Michael Vickers: Building up our Special Forces is vital to tackling global terror

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The Independent Online

Special Operations Forces have been one of the growth stocks of the Department of Defense. By early in the next decade, these Forces will be twice as large as they were at the beginning of the decade. They'll reach the mid-60 thousands in total manpower.

There will have been more than a doubling of Special Operations command budget. There will be a lot more officers who come from a Special Operations background among our senior leadership.

Those at the operational core of our Special Operations Forces, on the ground, number some 15,000 or so. These range from our Army Special Forces or our Green Berets, our Rangers, our Seals, and some classified units. We recently added a Marine Corps Special Operations Command to this arsenal as well.

In addition to adding the Marine component, each of these elements since has been increasing not just their capacity but their capabilities. This is the largest growth in Special Operations Force history. By the time we're done with that, there will be some gaps we need to fix undoubtedly, but we will have the elements in place for what we believe is the Special Operations component of the global war on terrorism.

Special Operations Forces, I think through this decade and into the next one, have been and will remain a decisive strategic instrument. When trying to answer the question about what made Special Operations Forces special, we liked to say that, well, it was because of their tactical virtuosity and the skill of the individual operator that they were trained to such a high level. What I now like to talk about is that it really is the strategic employment and the impact that these forces have in this broad war that makes them special.

Since the 9/11 attacks there's been about a 40 or 50 per cent increase in operational tempo. On any given day that we wake up, our Special Operations Forces are in some 60 countries around the world. More than 80 per cent or so of those right now are concentrated in the greater Middle East. We are expanding our force significantly so we can get broader global coverage.

This is an edited extract from a talk given by the US Assistant Secretary of Defense at the 2007-2008 Counter-Terrorism Lecture Series at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy