US special forces struggle to keep up this pace

A continuous, heavy reliance on the most elite U.S. forces is threatening to erode what many officials now see as an increasingly indispensable set of military capabilities.

Already on the front lines in the battle against terror groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida, U.S. special forces are increasingly being called upon to help combat a growing variety of threats from state and non-state actors at a pace that Pentagon officials fear may not be sustainable.

A 75th Ranger Regiment task force trains. (U.S. Army photo)

“We’ve been operating at such a high op-tempo for the last decade-plus,” Theresa Whelan, acting assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “We’ve mortgaged the future in order to facilitate current operations.

“That has impacted readiness and it’s also impacted the development of the force for the future. And as the threats grow, this is only going to get worse,” she added.

Deployed

Approximately 8,000 U.S. special operations forces are currently deployed to more than 80 countries, according to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

That figure includes high-profile missions in Syria and Iraq, where about 600 special operations forces have been working with local partners to help defeat IS.

A special forces team on patrol. (Dept. of Defense photo)

Special operations forces have also been playing a key role in Afghanistan, where just last week two Army Rangers were killed in a large raid with Afghan counterparts that is thought to have killed the leader of IS in that country.

Additionally, SOCOM has been given new responsibilities, taking the lead in coordinating military actions against terrorist organizations and also maintaining the Defense Department’s efforts to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

“Special operations forces are more relevant than ever,” SOCOM Commander General Raymond Thomas told lawmakers. “The evolution, the change in terms of the threat environment, is almost kind of at a frantic level in terms of number of threats.”

But Thomas and Whelan cautioned that the additional responsibilities combined with a larger role on the ground, in many areas, have led to increased strain, especially in a tight budget environment.

In some cases, support staff has taken a hit, Whelan said.

“In fact, we have actually downsized because of requirements for downsizing of the federal workforce, particularly major headquarters organizations,” she told lawmakers.

Funding

Officials also worry about the lack of certainty when it comes to funding.

Nearly 30 percent of SOCOM’s money comes from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget — meant to help fund current military operations. But SOCOM said the vast majority of that money pays for long-term functions or capabilities.

SBT 22 Demonstration

Members of Special Boat Team 22 participate in a Special Operations Craft Riverine demonstration at the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Richard Miller/Released)

The renewed concerns about special operations funding came the same day President Donald Trump touted a $20 billion military spending increase, included in a bill expected to be approved by the House of Representatives this week.

“We are at last reversing years of military cuts and showing our determination and resolve to the entire world,” Trump said May 2 while welcoming the U.S. Air Force Academy football team to the White House Rose Garden.

“These long-awaited increases will make America more safe and more secure and give our amazing service members the tools, equipment, training, and resources they need and they very much deserve.”

Still, the impact when it comes to stabilizing SOCOM funding is unclear, as the military spending increase includes billions of dollars for OCO.

Also read: This Special Forces soldier gave his life to save his allies

But even if funding is stabilized, there remain deep and long-standing concerns about trying to do too much with not enough, possibly pushing special operations force (SOF) troops past their breaking point.

“SOF leaders are worried about that,” a former SOCOM staff officer warned VOA last year, pointing to a continuous surge in the number of missions over the past 15 years.

“They continually say ‘yes,’ ” the officer said. “When do we say ‘no’ in contemporary times to be able to say ‘yes’ to perhaps something more critical in the future?”

TOP ARTICLES
This is how missing or captured troops get promoted

According to the Department of Defense, prisoners of war and those under missing status continue to be considered for promotion along with their contemporaries.

6 reasons Charleston might be America's most gung-ho military city

From Charles Towne Landing to the Medal of Honor Museum, go grab a pint where George Washington drank and read about the military legacy of South Carolina's Atlantic jewel.

This is how long South Korea thinks it will take to conquer the North

South Korea says they are developing new plans to defend against advancing North Korean threats after a data breach left their outdated plans vulnerable.

This stunning video shows how well 100-year-old ammo works today

While original 1911 pistols surely still function today, turns out so does the ammo from that era.

This could be the Army's next rifle — and it's totally awesome

Textron debuted its newest rifle, the Intermediate Case-Telescoped Carbine, at AUSA. It's lighter and more deadly than the current M4.

16 jokes Germans could die for telling under the Nazi regime

The Nazi Party was well short of a majority when it came to power. So it's easy to believe that not everyone was a big fan of Hitler or his ideas.

These really smart people say bigger is better when it comes to building aircraft carriers

In an effort to reduce its fiscal footprint, the Navy is looking at making smaller ships. But these defense researchers say it's a terrible idea.

Now that ISIS is on the ropes, these guys have turned the guns on each other

Two US allies, which were armed and trained by US forces, have turned their weapons on each other, and there isn't much the US can do about it.

This is the definitive history of the world's most advanced fighter jet

The new F-22A Raptor fighter jet is the most advance fighter jet in the world, and it dominates on every level imaginable.

This is how the $102 million B-1A almost replaced the B-52

The plan was to buy 240 B-1As to replace the B-52 as the Air Force's primary strategic bomber, but eventually, they each found their place in the force.