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<p><span style="font-size: x-large;"><strong>America’s Black-Ops
<span style="font-size: medium;"><strong>Unraveling the Secrets of
the Military’s Secret Military</strong> </span><br>
By <a target="_blank"
<p><b><small><small><small><a class="moz-txt-link-freetext" href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175790/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_special_ops_goes_global/">http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175790/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_special_ops_goes_global/</a></small></small></small></b><br>
<p>“Dude, I don’t need to play these stupid games. I know what you’re
trying to do.” With that, Major Matthew Robert Bockholt hung up on me.</p>
<p>More than a month before, I had called U.S. Special Operations
Command (SOCOM) with a series of basic questions: In how many countries
were U.S. Special Operations Forces deployed in 2013? Are manpower
levels set to expand to 72,000 in 2014? Is SOCOM still aiming for
growth rates of 3%-5% per year? How many training exercises did the
command carry out in 2013? Basic stuff.</p>
<p>And for more than a month, I waited for answers. I called. I
left messages. I emailed. I waited some more. I started to get the
feeling that Special Operations Command didn’t want me to know what its
Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos -- the
men who operate in the hottest of hotspots and most remote locales
around the world -- were doing. </p>
<p>Then, at the last moment, just before my filing deadline, Special
Operations Command got back to me with an answer so incongruous,
confusing, and contradictory that I was glad I had given up on SOCOM
and tried to figure things out for myself.</p>
target="_blank">Click here to see a larger version</a></em></strong><br>
<img src="cid:email@example.com" alt=""><br>
<em>U.S. Special Operations Forces around the world, 2012-2013 (key
below article) ©2014 TomDispatch ©Google</em></p>
<p>I started with a blank map that quickly turned into a global
pincushion. It didn’t take long before every continent but Antarctica
was bristling with markers indicating special operations forces’
missions, deployments, and interactions with foreign military forces in
2012-2013. With that, the true size and scope of the U.S. military’s
secret military began to come into focus. It was, to say the least,
<p>A review of open source information reveals that in 2012 and 2013,
U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) were likely deployed to -- or
training, advising, or operating with the personnel of -- more than 100
foreign countries. And that’s probably an undercount. In 2011,
then-SOCOM spokesman Colonel Tim Nye <a target="_blank"
that Special Operations personnel were annually sent to 120 countries
around the world. They were in, that is, about 60% of the nations on
the planet. “We’re deployed in a number of locations,” was as specific
as Bockholt would ever get when I talked to him in the waning days of
2013. And when SOCOM did finally get back to me with an eleventh hour
answer, the number offered made almost no sense. </p>
<p>Despite the lack of official cooperation, an analysis by
TomDispatch reveals SOCOM to be a command on the make with an already
sprawling reach. As Special Operations Command chief <a target="_blank"
William McRaven</a> put it in <em>SOCOM 2020</em>, his blueprint for
the future, it has ambitious aspirations to create “a Global SOF
network of like-minded interagency allies and partners.” In other
words, in that future now only six years off, it wants to be
<p><strong>The Rise of the Military’s Secret Military</strong></p>
<p>Born of a failed 1980 raid to rescue American hostages in Iran (in
which eight U.S. service members died), U.S. Special Operations Command
was established in 1987. Made up of units from all the service
branches, SOCOM is tasked with carrying out Washington’s most
specialized and secret missions, including <a target="_blank"
counterterrorist raids, special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare,
psychological operations, foreign troop training, and weapons of mass
destruction counter-proliferation operations.</p>
<p>In the post-9/11 era, the command has grown steadily. With about
33,000 personnel in 2001, it is <a target="_blank"
on track to reach 72,000 in 2014. (About half this number are called,
in the jargon of the trade, “badged operators” -- SEALs, Rangers,
Special Operations Aviators, Green Berets -- while the rest are support
personnel.) Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as
SOCOM’s baseline budget tripled from $2.3 billion to $6.9 billion
between 2001 and 2013. If you add in supplemental funding, it had
actually<strong> </strong>more than<strong> </strong>quadrupled to
$10.4 billion. </p>
<p>Not surprisingly, personnel deployments abroad skyrocketed from
4,900 “man-years” -- as the command puts it -- in 2001 to 11,500 in
2013. About <a target="_blank"
special operators are now working abroad at any one time and on any
given day they are in <a target="_blank"
to 80 countries, though the <em>New York Times</em> reported that,
according to statistics provided to them by SOCOM, during one week in
March 2013 that number reached <a target="_blank"
<p><strong>The Global SOF Network</strong></p>
<p>Last year, Admiral McRaven, who previously headed the Joint
Special Operations Command, or <a target="_blank"
-- a clandestine sub-command that specializes in tracking and killing
suspected terrorists -- touted his vision for special ops
globalization. In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee,
<p style="padding-left: 20px; padding-right: 20px;">“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...”</p>
<p>In translation this means that SOCOM is weaving a complex web of
alliances with government agencies at home and militaries abroad to
ensure that it’s at the center of every conceivable global hotspot and
power center. In fact, Special Operations Command has turned the
planet into a giant battlefield, divided into many discrete fronts: the
self-explanatory SOCAFRICA; the sub-unified command of U.S. Central
Command in the Middle East SOCCENT; the European contingent SOCEUR;
SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea; SOCPAC, which covers the
rest of the Asia-Pacific region; and SOCSOUTH, which conducts special
ops missions in Central and South America and the Caribbean, as well as
the globe-trotting JSOC.</p>
<p>Since 2002, SOCOM has also been authorized to create its own Joint
Task Forces, a prerogative normally limited to larger combatant
commands like CENTCOM. These include Joint Special Operations Task
Force-Philippines, 500-600 personnel dedicated to <a target="_blank"
counterterrorist operations by Filipino allies against insurgent groups
like Abu Sayyaf.</p>
<p>A similar mouthful of an entity is the NATO Special Operations
Component Command-Afghanistan/Special Operations Joint Task
Force-Afghanistan, which conducts operations, according to SOCOM, “to
enable the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Afghan
National Security Force (ANSF), and the Government of the Islamic
Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) to provide the Afghan people a secure
and stable environment and to prevent insurgent activities from
threatening the authority and sovereignty of GIRoA.” Last year,
U.S.-allied Afghan President Hamid Karzai had a different assessment
of the “U.S. special force stationed in Wardak province,” which he <a
of “harassing, annoying, torturing, and even murdering innocent people.”</p>
<p>According to the latest statistics made available by ISAF, from
October 2012 through March 2013, U.S. and allied forces were involved
in 1,464 special operations in Afghanistan, including 167 with U.S. or
coalition forces in the lead and 85 that were unilateral ISAF
operations. U.S. Special Operations forces are also involved in
everything from mentoring lightly armed local security forces under the
Village Stability Operations initiative to the training of heavily
armed and well-equipped elite Afghan forces -- one of whose
U.S.-trained officers <a target="_blank"
to the insurgency in the fall.</p>
<p>In addition to task forces, there are also Special Operations
Command Forward (SOC FWD) elements which, according to the military,
“shape and coordinate special operations forces security cooperation
and engagement in support of theater special operations command,
geographic combatant command, and country team goals and objectives.”
These light footprint teams -- including SOC FWD Pakistan, SOC FWD
Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon -- offer training and support to local elite
troops in foreign hotspots. In Lebanon, for instance, this has meant
counterterrorism training for Lebanese Special Ops forces, as well as
assistance to the Lebanese Special Forces School to develop indigenous
trainers to mentor other Lebanese military personnel.</p>
target="_blank">Click here to see a larger version</a></em></strong><br>
<img src="cid:firstname.lastname@example.org" alt=""><br>
<em>Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) briefing slide by
Col. Joe Osborne, showing SOC FWD elements</em></p>
<p>SOCOM’s reach and global ambitions go further still.
TomDispatch’s analysis of McRaven’s first two full years in command
reveals a tremendous number of overseas operations. In places like <a
and <a target="_blank"
elite troops have carried out clandestine <a target="_blank"
In others, they have used <a target="_blank"
to hunt, target, and <a target="_blank"
suspected militants. Elsewhere, they have waged an information war
using <a target="_blank"
propaganda</a>. And almost everywhere they have been at work building
up and forging ever-tighter ties with foreign militaries through
training missions and exercises. </p>
<p>“A lot of what we will do as we go forward in this force is build
partner capacity,” McRaven <a target="_blank"
at the Ronald Reagan Library in November, noting that NATO partners as
well as allies in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America “are
absolutely essential to how we’re doing business.” </p>
<p>In March 2013, for example, Navy SEALs conducted joint <a
exercises</a> with Indonesian frogmen. In April and May, U.S. Special
Operations personnel joined members of the Malawi Defense Forces for
Exercise Epic Guardian. Over three weeks, 1,000 troops engaged in
marksmanship, small unit tactics, close quarters combat training, and
other activities across three countries -- Djibouti, Malawi, and the
<p>In May, American special operators <a target="_blank"
href="http://www.vm.ee/?q=en/node/17371">took part</a> in Spring
Storm, the Estonian military’s largest annual training exercise. That
same month, members of the Peruvian and U.S. special operations forces
engaged in joint training missions aimed at trading tactics and
improving their ability to conduct joint operations. In July, Green
Berets from the Army’s 20th Special Forces Group spent several weeks in
Trinidad and Tobago working with members of that tiny nation’s Special
Naval Unit and Special Forces Operation Detachment. That Joint
Combined Exchange Training exercise, conducted as part of SOCSOUTH’s
Theater Security Cooperation program, saw the Americans and their local
counterparts take part in pistol and rifle instruction and small unit
<p>In September, <a target="_blank"
to media reports, U.S. Special Operations forces joined elite troops
from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries --
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 Java.</p>
<p>Tactical training was, however, just part of the story. In March
2013, for example, experts from the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special
Warfare Center and School hosted a week-long working group with top
planners from the Centro de Adiestramiento de las Fuerzas Especiales --
Mexico’s Special Warfare Center -- to aid them in developing their own
special forces doctrine.</p>
<p>In October, members of the Norwegian Special Operations Forces
traveled to SOCOM's state-of-the-art Wargame Center at its headquarters
on MacDill Air Force Base in Florida to refine crisis response
procedures for hostage rescue operations. “NORSOF and Norwegian
civilian leadership regularly participate in national field training
exercises focused on a scenario like this,” said Norwegian Lieutenant
Colonel Petter Hellesen. “What was unique about this exercise was that
we were able to gather so many of the Norwegian senior leadership and
action officers, civilian and military, in one room with their U.S
<p>MacDill is, in fact, fast becoming a worldwide special ops hub, <a
to a report by the <em>Tampa Tribune</em>. This past fall, SOCOM
quietly started up an International Special Operations Forces
Coordination Center that provides long-term residencies for
senior-level black ops liaisons from around the world. Already,
representatives from 10 nations had joined the command with around 24
more slated to come on board in the next 12-18 months, per McRaven’s
<p>In the coming years, more and more interactions between U.S. elite
forces and their foreign counterparts will undoubtedly take place in
Florida, but most will likely still occur -- as they do today --
overseas. TomDispatch’s analysis of official government documents and
news releases as well as press reports indicates that U.S. Special
Operations forces were reportedly deployed to or involved with the
militaries of 106 nations around the world during 2012-2013.</p>
<p>For years, the command has claimed that divulging the names of
these countries would upset foreign allies and endanger U.S.
personnel. SOCOM’s Bockholt insisted to me that merely offering the
total number would do the same. “You understand that there is
information about our military… that is contradictory to reporting,” he
told me. “There’s certain things we can’t release to the public for
the safety of our service members both at home and abroad. I’m not
sure why you’d be interested in reporting that.”</p>
<p>In response, I asked how a mere number could jeopardize the lives
of Special Ops personnel, and he responded, “When you work with the
partners we work with in the different countries, each country is very
particular.” He refused to elaborate further on what this meant or how
it pertained to a simple count of countries. Why SOCOM eventually
offered me a number, given these supposed dangers, was never explained.</p>
<p><strong>Bringing the War Home</strong></p>
<p>This year, Special Operations Command has plans to make major
inroads into yet another country -- the United States. The
establishment of SOCNORTH in 2014, according to the command, is
intended to help “defend North America by outpacing all threats,
maintaining faith with our people, and supporting them in their times
of greatest need.” Under the auspices of U.S. Northern Command,
SOCNORTH will have responsibility for the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and
portions of the Caribbean.</p>
<p>While Congressional <a target="_blank"
has thus far <a target="_blank"
Admiral McRaven’s efforts to create a SOCOM satellite headquarters for
the more than 300 special operators working in Washington, D.C. (at the
cost of $10 million annually), the command has nonetheless stationed
support teams and liaisons all over the capital in a bid 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,” McRaven <a target="_blank"
during a panel discussion at Washington’s Wilson Center in 2013.
Referring to the acronyms of the many agencies with which SOCOM has
forged ties, McRaven continued: “If there are three letters, and in
some cases four, I have a person there. And they have had a reciprocal
agreement with us. I have somebody in my headquarters at Tampa.”
Speaking at Ronald Reagan Library in November, he put the number of
agencies where SOCOM is currently <a target="_blank"
<p>“Given the importance of interagency collaboration, USSOCOM is
placing greater emphasis on its presence in the National Capital Region
to better support coordination and decision making with interagency
partners. Thus, USSOCOM began to consolidate its presence in the NCR
[National Capitol Region]<strong> </strong>in early 2012,” McRaven
told the House Armed Services Committee last year.</p>
<p>One unsung SOCOM partner is <a target="_blank"
href="http://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are">U.S. AID</a>, the government
agency devoted to providing civilian foreign aid to countries around
the world whose mandate includes the protection of human rights, the
prevention of armed conflicts, the provision of humanitarian
assistance, and the fostering of “good will abroad.” At a <a
2013 conference</a>, Beth Cole, the director of the Office of
Civilian-Military Cooperation at U.S. AID, explained just how her
agency was now quietly aiding the military’s secret military.</p>
<p>“In Yemen, for example, our mission director has SVTCs [secure
video teleconferences] with SOCOM personnel on a regular basis now.
That didn’t occur two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, five
years ago,” Cole said, according to a transcript of the event. But
that was only the start. “My office at U.S. AID supports SOF
pre-deployment training in preparation for missions throughout the
globe... I’m proud that my office and U.S. AID have been providing
training support to several hundred Army, Navy, and Marine Special
Operations personnel who have been regularly deploying to Afghanistan,
and we will continue to do that.”</p>
<p>Cole noted that, in Afghanistan, U.S. AID personnel were sometimes
working hand-in-hand on the Village Stability Operation initiative with
Special Ops forces. In certain areas, she said, “we can dual-hat some
of our field program officers as LNOs [liaison officers] in those Joint
Special Operations task forces and be able to execute the development
work that we need to do alongside of the Special Operations Forces.”
She even suggested taking a close look at whether this melding of her
civilian agency and special ops might prove to be a model for
operations elsewhere in the world.</p>
<p>Cole also mentioned that her office would be training “a senior
person” working for McRaven, the man about to “head the SOF element
Lebanon” -- possibly a reference to the shadowy SOC FWD Lebanon. U.S.
AID would, she said, serve as a facilitator in that country, making
“sure that he has those relationships that he needs to be able to deal
with what is a very, very, very serious problem for our government and
for the people of that region.”</p>
<p>U.S. AID is also serving as a facilitator closer to home. Cole
noted that her agency was sending advisors to SOCOM headquarters in
Florida and had “arranged meetings for [special operators] with
experts, done roundtables for them, immersed them in the environment
that we understand before they go out to the mission area and connect
them with people on the ground.” All of this points to another
emerging trend: SOCOM’s invasion of the civilian sphere.</p>
<p>In remarks before the House Armed Services Committee, Admiral
McRaven noted that his Washington operation, the SOCOM NCR, “conducts
outreach to academia, non-governmental organizations, industry, and
other private sector organizations to get their perspective on complex
issues affecting SOF.” Speaking at the Wilson Center, he was even more
blunt: “[W]e also have liaison officers with industry and with
academia... We put some of our best and brightest in some of the
academic institutions so we can understand what academia is thinking
<p><strong>SOCOM’s Information Warfare</strong></p>
<p>Not content with a global presence in the physical world, SOCOM
has also taken to cyberspace where it <a target="_blank"
the <a target="_blank"
Regional Web Initiative</a>, a network of 10 propaganda websites that
are run by various combatant commands and made to look like legitimate
news outlets. These shadowy sites -- including <a target="_blank"
which targets North Africa, an effort aimed at the Middle East known as
<a target="_blank" href="http://al-shorfa.com/ar?change_locale=true">Al-Shorfa.com</a>,
and another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com -- state only
in fine print that they are “sponsored by” the U.S. military.</p>
<p>Last June, the Senate Armed Services Committee <a target="_blank"
out</a> the Trans Regional Web Initiative for “excessive” costs while <a
that the “effectiveness of the websites is questionable and the
performance metrics do not justify the expense.” In November, SOCOM
announced that it was nonetheless seeking to identify industry partners
who, under the Initiative, could potentially “develop new websites
tailored to foreign audiences.”</p>
<p>Just as SOCOM is working to influence audiences abroad, it is also
engaged in stringent information control at home -- at least when it
comes to me. Major Bockholt made it clear that SOCOM objected to a <a
article</a> of mine about U.S. Special Operations forces. “Some of
that stuff was inconsistent with actual facts,” he told me. I asked
what exactly was inconsistent. “Some of the stuff you wrote about
JSOC… I think I read some information about indiscriminate killing or
things like that.”</p>
<p>I knew right away just the quote he was undoubtedly referring to
-- a mention of the Joint Special Operations Command’s overseas
kill/capture campaign as “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism
killing machine.” Bockholt said that it was indeed “one quote of
concern.” The only trouble: I didn’t say it. It was, as I stated very
plainly in the piece, the assessment <a target="_blank"
by John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former
counterinsurgency adviser to now-retired general and former CIA
director David Petraeus.</p>
<p>Bockholt offered no further examples of inconsistencies. I asked
if he challenged my characterization of any information from an
interview I conducted with then-SOCOM spokesman Colonel Tim Nye. He
did not. Instead, he explained that SOCOM had issues with my work in
general. “As we look at the characterization of your writing, overall,
and I know you’ve had some stuff on Vietnam [an apparent reference to
my bestselling book, <a target="_blank"
Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam</em></a>] and
things like that -- because of your style, we have to be very
particular on how we answer your questions because of how you tend to
use that information.” Bockholt then asked if I was anti-military. I
responded that I hold all subjects that I cover to a high standard.</p>
<p>Bockholt next took a verbal swipe at the website where I’m
managing editor, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/">TomDispatch.com</a>.
Given Special Operations Command’s penchant for dabbling in dubious new
sites, I was struck when he said that TomDispatch -- which has
published original news, analysis, and commentary for more than a
decade and <a target="_blank"
the 2013 Utne Media Award for “best political coverage” -- was not a
“real outlet.” It was, to me, a daring position to take when SOCOM’s
shadowy Middle Eastern <em>news </em>site <a target="_blank"
actually carries a disclaimer that it “cannot guarantee the accuracy of
the information provided.”</p>
<p>With my deadline looming, I was putting the finishing touches on
this article when an email arrived from Mike Janssen of SOCOM Public
Affairs. It was -- finally -- a seemingly simple answer to what seemed
like an astonishingly straightforward question asked a more than a
month before: What was the total number of countries in which Special
Operations forces were deployed in 2013? Janssen was concise. His
<p>How, I wondered, could that be? In the midst of McRaven’s Global
SOF network initiative, could SOCOM have scaled back their deployments
from 120 in 2011 to just 80 last year? And if Special Operations
forces were deployed in 92 nations during just one week in 2013,
according to official statistics <a target="_blank"
to the <em>New York Times</em>, how could they have been present in 12
fewer countries for the entire year? And why, in his March 2013
posture statement to the House Armed Services Committee, would Admiral
McRaven mention "annual deployments to over 100 countries?" With
minutes to spare, I called Mike Janssen for a clarification. “I don’t
have any information on that,” he told me and asked me to submit my
question in writing -- precisely what I had done more than a month
before in an effort to get a timely response to this straightforward
and essential question.</p>
<p>Today, Special Operations Command finds itself at a crossroads.
It is attempting to influence populations overseas, while at home
trying to keep Americans in the dark about its activities; expanding
its reach, impact, and influence, while working to remain deep in the
shadows; conducting operations all over the globe, while professing
only to be operating in “a number of locations”; claiming worldwide
deployments have markedly dropped in the last year, when <a
suggests <a target="_blank"
<p>“I know what you’re trying to do,” Bockholt said cryptically
before he hung up on me -- as if the continuing questions of a reporter
trying to get answers to basic information after a month of waiting
were beyond the pale. In the meantime, whatever Special Operations
Command is trying to do globally and at home, Bockholt and others at
SOCOM are working to keep it as secret as possible.</p>
<p><em>Nick Turse is the managing editor of </em><a target="_blank"
and a fellow at the Nation Institute. An award-winning journalist, his
work has appeared in the </em><a target="_blank"
York Times</a><em>, </em><a target="_blank"
Angeles Times</a>, <em>the</em> <a target="_blank"
<em>on the</em> <a target="_blank"
<em>and </em><a target="_blank"
at </em><em>TomDispatch.</em><em> He is the author most recently of
the </em>New York Times <em>bestseller </em><a target="_blank"
Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam</a><em> (just out
in paperback). You can catch his conversation with Bill Moyers about
that book by </em><a target="_blank"
<p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Key to the Map
of </span></strong><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">U.S.
Special Operations Forces around the world, 2012-2013</span></strong></p>
<p><strong>Red markers: </strong>U.S. Special Operations Forces
deployment in 2013.</p>
<p><strong>Blue markers: </strong>U.S. Special Operations Forces
working with/training/advising/conducting operations with indigenous
troops in the U.S. or a third country during 2013.</p>
<p><strong>Purple markers: </strong>U.S. Special Operations Forces
deployment in 2012.</p>
<p><strong>Yellow markers: </strong>U.S. Special Operations Forces
working with/training/advising/conducting operations with indigenous
troops in the U.S. or a third country during 2012.</p>
<p><em>Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on <a
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Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s </em><a target="_blank"
Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold
<p>Copyright 2013 Nick Turse</p>
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