The Hidden Cost of Strategy by Special Operations
17 Apr 19
Original source – War on the Rocks
As Libya descended anew into violence, the United States withdrew its small contingent of special operations forces from Tripoli on Apr. 7. Most Americans had little idea U.S. forces were ever in Libya in the first place, much less why. This lack of transparency has a small subset of scholars and practitioners worried about increased civil-military tension in the United States government and society. Many books, articles, and even podcasts examine the relationship between America’s civilians and its soldiers, which, despite its challenges, still feels mostly healthy to me after a decade in uniform. For those interested in civil-military relations, debate is lively. What it often misses, however, is a look past “the military” writ large into the smaller tribes that comprise it. No part of the U.S. military has gained more in stature, funding, and importance during the wars that have defined the last thirty years than the special operations forces. The drawback to this approach, as evidenced in Libya, is the myopic use of U.S. special operations forces as a foreign policy “easy button” divorced from the hard work required to make lasting progress towards strategic objectives defined in the U.S. National Security Strategy: promote American prosperity; preserve peace through strength; and advance American influence.
One often acknowledged characteristic of the current American way of war is its growing reliance on special operations forces and their use of a light-footprint approach that operates “by, with, and through” local partners to combat threats and safeguard U.S. interests without large commitments of conventional manpower. U.S. Special Operations Command has grown from 32,000 personnel assigned in 2001 to over 70,000 today, making it larger than the entire German army. The command’s budget request for 2019 was $13.6 billion, and a significant portion of the proposed $165 billion Overseas Contingency Operations budget for 2020 is expected to be spent on special operations task forces deployed throughout the world. READ MORE.