McRaven Addresses SpecOps Technology Expo; Event Draws Huge Crowd
Most of what special operators do is not as sexy as what the Navy SEALs did the day they took out Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and it is the less heralded work that will define U.S. Special Operations Command moving forward, its leader said.
About 80 percent “of what we do day-in and day-out doesn't get publicized,” SOCOM Commander Adm. William McRaven said May 22 at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.
In addition to taking on a greater share of the work in Afghanistan, operators find themselves in 77 other countries doing what McRaven called “the real work” of special operations forces. This means training defense and police forces and doing the things that could help prevent kinetic operations.
“The real work of special operations is about building partner capacity. It's about security force assistance,” McRaven said. “It's about getting left of boom. How can we help those countries help themselves? That's what real special operations is about.”
More than a year since bin Laden's death, special operations forces have been caught in a bit of a whirlwind that has seen them flirt with Hollywood and move to the top of President Obama's new defense strategy. The spotlight probably won't dim anytime soon.
This year's conference has attracted more than 7,000 attendees. McRaven has stated his intention to help create a global network of special operators, and officials from more than 90 countries have descended upon Tamps this week. The importance of these worldwide ambitions may best be explained by the fact that none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to deliver a speech here May 23. SOCOM officials cited the conference's theme of global partnership and the healthy international presence as reasons for extending an invitation to the secretary.
While the attention may be more than many special operators are used to or comfortable with, SOCOM appears more than willing to increase its operational profile. But it will have to do so at the same time as it heals from more than a decade of war. McRaven described the force as “frayed.”
“We're not crumbling, we're frayed,” he said. “But we have a lot of fighting ahead of us, so I have a responsibility to get ahead of this fraying.”
McRaven would not specifically address questions related to current policy in Afghanistan, but said that his troops would be able to handle whatever demands are thrown their way.
There are currently thousands of special operators in Afghanistan, where they will stay until 2014 and maybe beyond. SOCOM is about 66,000 strong, but only 12,000 some are actually deployable, McRaven said. Those troops are “fungible” and can be interchanged between Afghanistan and any of the 77 other countries where they have a presence.
Whatever the goal ends up being in Afghanistan, special operations forces will be able to accomplish it and still meet their requirements around the rest of the world, McRaven said.