WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon plans to give its elite commando units a greater role in fighting the war on terrorism and will provide more money, equipment and troops to special operations forces, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.
Special forces commanders will have greater authority to initiate operations and tap into the regular military's resources to do so, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials told reporters.
"The global nature of the war, the nature of the enemy and the need for fast, efficient operations in hunting down and rooting out terrorist networks ... have all contributed to the need for an expanded role for the special operations forces," Rumsfeld said at a news conference.
Neither Rumsfeld nor other officials who briefed reporters would say how much more money and how many more troops the Defense Department is seeking for the commando units in next year's budget. Officials told The Associated Press last month that plans for Special Operations Command called for a 20 percent budget increase in 2004, or $1 billion, and an 8 percent increase in personnel, about 4,000 people.
President Bush next month will release his proposed budget for the 2004 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. A senior defense official said Tuesday that the Pentagon's budget proposal had not yet been approved by the White House.
Special forces such as Navy SEALS and Army Green Berets have played a prominent role so far in the war on terrorism, helping Northern Alliance forces oust the Taliban in Afghanistan and training troops in the Philippines, Yemen and the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Some of the extra money would pay to replace equipment lost in those missions, such as MH-47 Chinook helicopters destroyed in Afghanistan and the Philippines.
Rumsfeld envisions an even greater role for commandos in the global war on terrorism, including letting special forces run their own operations with help from the military's regional commanders, instead of the other way around.
That's a significant shift for Special Operations Command, known in the Pentagon by its acronym SOCOM. Commando units have traditionally been called in by the regional commanders to perform their special missions of clandestine warfare or military training.
The plans call for adding more people to SOCOM headquarters to help plan the new missions, Rumsfeld said.
Pentagon officials hope that giving SOCOM the ability to initiate operations will help make the special units even faster and more deadly than they already are.
To do that, special forces units will jettison some of their duties that other military forces can perform just as well, such as routine training for foreign militaries, Rumsfeld said. Other roles to be diminished could include combat search and rescue, anti-drug missions and airlift assistance.
Money for the increased special operations budget will come from Bush's proposed increases in defense spending, from the savings made in the reorganization and from the budgets of the regular military branches, the senior defense official said.
Besides replacing equipment lost in the war on terrorism, SOCOM would get more communications equipment and other high-tech gear for its troops, as well as possibly more helicopters or other aircraft.
Commanders at SOCOM are hoping that the troubled V-22 aircraft will help fill that airlift need. The V-22 has propellers that rotate so it can take off and land like a helicopter, then fly like an airplane.
Pentagon officials expect to decide this spring whether to keep the program, which has been plagued by crashes that killed 23 Marines in 2000.
If the V-22 passes its current round of testing, the Special Operations Command hopes to speed delivery of the aircraft modified for special forces' use, a senior SOCOM official said.
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