means that the theater special operations commands would have access to [conventional] Marines, Army Navy, etc. that would act in response to [USSCOM’s] direction and control,” the defense official explained.

This so-called “supported” position is a “major change” from today, when USSOCOM works as a “supporting” command to Central Command, Pacific Command or whatever regional command would normally have control of missions in a given country, the official said.

Although the defense officials declined to discuss what kinds of activities special ops forces will focus on as the war on terror continues, they did say that USSOCOM would also shed some of its missions in order to focus on its “core.”

Today, special forces missions include training the armies of allies and friends, hunting weapons of mass destruction, building wells and schools, and counternarcotics operations.

The new plans for the command call for the time-consuming and extensive training mission to be reduced and “focused,” with the conventional services picking up the slack, the senior military official said.

Other special forces missions who may be reduced over time include civil operations, airlift support and some counterdrug operations, the official said.

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