The winds of change are blowing through the United States’ Special Operations Forces (SOF) as lawmakers debate significant changes to the mandate of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
According to a March 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service, USSOCOM is trying to pass an amendment to the Unified Command Plan that would greatly increase its capacity to function as a combatant command. USSOCOM is responsible for organizing, training, and equipping its Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), allocated by their regions:
- Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR)
- Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA)
- Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT)
- Special Operations Command Korea (SOCKOR)
- Special Operations Command North (SOCNORTH)
- Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC)
- Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH)
Currently, the geographic combatant commands maintain operational control over the TSOCs. They regulate all U.S. military operations in specific regions of the world. For instance, Central Command controls operations in the Middle East. So while USSOCOM is responsible for providing equipment and training to a 5th Special Forces Group Operational Detachment Alpha, which is a 12-man team of Green Berets, Central Command has operational control over it once it deploys somewhere in its area of operations.
Now USSOCOM is lobbying for the ability to synchronize, coordinate, deploy and, more importantly, employ SOF units around the world. It would still have to notify the geographic combatant commanders and other U.S. agencies that might be affected, but the change in its mandate would be significant. Essentially, USSOCOM would be able to deploy and direct SOF teams around the world more easily and with less scrutiny from conventional commanders. This might allow for more flexible and effective deployments.
This desire for change emerged from the USSOCOM’s current inability to effectively prevent looming threats, foster relationships with partner nations, and counter threat networks.
While the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)—which contains the nation’s premier special operations units Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, Intelligence Support Activity, and the 24th Special Tactics Squadron—officially belongs to USSOCOM, it’s accountable only to the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the White House. Consequently, it enjoys tremendous flexibility in organizing and conducting operations around the world.
Since the Global War on Terror began following the 9/11 attacks, both the USSOCOM’s manpower and budget skyrocketed. USSOCOM has approximately 70,000 war-fighters—including active duty, reserve, and National Guard personnel from across the four branches. Divisions include the Army Special Operations Command, the Air Force Special Operations Command, the Naval Special Warfare Command, and the Marine Special Operations Command. USSOCOM requested $13.8 billion in the FY2020 defense budget.