While the U.S. Army has been ordered to cut its personnel strength by 15 percent, some areas of the army, like Special Forces, are increasing strength. In the case of Special Forces it’s only four percent. This reflects the continued heavy dependence on SOCOM (Special Operations Command) most of whose personnel are from the army, for fighting terrorism. With the end of major combat operations by non-SOCOM forces in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the remaining anti-terrorism work is what SOCOM specializes in. But the cuts to the regular forces, including eliminating about 20 percent of the combat brigades, has not gone down well in light of the continued growth of Special Forces. The regular forces want some of the SOCOM missions, making a case that there are some things the regular forces can do better.
This came about because since September 11, 2001 the demands on the SOCOM troops were so great that some tasks traditionally handled by Special Forces were given to regular troops. This was usually things like training foreign troops. Not just Iraqis and Afghans but troops in the many countries that were facing a growing threat from Islamic terrorism. Special Forces usually handled training missions in places like this, but because the demands on SOCOM were so great, soldiers and marines increasingly filled in. Special Forces were preferred because they often had trainers who spoke the local language and understood the local culture. Despite lacking language and cultural awareness skills Soldiers and marines, even reservists, did a good job and now feel they should keep some of that work. SOCOM responds that knowing the language and culture makes a big difference in the long term and that the elite troops from Special Forces or the SEALs can do the training better, faster and with fewer American personnel. In addition, these training missions assist Special Forces in maintaining their language and cultural awareness skills. Moreover, SOCOM personnel got more into intelligence work during the last decade and these training missions enable SOCOM personnel to maintain grassroots intel contacts in foreign countries and within the armed forces there as well. SOCOM personnel know what to look for and have far more useful data to pass on to military intelligence and other intel agencies (like the CIA).
Then there is the issue of blowback. That occurs when the foreign troops trained by SOCOM or regular troops later use those skills for less savory activities. The risk for this always exists even though the media and anti-military activists make a big deal out of it, implying that the U.S. government is somehow intentionally training foreigners to be better murders and criminals. Any training of foreigners in parts of the world where criminality, corruption and all manner of bad behavior are common cannot avoid training some people who will later go bad. SOCOM points out that their trainers are better able to spot the potential bad actors and alert local authorities or American intel about the situation. Again, knowing the local language and culture plays a major role here.
Regular troops will continue to get work training foreign troops, if only because there is more demand for this sort of thing than SOCOM can fill. In addition SOCOM is uniquely qualified to train counter-terrorism forces and special operations forces of all sorts. SOCOM has to handle these tasks and that takes a lot of personnel. This type of training is very popular with foreign government. SOCOM trained special operations units have performed very well and played a major role in eliminating or containing Islamic terrorism in many countries.