U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress [March 23, 2012]   [open pdf - 303KB]

"Special Operations Forces (SOF) play a significant role in U.S. military operations, and the Administration has given U.S. SOF greater responsibility for planning and conducting worldwide counterterrorism operations. U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has about 63,000 active duty, National Guard, and reserve personnel from all four services and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians assigned to its headquarters, its four components, and one sub-unified command. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) directs increases in SOF force structure, particularly in terms of increasing enabling units and rotary and fixed-wing SOF aviation assets and units. […] 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. […] 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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CRS Report for Congress, RS21048
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