Special operations have seen personnel, budget increases
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to build up the United States" special operations and civil affairs forces. Those military specialties -- carried out by forces trained in small-scale actions, special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, psychological operations and counterinsurgency -- have become increasingly important in such current conflicts as Afghanistan and in protecting the nation from terrorism.
In a July 15, 2011, report, the Congressional Research Service wrote that special operations forces "play a significant role in U.S. military operations” and that the U.S. Special Operations Command, or USSOCOM, has close to 60,000 active duty, National Guard and reserve personnel from all four services as well as Department of Defense civilians.
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review -- a regular assessment by the Pentagon of its future needs and resources -- directs increases in special operations force structure, CRS noted. It quotes Adm. Eric T. Olson, USSOCOM"s commander, noting that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, USSOCOM staffing has nearly doubled, its budget nearly tripled and overseas deployments quadrupled.
The numbers of personnel authorized for USSOCOM have increased from 55,890 in fiscal year 2009 to 63,779 for fiscal year 2012, according to the Pentagon. Meanwhile, the budget has increased from $8.9 billion to $10.5 billion over the same period.
"If you look at the most recent budget request, it shows that the special operations budget is projected to continue increasing through fiscal year 2016,” said Todd Harrison, a fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "It dips a bit in fiscal 2011 due to the war funding beginning to come down, but it is projected to continue growing even without war funding in future years.”
Meanwhile, civil affairs units -- those that work with civilian authorities and populations in the countries where U.S. troops are stationed -- are sprinkled throughout the branches, but a significant number also are included in USSOCOM. Within USSOCOM, civil affairs "has grown from one battalion to a brigade,” said Ken McGraw, an USSOCOM deputy public affairs officer, though he added that not all of that growth has taken place under the Obama administration.
This is not to say that there aren"t challenges for special operations forces. CRS quoted Olson saying that due to the high level of demand, special operations forces are showing some "fraying around the edges,” with "more time at home” necessary to keep forces in their best state of readiness.
Still, Obama has stuck to the general thrust of this promise. We rate it a Promise Kept.
U.S. Special Operations Command, About Us page, accessed Nov. 15, 2011
Congressional Research Service, "U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress,” July 15, 2011
E-mail interview with Todd Harrison, fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Nov. 4, 2011
E-mail interview with Ken McGraw, deputy public affairs officer with the U.S. Special Operations Command, Nov. 4, 2011
Money in defense budget to increase special ops forces
On April 6, 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled a defense budget recommendation in which he stated that "to grow our special operations capabilities, we will increase personnel by more than 2,800 or 5 percent and will buy more special forces-optimized lift, mobility, and refueling aircraft."
The ensuing 2010 budget proposal from the White House incorporated his recommendation.
And finally, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010, signed by President Barack Obama on Oct. 28, 2009, provided nearly $9 billion for special operations forces, an increase of $308 million to address its unfunded priority list, including improved surveillance capabilities, communication systems, and air and ground vehicle modifications.
We rate this one In the Works.
Department of Defense Web site, Defense Budget Recommendation Statement by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates , Arlington, VA, April 06, 2009
White House Web site, "A New Era of Responsibility," the Obama Administration's proposed 2010 budget
House Armed Services Committee Web site,
H.R.2647: FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act
Washington Post, 2010 Budget Details: Agency by Agency , by Ann Scott Tyson