Adm. William McRaven, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command, wants more control over his commandos once they leave the U.S., a Pentagon official said. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The head of U.S. special operations forces wants more control over his operators once they are deployed, according to two senior spec ops officials.
“There’s a lot of unmet demand in the realm of security force assistance that the services would like to take on. ... I believe there’s plenty of demand” for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to take more of a role in meeting it, said Garry Reid, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict. Reid made the statement at a Nov. 28 special operations conference in Alexandria, Va., hosted by the Defense Strategies Institute.
Specifically, SOCOM commander Adm. William McRaven wants more control over his commandos once they leave the United States.
As it stands now, once spec ops forces deploy to one of the combatant commands, they lose any connection to SOCOM, which no longer controls where they go or what they do, as they become a tool of the combatant commander.
“Adm. McRaven is looking for the freedom to move forces where he needs them when he needs them,” SOCOM deputy commander Lt. Gen. John Mulholland told the audience Nov. 28.
Each combatant command contains a subordinate special operations command called a theater special operations command (TSOC).
McRaven wants to have a “networked and agile and synchronized capability” to be able to communicate with other TSOCs. The plan also calls for the SOCOM commander to be able to move his forces around the globe, albeit with the consent of the combatant commanders who oversee the areas in which operators deploy.
Each TSOC is a small organization put in place to advise combatant commanders on what capabilities special operations forces can provide, while working to integrate spec ops units that have been deployed to the command.
What happens today is that every individual TSOC works for each combatant commander, “but without any greater centrality to recognizing how the actions of one TSOC in his regional area of responsibility can do things that influence another region,” Mulholland said.
SOCOM has a Title 10 function to train and equip special operations forces but does not have any formal authority to do so with the TSOCs or theater assigned forces, meaning SOCOM also can’t engage in any partner training activities around the globe.
SOCOM is doing manpower assessments of the TSOCs to understand how large each one should be and what kind of capabilities, technologies and skill sets each might need.
The changes, if enacted by the defense secretary, “would give [McRaven] a voice, give him the ability to have a direct relationship with those TSOCs to enable them and empower them,” Mulholland said.
The initiative comes at a time of funding stability for SOCOM, making it a rarity within the Defense Department.
While SOCOM relies on the services to provide the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen it needs to perform its missions, SOCOM is growing — doubling in size since 2001 to reach 71,000 personnel by 2018 — and its $10 million annual budget looks likely to stay intact.
As such, the command is busily making plans to become an influential force globally as the U.S. government’s go-to element in the global struggle with extremists.
And leaders are touting the command’s other core strengths in training, advising and partnering with allies to build their indigenous capabilities at home, to try to cut threats off at the root.
McRaven has long said the command plans to keep 10,000 to 12,000 operators forward-deployed in coming years.