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CRS: U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress

Author: Andrew Feickert
July 9, 2012

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This Congressional Research Service report provides an overview of Special Operations Forces, elite military units with special training that can infiltrate into hostile territory to conduct a variety of operations, many of them classified.

On January 5, 2012, the Administration unveiled its new strategic guidance refocusing U.S. strategic efforts to the Pacific and the Middle East and, at the same time, proposing significant cuts to ground forces. While there are presently few specifics known, this new strategic direction has the potential to significantly affect U.S. SOF. Of potential concern to Congress is that with fewer general purpose forces, SOF operational tempo might increase. While DOD maintains that it is willing to increase its investment in SOF, there are limitations on expansion because of stringent qualification and training standards. In addition, little is known about how SOF would be employed under this new strategy and if it even has the ability to take on new mission requirements. The further downsizing of ground forces (Army and Marines) also brings up concerns that the services might be hard-pressed to establish and dedicate enabling units needed by USSOCOM while at the same time adequately supporting general purpose forces. An examination of proposed force structure in relation to anticipated requirements for enabling forces could prove useful to Congress.

Reports suggest USSOCOM is seeking expanded authority to deploy and position SOF and their equipment in an effort to achieve greater autonomy and increase presence in Asia, Africa, and Latin America—areas in which SOF has not had a large presence over the past decades. Some view this as beneficial to USSOCOM's overall global presence, but reports suggest that geographic combatant commanders and ambassadors have concerns with such a course of action. USSOCOM leadership has stated that no SOF will be deployed into a country without the Chief of Mission's knowledge or approval. This report will be updated.

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