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Plan seeks more elite forces for U.S. military

A top-level Pentagon review of defense strategy calls for bolstering the U.S. military with thousands more elite troops skilled in fighting terrorists and insurgents and working with foreign forces.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

A top-level Pentagon review of defense strategy calls for bolstering the U.S. military with thousands more elite troops skilled in fighting terrorists and insurgents and working with foreign forces — as part of a decades-long plan to expand efforts to thwart terrorists worldwide, according to U.S. officials and military analysts familiar with the review.

The increase would bring the ranks of Special Operations Forces — which include covert Delta Force operatives, Rangers, Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces — to their highest levels since the Vietnam War while adding billions to the budget of the 52,000-strong U.S. Special Operations Command, based in Tampa, over the next five years, said the officials and analysts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the final document has not been released.

One of the largest gains would be in Army Special Forces, or Green Berets, soldiers trained in languages and navigating foreign cultures who work with indigenous forces and operate in 12-member "A-teams." Special Forces would expand by one-third — from 15 to 20 active-duty battalions — creating about 90 more A-teams to deploy to regions considered vulnerable to terrorist or extremist influences, the officials and analysts said. Currently, the bulk of Special Forces teams are rotating into Iraq and Afghanistan.

Increasing Special Operations Forces is one of the most significant elements of the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which sets U.S. defense strategy, guides plans for forces and military hardware and has a major influence on defense spending. The QDR was timed for release along with the fiscal 2007 budget on Feb. 6, according to Pentagon and congressional officials as well as military analysts familiar with it through drafts and briefings. Implementing the strategy will occur primarily through the longer-range defense spending plan for the next five years, Pentagon officials said.

The 2005 QDR — the first comprehensive look at military strategy and requirements since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — attempts to predict the major security challenges the United States will face in the next 20 years, Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said in an address last week.

The latest review sets four major goals: defeating terrorist extremism; defending the homeland; influencing nations such as China that are at a "strategic crossroads" in their world role; and preventing hostile states or actors from acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, Henry said.

It emphasizes devoting greater resources to preparing for "irregular" "catastrophic" and "disruptive" attacks — such as strikes by terrorist groups with biological weapons, or an attack on U.S. information systems by China — as compared with traditional military threats.

‘No mystery to this’
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to discuss specific policy decisions contained in the QDR, but he confirmed that the emphasis on Special Operations Forces capable of conducting unconventional warfare is "a concept the QDR has identified as important." "We have talked about increasing the size of the Special Operations Forces out there. We've talked about adding Marine forces" to the ranks of Special Operations, he said. "There is no mystery to this."

One major question for the Pentagon's future strategy, military experts and officials say, is how to best fight and prevent the spread of terrorist and extremist groups over the long term in nations where the United States is not at war.

The increase in Special Forces teams, trained specifically to work with foreign militaries, is one way to gain an ongoing presence and military influence in regions where it is lacking.

"This will be the largest increase in the number of SOF since the Vietnam War," said Michael Vickers, director of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, who has been involved in the QDR and was a member of a team of experts probing U.S. weaknesses.

The QDR also envisions a significant boost of several hundred civil affairs soldiers, who specialize in post-conflict rebuilding, along with smaller increases in soldiers who engage in psychological operations.

Delta Force
The ranks of Delta Force operatives, who work in covert "special mission units" tracking the most valued military targets such as terrorist leaders, will also grow by about one-third, officials and analysts say. Army Rangers, highly trained infantry troops who support Delta missions, will gain three companies, or more than 400 troops.

In an effort to keep an unblinking eye on potential terrorist activities in sensitive regions of the world, Air Force special operations will create a unit of unmanned aerial drones able to maintain watch for long periods.