Monday, January 09, 2006

Pentagon Seeks More Commandos to Blunt Terrorists

Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon wants to increase U.S. commando forces, including special terrorist-hunting units, by almost a fourth through 2011.

The Pentagon's long-range budget recommends adding about 12,000 military and civilian personnel to the Special Operations Command, which now numbers 51,000. The Command is the military's lead force in the global war on terror; the increases are outlined in a memo to service secretaries and regional combat commanders signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

England, in the memo, says the recommended increases reflect long-range initiatives in the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review. This assessment of strategy, threats and forces is near completion and must be sent to the president by early next month for release with his fiscal 2007 budget.

``The U.S. expects threats from terrorists and irregular warfare to increase in Asia and the Mideast,'' said Russell Howard, a retired Green Beret general who's now a professor at Tufts University in Boston. ``This expansion will increase'' the Command's ability ``to take the fight to the enemy.''

Special operations forces include Army Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force ground controllers and pilots and crew who man helicopters and transport aircraft capable of flying at night hugging the terrain.

Among the 12,000 new positions to be filled through 2011 are 1,500 Army, Navy, Air Force and civilian personnel to increase the number of counter-terrorist ``Special Mission Units,'' and enhance ``clandestine insertion/extraction capability,'' England's memo said.

Quadrennial Review

Michael Vickers, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington and also an ex-Green Beret, says al-Qaeda and its factions have cells in some 60 countries with insurgencies active in almost a third.

President George W. Bush has said repeatedly that the U.S. war on terror demands a policy of pre-emptive strikes.

``Part of chasing down the Taliban and al-Qaeda is to find them where they hide,'' Bush said Jan. 4 following a briefing from commanders at the Pentagon. ``Just like in Iraq, we're going to have our special forces stay on the hunt.''

Spending Increases

England, in his Dec. 20 memo, says the Pentagon wants to add $7.4 billion to buy equipment to enhance the Command's ``air and ground mobility, special weapons, tactical communications, combat logistics and military construction.''

He directs General Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs, to commission a study, to be completed by June 1, on the potential for using the new Lockheed Martin Corp. Littoral Combat Ship as a staging base for special forces' operations.

The budget of the Tampa, Florida-based Special Forces has almost doubled under Bush -- growing to $6.6 billion in fiscal 2006 from $3.6 billion in fiscal 2000. England would add the $7.4 billion to increases already planned through fiscal 2011.

Of the 12,000 personnel to be added, about 2,600 would be Marines who would form a specialized unit in the command. The rest, including the Special Mission Unit personnel, would be recruited and trained through 2011, and would include intelligence, communications and civil affairs specialists as well as commandos.

``With the dollars and personnel comes the commitment,'' Howard said.

New Technologies

``Part of this expansion are new technologies and systems designed to support activities ranging from direct action missions against terror targets to civil affairs and psychological operations,'' said Andrew Feickert, a specialist on national defense for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service and a former Green Beret.

About $489 million, for example, would be spent to buy Predator drones and logistics equipment for a first squadron of Predators that would operate from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The drones have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan, taking video and launching laser-guided Hellfire missiles against suspected terrorists. The Predators are made by privately-held General Atomics Co., which is based in San Diego.

The personnel increases include 178 civilians to set up and manage a system for feeding real-time video or images to commandos from the Predators. The system is produced by Lexington, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co.

In addition to Raytheon, other contractors benefiting from the increases would be Clarksburg, Maryland-based Thales Communications Inc., which makes commando radios, and Chicago- based Boeing Co., which makes the MH-47 Chinook helicopter, AC- 130U gunship and the commando version of the V-22 Osprey tilt- rotor aircraft.

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