Special Operations Command: A Twenty Year History

As the missions and budgets for U.S. Special Operations Command steadily expand, a new official history (large pdf) looks back at the origins and development of SOCOM.

“Since its creation in 1987, USSOCOM has supported conventional forces and conducted independent special operations throughout the world, participating in all major combat operations,” writes SOCOM Commander General Bryan D. Brown.

The new account, prepared by the SOCOM history office and obtained by Secrecy News, describes in new detail the major SOCOM operations of the past two decades up through the present.

“After 9/11, the first SOF [special operations forces] counterterrorism operations were not conducted in Afghanistan or even in the Middle East, but in Europe,” the SOCOM history notes.

“In late September 2001, U.S. SOF learned that Islamic extremists with connections to Usama bin Laden were in Bosnia. SOCEUR forces quickly put together Operation RESOLUTE EAGLE to capture them. U.S. SOF surveilled the terrorists, detained one of the groups, and facilitated the capture of another group by coalition forces. These raids resulted in the capture of all the suspected terrorists and incriminating evidence for prosecution and intelligence exploitation.”

Other operations, like the battle of Tora Bora, were admittedly less successful.

“The fact that SOF came as close to capturing or killing UBL [Usama bin Laden] as U.S. forces have to date makes Tora Bora a controversial fight. Given the commitment of fewer than 100 American personnel, U.S. forces proved unable to block egress routes from Tora Bora south into Pakistan, the route that UBL most likely took.”

See “United States Special Operations Command, 1987-2007,” SOCOM History and Research Office, MacDill Air Force Base, April 2007 (143 pages in a very large 32 MB PDF file).

The Government Accountability Office prepared a detailed critical profile of SOCOM (pdf) in 2006.

“The Special Operations Command is comprised of special operations forces from each of the military services. In fiscal year 2005, personnel authorizations for Army special operations forces military personnel totaled more than 30,000, the Air Force 11,501, the Navy 6,255, and the Marine Corps 79,” the GAO reported.

“From fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2005, funding for the Command increased from more than $3.8 billion to more than $6.4 billion,” GAO said, and it is only projected to rise through 2011.

But recruiting and training special operations forces to meet expanding mission requirements will be a challenge, the GAO concluded.

See “Special Operations Forces: Several Human Capital Challenges Must Be Addressed to Meet Expanded Role” [GAO-06-812], July 2006.

See also “Army Special Operations Forces” (pdf), U.S. Army Field Manual 3-05, September 2006, obtained by Secrecy News.

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