Demand for spec ops troops outpaces growth
By Lolita C. Baldor - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Jun 4, 2009 5:45:04 EDT

WASHINGTON — Elite special operations forces can’t grow fast enough to meet increasing global demands, so the Pentagon is depending more heavily on support that is not always available from regular forces, according to the military’s top special operations commander.

Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, says he needs the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to provide more logistics, intelligence, communications and air transportation support for his troops overseas.

“We are and will be dependent upon our service partners for key force enablers,” said Olson in remarks prepared for a congressional hearing and obtained by The Associated Press. “The non-availability of these force enablers has become our most vexing issue in the operational environment.”

Olson, who is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Armed Services terrorism subcommittee, says his force can only grow by 3 percent to 5 percent a year. But, he said, the need for special operations units to deploy in hot spots around the globe is outpacing that growth.

The more mobile, specially trained warriors carry out more secretive anti-terror missions, and in a number of countries they are used to train foreign forces.

In most cases, however, they rely on their brethren in larger, conventional military units to fuel their helicopters, fix their trucks, transport their troops and provide surveillance and other information.

Olson said there is still a shortage of manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft and systems, which are critical for his forces on the warfront.

Another challenge, he said, will be to ensure that special operations units serving in dangerous areas of Iraq get the support they need as the larger, conventional units leave the country.

There are 135,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, and they are scheduled to leave the cities by June. President Barack Obama has said that all combat forces will be out of the country by the end of August 2010, and all forces will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

Olson said his forces have made progress in one key area — the recruitment of non-U.S. citizens with foreign language and cultural expertise. He said more than 100 of the legal, non-permanent residents have joined the Army under a pilot program and some will be serving in special operations units.

Special operations forces are deployed around the world, including as many as 8,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon is increasing the number of elite forces from about 45,000 in 2001 to about 62,000 by 2015. The elite warriors include Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALS, and Air Force and Marine special operations forces.