[News] The Special Ops Surge - America’s Secret War in 134 Countries

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 16 10:37:45 EST 2014

    *The Special Ops Surge *
    *America’s Secret War in 134 Countries*
    By Nick Turse <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/nickturse>

    They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and
    stalk through the jungles of South America.  They snatch
    men from their homes in the Maghreb
    <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/356614/Maghrib> and shoot
    it out
    with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa.  They feel the
    salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise
    Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific.  They conduct missions in the
    oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze
    of Scandinavia.  All over the planet, the Obama administration is
    waging a secret war <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175790/> whose
    full extent has never been fully revealed -- until now.

    Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown
    in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget.  Most
    telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops
    deployments globally.  This presence -- now, in nearly 70% of the
    world’s nations -- provides new evidence of the size and scope of a
    secret war being waged from Latin America to the backlands of
    Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to
    information operations launched in cyberspace.

    In the waning days of the Bush presidency, Special Operations forces
    were reportedly deployed
    <http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/socom/posture2008.pdf> in about
    60 countries around the world.  By 2010, that number had swelled to
    75, according
    to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the /Washington Post./  In 2011,
    Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told
    <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175426/> TomDispatch that the total
    would reach 120.  Today, that figure has risen higher still.

    In 2013, elite U.S. forces were deployed in 134 countries around the
    globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public
    Affairs.  This 123% increase during the Obama years demonstrates
    how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign
    public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying
    the U.S. has engaged in still another significant and growing form
    of overseas power projection.  Conducted largely in the shadows by
    America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions
    take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of
    outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and
    catastrophic consequences. 

    *Growth Industry*

    Formally established in 1987, Special Operations Command has grown
    steadily in the post-9/11 era.   SOCOM is reportedly on track to
    reach 72,000 personnel in 2014, up from 33,000 in 2001.  Funding for
    the command has also jumped exponentially as its baseline budget,
    $2.3 billion in 2001, hit $6.9 billion in 2013 ($10.4 billion, if
    you add in supplemental funding).  Personnel deployments abroad have
    skyrocketed, too, from 4,900 “man-years” in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013.

    A recent investigation
    by TomDispatch, using open source government documents and news
    releases as well as press reports, found
    evidence that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in or
    involved with the militaries of 106 nations around the world in
    2012-2013.  For more than a month during the preparation of that
    however, SOCOM failed to provide accurate statistics on the total
    number of countries to which special operators -- Green Berets and
    Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized
    helicopter crews, boat teams, and civil affairs personnel -- were
    deployed.   “We don’t just keep it on hand,” SOCOM’s Bockholt
    explained in a telephone interview once the article had been filed. 
    “We have to go searching through stuff.  It takes a long time to do
    that.”  Hours later, just prior to publication, he provided an
    answer to a question I first asked in November of last year.  “SOF
    [Special Operations forces] were deployed to 134 countries” during
    fiscal year 2013, Bockholt explained in an email.

    *Globalized Special Ops*

    Last year, Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven
    explained his vision for special ops globalization.  In a statement
    to the House Armed Services Committee, he said:

    “USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our
    interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded
    situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The
    network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations,
    and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate...”

    While that “presence” may be small, the reach and influence of those
    Special Operations forces are another matter.  The 12% jump in
    national deployments -- from 120 to 134 -- during McRaven’s tenure
    reflects his desire to put boots on the ground just about everywhere
    on Earth.  SOCOM will not name the nations involved, citing host
    nation sensitivities and the safety of American personnel, but the
    deployments we do know about shed at least some light on the full
    range of missions being carried out by America’s secret military.

    Last April and May, for instance, Special Ops personnel took part in
    training exercises in Djibouti, Malawi, and the Seychelles Islands
    in the Indian Ocean.  In June, U.S. Navy SEALs joined Iraqi,
    Jordanian, Lebanese, and other allied Mideast forces for irregular
    warfare simulations in Aqaba, Jordan.  The next month, Green Berets
    traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to carry out small unit tactical
    exercises with local forces.  In August, Green Berets conducted
    <http://www.flickr.com/photos/usasoc/9492888165/> explosives
    training with Honduran sailors.  In September, according to
    media reports, U.S. Special Operations forces joined elite troops
    from the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian
    Nations -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore,
    Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia -- as
    well as their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South
    Korea, China, India, and Russia for a US-Indonesian joint-funded
    coun­terterrorism exercise held at a training center in Sentul, West

    In October, elite U.S. troops carried out
    commando raids in Libya and Somalia, kidnapping
    a terror suspect in the former nation while SEALs killed at least
    one militant in the latter before being driven off
    under fire.  In November, Special Ops troops conducted humanitarian
    operations in the Philippines to aid survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.
    The next month, members of the 352nd Special Operations Group
    conducted <http://www.afsoc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123375269> a
    training exercise involving approximately 130 airmen and six
    aircraft at an airbase in England and Navy SEALs were wounded while
    an evacuation mission in South Sudan.  Green Berets then rang in the
    new year with a January 1st combat mission alongside elite Afghan
    troops in Bahlozi village in Kandahar province.

    Deployments in 134 countries, however, turn out not to be expansive
    enough for SOCOM. In November 2013, the command announced that it
    was seeking to identify industry partners who could, under SOCOM’s
    Trans Regional Web Initiative, potentially “develop new websites
    tailored to foreign audiences.”  These would join an existing global
    network of 10 propaganda websites, run by various combatant commands
    and made to look like legitimate news outlets, including
    CentralAsiaOnline.com, Sabahi <http://sabahionline.com/> which
    targets the Horn of Africa; an effort aimed at the Middle East known
    as Al-Shorfa.com; and another targeting Latin America called
    Infosurhoy.com <http://infosurhoy.com/>.

    SOCOM’s push into cyberspace is mirrored by a concerted effort of
    the command to embed itself ever more deeply inside the Beltway.  “I
    have folks in every agency here in Washington, D.C. -- from the CIA,
    to the FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National
    Geospatial Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency,” SOCOM chief
    Admiral McRaven said during a panel discussion at Washington’s
    Wilson Center last year.  Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library in
    November, he put the number of departments and agencies where SOCOM
    is now entrenched
    <http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=121167> at 38.

    *134 Chances for Blowback*

    Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate
    President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish
    commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable
    instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback
      While the Obama administration oversaw a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq
    by his predecessor), as well as a drawdown
    of U.S. forces in Afghanistan (after a major military surge
    in that country), the president has presided over a ramping up of
    the U.S. military presence in Africa
    <http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175743>, a reinvigoration
    of efforts
    in Latin America
    and tough talk about a rebalancing or “pivot to Asia
    (even if it has amounted to little as of yet).

    The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of
    America’s drone war.  While President Bush launched 51 such strikes,
    President Obama has presided
    over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of
    Investigative Journalism.  Last year, alone, the U.S. also engaged
    in combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya
    and Yemen
    Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower
    Edward Snowden
    have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of U.S.
    electronic surveillance during the Obama years.  And deep in the
    shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more
    than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.

    In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of U.S.
    military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent,
    setting whole regions aflame.  More than 10 years after America’s
    “mission accomplished
    moment, seven years after its much vaunted surge
    the Iraq that America helped make is in flames
    <http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/06/osullivan/>.  A country
    with no al-Qaeda presence
    before the U.S. invasion
    and a government opposed
    to America’s enemies in Tehran now has a central government aligned
    with Iran and two cities
    <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/jan-june14/newswrap_01-07.html> flying
    al-Qaeda flags.

    A more recent U.S. military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan
    dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a
    U.S.-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward
    spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a U.S.-trained officer,
    ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant,
    and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora
    <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/> in the region.

    And today South Sudan -- a nation the U.S. shepherded into being,
    has supported economically
    and militarily
    (despite its reliance on child soldiers
    and has used as a hush-hush base
    for Special Operations forces -- is being torn apart by violence and
    sliding toward civil war

    The Obama presidency has seen the U.S. military’s elite tactical
    forces increasingly used in an attempt to achieve strategic goals. 
    But with Special Operations missions kept under tight wraps,
    Americans have little understanding of where their troops are
    deployed, what exactly they are doing, or what the consequences
    might be down the road.  As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich,
    professor of history and international relations at Boston
    University, has noted, the utilization of Special Operations forces
    during the Obama years has decreased military accountability,
    strengthened the “imperial presidency,” and set the stage for a war
    without end.  “In short,” he wrote
    at TomDispatch, “handing war to the special operators severs an
    already too tenuous link between war and politics; it becomes war
    for its own sake.”

    Secret ops by secret forces have a nasty tendency to produce
    unintended, unforeseen, and completely disastrous consequences.  New
    Yorkers will remember
    well the end result
    of clandestine U.S. support
    for Islamic militants
    against the Soviet Union
    in Afghanistan during the 1980s: 9/11.  Strangely enough, those at
    the other primary attack site that day, the Pentagon
    seem not to have learned the obvious lessons from this lethal
    blowback.  Even today in Afghanistan and Pakistan, more than 12
    years after the U.S. invaded the former and almost 10 years
    after it began conducting covert attacks
    in the latter, the U.S. is still dealing with that Cold War-era
    fallout: with, for instance, CIA drones conducting missile strikes
    against an organization (the Haqqani network
    that, in the 1980s, the Agency supplied with missiles

    Without a clear picture of where the military’s covert forces are
    operating and what they are doing, Americans may not even recognize
    the consequences of and blowback from our expanding secret wars as
    they wash over the world.  But if history is any guide, they will be
    felt -- from Southwest Asia to the Mahgreb, the Middle East to
    Central Africa, and, perhaps eventually, in the United States as well.

    In his blueprint for the future, /SOCOM 2020/, Admiral McRaven has
    touted the globalization of U.S. special ops as a means to “project
    power, promote stability, and prevent conflict.”  Last year, SOCOM
    may have done just the opposite in 134 places.

    /Nick Turse is the managing editor of //TomDispatch.com/
    <http://www.tomdispatch.com/>/ and a fellow at the Nation
    Institute.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in
    the /New York Times
    the /Los Angeles Times
    /the/ Nation <http://www.thenation.com/article/pentagon-book-club>,
    /on the/ /BBC/ <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23427726> /and
    at //TomDispatch.// He is the author most recently of the /New York
    Times/ bestseller /Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War
    in Vietnam
    //(just out in paperback).//  You can catch his conversation with
    Bill Moyers about that book by //clicking here/

    Copyright 2014 Nick Turse

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