US expands reach of clandestine Special Ops

The US is taking over the world – but not with mass armies and awe-inspiring firepower, but by stealth, with undercover teams of highly-trained, heavily-armed soldiers in night-vision goggles. Sometimes these Special Operations, like the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 or last year’s abduction of a suspected al Qaeda chief in Libya, become major news events, or the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, but few people realize the actual extent of “Special Ops” around the world. Reporter Nick Turse of the website TomDispatch.com has written several articles trying to establish how extensive the use of Special Forces is – his guess is that around 11,000 officers are active in 80 countries at any one time.

Occasionally, Turse’s pronouncements sound a little alarmist. “The ambitiousness of the creeping decision to bring every inch of the planet under the watchful eyes of US military commanders should take anyone’s breath away,” he writes. “It’s the sort of thing that once might only have been imaginable in movies where some truly malign and evil force planned to ‘conquer the world’ and dominate Planet Earth for an eternity.”

William H. McRaven, head of Special Operations Command

McRaven has presided over a massive expansion of Special Forces

But the massive recent expansion of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) – the integrated military command established in 1987 in the wake of the Iran hostage crisis – is undisputed. Since 2001, USSOCOM’s personnel count has grown from 33,000 to well over 63,000 in 2012, and is set to increase further to above 70,000 by 2015. “To put that in perspective, by that time the entire British army will be under 90,000,” said Paul Rogers, military analyst at the UK-based Oxford Research Group.

Special Ops – the future of the military

This is part of the vision of USSOCOM chief Admiral William McRaven, who last year presented his new plan: “Special Operations Forces 2020: The Global SOF Network.” Not only does USSOCOM include components in all four branches of the US military – it is also embedded in the intelligence community. According to McRaven himself, speaking at a panel discussion at Washington’s Wilson Center in 2013: “I have folks in every agency here in Washington, DC – from the CIA, to the FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National Geospatial Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency.”

As a result, writes Turse, “SOCOM is weaving a complex web of alliances with government agencies at home and militaries abroad to ensure that it’s at the center of every conceivable global hotspot and power center. In fact, Special Operations Command has turned the planet into a giant battlefield, divided into many discrete fronts.”

No dragons but snakes

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