US Special Operations forces once worked in the shadows, their roles were little understood in the broader public. While they continue to work in the shadows, a series of high-profile events and public statements have raised their profile to rock star status.

Their most prominent recent successes — the surgical strike to kill Osama bin Laden and the daring at-sea rescue of the crew of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, as examples — have captured the imagination of a public that pays handsomely to see movies and read books about their exploits. Many a stranger on the street is familiar with core US Special Operations elements, including Delta Force, Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, Air Force combat controllers and Marine Corps Raiders.

That was not true before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which triggered a new age of asymmetric warfare. Since those attacks, Spec Ops forces, 70,000 in all, have played an increasingly central role in combating terrorists around the globe — Africa, Asia, Europe, South America — you name it.

As worldwide special operations commanders convene this week at a conference in Amman, Jordan, it is more critical than ever that they come away with clear goals for defeating global terrorism and clarity on how to best share strategies, tactics, technology and lessons learned.

In a March appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, Theresa Whelan, acting as assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict, emphasized the need to build relationships with, and grow the capabilities of, special operators of allied nations. That, she said, "would give the United States potential to leverage such forces along with its own authorities."

She cited cooperation in combating global drug trafficking and organized crime as critical to attacking sources of funding for threat networks.

With the growing importance of Spec Ops has come an integration into the main Pentagon force. Appearing with Whelan at the HASC meeting, US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Special Operations Command, said a growing demand for special operations forces underscored the need for robust funding for the services as a whole. He pointed out that they provide Spec Ops forces the transportation, communications, intelligence, close-air support and other services critical to the mission.

In a changing global environment, where both state and nonstate actors, including violent extremist groups, are increasingly transregional, Votel argued that "budget stability" for US Special Operations forces is particularly vital over the next two years.

The increased demand for US Special Operations forces is reflected in the recent order sending 250 of them to Syria while untold numbers of others are among those deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere throughout the world. Though these assignments are billed as advise-and-assist missions to train local forces to do their own fighting, three US troops have been killed in that role in the past nine months, two of them Spec Ops members.

Today, US Special Operations forces are deployed to 135 countries — 70 percent of the nations in the world. They are the main force combating the growing threat of violent extremism, a battle for which they are the most skilled forces in the world.

It is critical that Congress provide the "budget stability" Votel seeks for Special Operations troops. It is also critical that the wider military, which provides critical support services without which those forces cannot operate, be given the same. The US and the world risk too high a price to shortchange one of the most critical global security challenges of our time.

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