Army looks to spend as much as $100M on Special Ops headquarters in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army is planning to spend as much as $100 million to expand its Special Operations headquarters in northern Afghanistan, evidence of its increasing reliance on covert operations.

The project is one of many in the Obama administration, as it seeks billions in budget increases to counter expanded terror threats from abroad. It also comes as thousands of U.S. troops arrive in Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama's ordered buildup.

According to a contracting notice posted on a government Web site, the compound in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif will include housing for personnel, a training area, medical aid station and tactical operations center. News of the new center was first reported by Wired Magazine.

U.S. reliance on Special Operations forces has been steadily on the rise since the 2001 terrorist attacks, with its budget growing from $2.2 billion to $9 billion nine years later.

Ken McGraw, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, on Friday confirmed that Special Operations forces are now operating in about 73 countries — compared to 68 last year.

Special operations units are trained in specialized warfare skills, like capturing fugitives and conducting sabotage, and they work quietly with the armed forces of small countries.

Nowhere have these skills been considered more valuable than Afghanistan, where U.S. officials are looking to wipe out Taliban strongholds without using the kind of conventional weapons that destroy cities and kill civilians.

Accordingly, the Obama administration — like the Bush administration — has relied heavily on these forces and sought to expand their capacity.

In 2006, a high-level strategy document by the Pentagon called for expanding the ranks of special operations forces, including adding five Special Forces battalions and three Army Ranger companies.

Officials say the expansion was necessary to return some Special Forces units — now consumed by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — to countries where they traditionally worked.

Obama's 2011 budget plan calls for a 6 percent increase in the Special Operations Command's budget, from $9 billion in 2010 to $9.8 billion in 2011.

The plan also would add 3,651 more civil affairs and psychological operations forces and 4,027 combat and combat service support troops to the special operations forces by 2015.