By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 5, 2008 - The numbers of U.S. special operations forces are expected to grow in the years ahead as the United States continues its fight against global terrorism, a senior U.S. military officer told a Senate panel here yesterday. By direction of the president, U.S. Special Operations Command is the lead combatant command for synchronizing Defense Department planning for the global war against terrorism, Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Today, special operators are posted in 58 countries, mostly in small numbers, Olson said. More than 80 percent of overseas-deployed SOCOM members serve with U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for the Afghanistan and Iraq wartime theaters of operation.
"Operational commanders have learned that no other force can accomplish such a broad scope of missions in such diverse operational environments," Olson told committee members.
Global demand for special operations troops exceeds the supply, Olson noted, adding that he sees no decrease in demand in coming years, even with the announced redeployments of some U.S. forces from Iraq.
"We are expanding as fast as we reasonably can -- as fast as we can reasonably absorb the growth," Olson said, noting he envisions a special operations forces growth rate of 3 to 5 percent annually.
With headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., SOCOM provides special operators from all service components to support combatant commanders worldwide.
Acknowledged experts in counter terrorism operations, special operations troops also perform psychological operations, as well as counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, direct action, special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, civil affairs, training with foreign forces, information operations and other missions, as they relate to special operations.