Global war without oversight: US special forces deployed to 133 countries in first half of 2018
America’s Special Operations forces (SOF) are stationed all around the world, where they participate in a wide range of missions, including special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, as well as training and advising foreign troops. But special forces soldiers are also regularly involved in shadowy combat operations that receive little to no oversight. Shrouded in secrecy, these global operations continue to grow in quantity, size and expense – despite the fact that even Congress is often left in the dark, veteran investigative journalist Nick Turse recently revealed.
According to Turse, last year US special forces deployed to a staggering 149 countries –about 75 percent of the nations on the planet. But the figure for 2018 is likely to be considerably higher: US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) told Turse that America’s elite forces have already carried out missions in 133 countries – nearly matching the number of deployments during the last year of the Obama administration, and more than double the number of deployments during the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. If America’s special operators deploy to just 17 more countries by the end of the fiscal year, they will top last year’s record-breaking total.
The growing number of secretive deployments has been complimented by SOCOM’s ballooning size and budget. In 2001, for example, an average of 2,900 commandos were deployed overseas in any given week. This number has nearly tripled to 8,300. Likewise, “Special Operations-specific funding,” which totaled $3.1 billion in 2001, has increased to an astonishing $12.3 billion. But the grand total actually surpasses $20 billion, since an additional $8 billion is spent annually by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps for each branch’s special operations.
Despite the worrying implications of an expanding fighting force with little accountability, there’s no reason to believe that US Special Operations forces are going to be downsized anytime soon. According to Turse, SOCOM’s 2019 budget request calls for adding about 1,000 personnel to what would then be a force of 71,000.
Of course, not all of the deployments are malicious or covert in nature. For example, Air Force special operators were recently sent to Thailand to aid the successful attempt to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded cave.
But as Turse notes: “Unless they end in disaster, most missions remain in the shadows, unknown to all but a few Americans.”
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