Special operators will confront more threats with fewer forces

As President Obama aims to get the U.S. off “permanent war footing,” U.S. special operators will maintain “perpetual engagement,” defense officials said Tuesday. 

“We are moving from a state of perpetual war to perpetual engagement,” Michael D. Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing. 

Lumpkin said although the threat from Al Qaeda to the U.S. homeland is diminishing, the threat to the U.S. interests overseas is growing. 

“Although the scale of threat to the U.S. homeland has diminished, threats to U.S. persons and interests overseas are increasing,” he said.

In addition to an evolving terrorist threat, special operations forces also are dealing with North Korea, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, and instability in Africa. 

Navy Adm. Bill McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, added that those threats were becoming more complex as well. 

“We face unprecedented challenges from an increasingly complex operating environment filed with agile, rapidly adapting belligerents — adversaries that we expect to be even more innovative and asymmetric in their approach to conflict in the years ahead,” he said. 

However, SOCOM will have fewer special operators to meet the growing threats, the officials said. 

The president’s 2015 defense budget request will be able to fund 69,700 troops, versus the 72,000 it expected to have. 

In addition, SOCOM missions could be affected by a reduction in wartime funding, known as overseas contingency operations funding (OCO) -- the amount of which is dependent upon the size of the post-war mission in Afghanistan.

McRaven said under the 2015 budget request, SOCOM would be able to “meet the priority demands,” but would be further affected by cuts to the conventional forces.  

For example, if there are fewer ships steaming, it would affect the ability of U.S. Navy SEALs to get underway, he said.

“Most of our enablers are from the services,” he said. “Things that affect the services absolutely affect...U.S. SOCOM."