Obama Expands Use of Shadow Soldiers

•U.S. Special Operations Command: 66,000 elite soldiers to wage covert war

By Richard Walker

Barack Obama’s concept of modern warfare is to wage a global battle of attrition in secret against Washington’s enemies using elite American soldiers. So far, he has authorized the positioning of Special Forces teams in more than 100 countries. The State Department acknowledges that there are 196 countries on the planet. This means U.S. Special Forces are stationed in more than half of the nations around the world.

A newly expanded force called USSOCOM, or the U.S. Special Operations Command, will have the money to run an outfit of more than 66,100 personnel. Total price to taxpayers: $10 billion. That represents a 50 percent increase in the number of Special Forces available operating under G. W. Bush.

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Many of the operations abroad will be known only to the president and the secretary of defense and will likely involve assassinations, kidnappings and in the case of a country like Iran, the potential targeting of its nuclear facilities.

While this is Obama’s new defense strategy, the legal authorities he chose to underpin it were borrowed from the playbook of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In particular, Obama expanded secret orders Bush used to target al Qaeda leaders. Known as “AQNEXORD,” or “Al Qaeda Execute Orders,” these provided authorizations to assassinate foreign revolutionary group members beyond the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

And while Bush felt the orders had legal limitations, Obama has tossed aside any such reservations and has made the world the battlefield and foreign revolutionaries only one of his many targets.

USSOCOM is a large, secret army controlled by the president. It comprises Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers, Marine Corps Special Operations and Air Force commandos. It is supported by highly specialized teams of intelligence experts and rescue squads and even possesses its own aircraft and air traffic controllers.

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Obama’s fascination with Special Forces mirrors a public myth that SEALs and Green Berets are supermen, or as Adm. William H. McRaven described them “lethal hunter-killers.” That fits neatly into Hollywood movie scenarios but it is hardly the truth. Creating a very large command of the type McRaven and the president now jointly run presents major problems. One is the danger of too much power being vested in the White House. Another is that over-reliance on such a strategy opens up the possibility of catastrophic mistakes. An example is Israel’s global war in which it has murdered innocents and left Israel with a reputation for having a total disregard for international laws.

Should the U.S. pursue a similar global strategy, as Obama seems determined to do, his shadowy wars will attract many more players as other countries follow his lead and that of Israel.


Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.