Obama’s Special Forces Fascination
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

Obama’s Special Forces Fascination


The new U.S. Defense Department budget documents released by the Pentagon this month confirm one thing we knew and another we didn’t. As expected, the documents show that the Obama administration plans to maintain strong funding support for the Special Forces in the coming years, even while spending on more conventional forces will grow slower and in some cases even fall. But the documents also reveal that the Defense Department plans to deploy a new floating base that can support hostage rescues, clandestine terrorist assassinations, and other special missions along the world’s littorals.  

President Barack Obama’s attraction to the Special Operations Forces (SOF) among other unconventional operations has perhaps only been rivaled by President John F. Kennedy, who saw unconventional warfare as the tool that would prevent Soviet- and Maoist-backed communist revolutions from taking over much of what was then called the Third World. The Green Berets and others SOF units supported friendly governments in Asia and elsewhere under assault by communist insurgents. They also conducted daring operations on the territories of foreign adversaries.

The Obama administration has invested heavily in unmanned vehicles – air, land, and sea – and has conducted many more drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere than previous administrations. More visibly, the administration has sent the Special Forces to free hostages, kill terrorists, and perform other important missions. Rather than Colin Powell-type overwhelming force missions, the Obama team is partial to the deft and swift surgical strikes conducted by missile-armed drones and helicopter-transported commandos. 

The Pentagon’s new strategy and budget documents show that the administration expects the agility and flexibility of the Special Operations Forces to compensate for the drawdown in the conventional forces. For example, SOF units will undertake the present missions for lower priority regions such as Africa and Latin America. Instead of being visited by a carrier, these countries would host a rotating SOF unit for a few weeks or more, for joint training and exercises.

The Special Forces have had many triumphs during the Obama administration, including killing Osama bin Laden in the heart of Pakistan last May, and rescuing two aid workers this month held hostage by Somali pirates. In 2009, Navy SEAL snipers also killed the Somali pirates who had held Capt. Richard Phillips hostage.

Obama has met with the SEALs who killed bin Laden and conducted other missions. The head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Adm. William McRaven, was a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union Address on Tuesday. Obama remarked during his speech, after just having learned of the Somali rescue, that one of his favorite possessions was an American flag that the SEALs carried on the bin Laden mission.

During the last few years, much of the regular Army and Marine Corps has been transformed away from the heavy forces of the Cold War and toward the light and agile profile of the Special Operations Forces. One reason Obama may have selected Leon Panetta as his replacement for retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a champion of larger counterinsurgency operations, was that, as CIA Director, Panetta was involved in many of the drone strikes and other special operations the administration has supported since coming to office. Meanwhile, the conventional military has been bogged down in Afghanistan and is expected to undergo major budget cuts.

The latest revelation is that the Pentagon will soon deploy a transportable floating base somewhere in the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility. In response to a CENTCOM request, the Navy is retrofitting the USS Ponce, a 40-year old warship that was scheduled for decommissioning, into the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) long requested by Special Operations Command.

Edwin de Pano
March 25, 2014 at 21:34

Iran just like any nations has the right to have the Atomic bomb possibly as your article stated for Irans preservation. The country is highly insecure as they know very well that they are out of favor from the west. I find Iran s behavior highly rational and thei pursuit of atomic arsenal is motivated by their illustrous history. It is Israel who should be controlled by the west and should get out of Palestinian . Itertitory. I believe.the West is in the right path by engaging Iran.

major lowen gil marquez, phil army
October 22, 2012 at 22:13

The special forces operation is more effective and less financial burden on the part of the government that can be used such savings to other important purpose that will help to established a strong national security of the nation and of the free world.. its a surgical operation that will target a very specific target that has a high impact upon accomplishment of its unit mission, a floating base is important also but it should be on the defense and suporting effort if such special operation will not prosper that will ned a combine arms team operation of the army, airforce, and navy…

September 5, 2012 at 03:35

Suggest South China Sea Naval Training including Vietnam and Philippines.  

February 10, 2012 at 15:59

Obama has no clue when it comes to the military and foreign policy. Naively, he plays with SOFs while the US military is being torn apart. China is amassing new military planes, submarines, aircraft carriers, rapid respons forces, aircraft carrier killing bombs, aircraft with satellite destroying missiles, cyber warefare capabilities, beamed energy weapons,upgrading nuclear bombs, etc.

Just ask the Vietnamese people who won the war. The communists killed many!

February 7, 2012 at 23:26

When we take into consideration the needs of each operation which may present it’s self, Special Forces, Infantry, Armour, and Aircraft with capabilities to “do the Job” must all be factored in. It is inconceivable that a platoon of Infantry would be sent in to collect intelligence, when 3 S.F personnel can do it with greater security and speed. The British S.A.S performed hostage rescues before any other nations S.F. were contemplating such a move. The Australian S.A.S in Vietnam gathered large quantities of Intelligence and pinpointed targets for Aircraft strikes. How ever when needed the Infantry and his supporting arms were more appropriate to taking and holding the ground.
Therefor the only logical conclusion is to support both S.F. and Traditional Armed Forces. An untrained man can take out an aircraft no matter how sophisticated it may be, with the right equipment, just as a trained man 200 miles in land can take out the biggest and largest defended ship with a missile. This doesn’t mean we do away with Aircraft or a Navy. It does mean we must research further into the ideas and theories of yesterdays technology to develop today’s defence for the protection of tomorrow. One of the biggest hindrances to advancement is “Turf Protection” amongst those who should be supporting and advancing each others cause, and should know better.

February 7, 2012 at 13:52

I would like to reply to your comment that; “at the end of the day, its the ability to take ground and hold it that wins wars”. While this age old aage may well be true in a conventional setting, the war tht we are engaged in at the moment have a difernent key to success. That is facilitating the fores of the local government to be able to take ground and hold it for themselves, along with providing the basic services of a functioning governmen to the people.
Special Forces or Special Operations Forces are capable of teaching and mentoring the security forces of security affected countries, whilst at the same time conducting operations in order to give the fledgling security forces of the host nation room to breathe and get up and running.
The US did nt lose the war in Vietnam because of a poor balance between conscripts and SF, but due to a lack of political will within the US itself. If you look into the reasons for the Vietnam war, the US actually achieved its aims there. What I mean is that Communism was halted, and we did not witness the dreaded ‘domino effect’, so essentially the war in Vietnam was won by the US!
At the end of the day SF units provide a greater effect for a lower cost, and due to their training they do not make as many mistakes as conventional units. They can be used in very sensitive situations and be guaranteed of a good result. The training they receive also results in lower cases of psychological problems post-combat operations, when compared to their conventional brethren. SF may not be able to do everything, but in times of financial uncertainty, they are a much safer investment.

February 2, 2012 at 07:30

Of course there is a cost to using Special Forces. But if you’re not going to use them to get bin Laden, why even have them in the first place? This was a case where the risk of letting the enemy know we had cool helicopters was clearly subordinate to capturing or killing bin Laden.

Now Iran is a different issue. Personally I don’t think we should be involved in Iran at all. But a majority of voting Americans think we should be involved but not to the level of using regular forces. That’s why we risk the drones. Clearly a compromise but, considering the alternative of yet another full scale war, not a horrible one.

February 1, 2012 at 22:20

The military establishment, like a teenage girl, goes through fads. The fashion now, as it was in the 60s, for high tech weaponry and special forces, at the cost of less glamorous boots-on-the ground infantry. But at the end of the day, its the ability to take ground and hold it that wins wars.
The US lost the Vietnam war in part because it chose to depend on a combination of poorly trained conscripts and a corps of highly trained special forces.
The US risks leaving itself vulnerable by cutting back on its conventional forces in favour of the trend-of-the day.

February 1, 2012 at 00:07

It should be noted that these forays into the darkness have not been without their cost. In terms of armament, Obama’s fascination with Special Forces has cost us the no-longer-secret rotors of a specially adapted helicopter and the no-longer-secret internal workings of our most advanced drone.

We also get a sense of its effect in the middle east as Pakistan has placed yet more restrictions on U.S. movement in AfPak, Iraq complains about drones over their nation, and Egypt retains U.S. aid workers. One gets the sense that our President hasn’t seen a Special Ops he doesn’t like. It should be obvious by now that the Cairo speech was just that – a speech, and the Nobel prize committee might be having buyer’s regret at about this time.

We now have the floating Maginot Line, a piece of hardware which presents an obvious point from which Ops opt from. It will tend to focus the mind of China, in particular, the country which already (apparently) has missiles which will take out even well defended ships. The only question will be, which countries will China sell its missiles to.

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