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.