Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
Commanders are developing plans for increasing the use of such forces in Somalia, where a Special Operations raid last year killed the alleged head of al-Qaeda in East Africa. Plans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack linked to a specific group.
This has been making me feel borderline insane for a while now. I’ve been able to find government documents acknowledging the existence of these forces under various special programs such as Section 1206, but I haven’t had a way of finding all of them. Congress is so awful about executive oversight that I’m not sure the extent to which they’re even aware for that matter. The authorization for operations in Pakistan for example are covered by one sentence about a “Pakistan counterinsurgency fund” in the annual defense authorization bill.
The report continues:
Special Operations commanders have also become a far more regular presence at the White House than they were under George W. Bush’s administration, when most briefings on potential future operations were run through the Pentagon chain of command and were conducted by the defense secretary or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We have a lot more access,” a second military official said. “They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.”
The White House, he said, is “asking for ideas and plans . . . calling us in and saying, ‘Tell me what you can do. Tell me how you do these things.’ ”
The Special Operations capabilities requested by the White House go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them. In Yemen, for example, “we are doing all three,” the official said. Officials who spoke about the increased operations were not authorized to discuss them on the record.
At least some of this is likely run by contractors, particularly the “counterinsurgency” training like they’re doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Jeremy Scahill provides additional details:
The expansion of special forces includes both traditional special forces, often used in training missions, and those known for carrying out covert and lethal, “direct actions.” The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.” Additionally, these US special forces at times work alongside other nations’ special operations forces in conducting missions in their home countries. A US special operations source described one such action where US forces teamed up with Georgian forces hunting Chechen rebels.
Sources say that much of the most sensitive and lethal operations conducted by JSOC are carried out by Task Force 714, which was once commanded by Gen. McChrystal, the current commander of the war in Afghanistan. Under the Obama administration, according to sources, TF-714 has expanded and recently changed its classified name. The Task Force’s budge has reportedly expanded 40% on the request of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and has added additional forces. “It was at Mullen’s request and they can do more now,” according to a special forces source. “You don’t have to work out of the embassies, you don’t have to play nice with [the State Department], you can just set up anywhere really.”
Further reading on how this stuff works:
Anand Gopal: Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan