Raid admiral's toughest fight: winning Washington

The commander in charge of the raid to kill Osama bin Laden is defending his proposal that would give him more authority to send special operations forces overseas to address problems like terrorism or sudden Arab Spring-style unrest.

At a rare press conference during a weeklong meeting of international special operations forces, Adm. Bill McRaven said the plan would also trim some of the limits on where and how special operations troops work. But those troops would still answer to U.S. commanders overseas, not him, and missions would be coordinated with and approved by the U.S. ambassadors, he said.

"I really do need to clear this up because there is some speculation out there, some sensationalization," McRaven said. He said his plan was "absolutely not about U.S. Special Operations Command running global special operations."

McRaven has been shuttling to sell his plan between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, working to dispel suggestions of a power grab by the bin Laden raid commander.

"I worry about speed making it too easy to employ force," a former Joint Chiefs chairman, retired Gen. Peter Pace, said of McRaven's ideas last month in Washington. "I worry about speed making it too easy to take the easy answer — let's go whack them with special operations — as opposed to perhaps a more laborious answer for perhaps a better long-term solution."

But McRaven got a boost from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who appeared earlier in the week with McRaven, a tacit message that she backs his proposal.

"We need special operations forces who are as comfortable drinking tea with tribal leaders as raiding a terrorist compound," Clinton said. "We also need diplomats and development experts who understand modern warfare and are up to the job of being your partners."

McRaven's plan, first reported by The Associated Press in January, is to send special operations forces to work with local forces — something they are already doing, but in smaller numbers as they've been tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan. The continuous interaction means the U.S. and local officers forge ties, build the local force's skills and jointly track local threats that might include terrorists or drug traffickers.

"The only way you can neutralize terrorist action is ... integrating our intelligence and working together," said Colombian Brig. Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan. He noted successful joint U.S.-Colombian operations against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebel group.

Barragan was one of the officers from 97 countries who had come to learn new strategies and techniques, and see an array of U.S. special operations technology.

The weeklong gathering offered a snapshot of how McRaven hopes to make elite military-to-military relationships the glue binding the global counterterrorism fight.

McRaven's proposed changes include allowing him to suggest sending his forces to an area where he perceives a growing threat, rather than waiting to be asked — a process supported by his predecessor, now-retired Adm. Eric Olson.

"This is not at all about forcing or sneaking special operations forces into a geographic combatant command but instead accelerating a process of initiation...where special operations forces might be needed," Olson said in comments last month in Washington. He also noted that current rules can bar McRaven from speaking to his special operations commanders in the field without the permission of the regional U.S. military commander.

Other proposed changes involve loosening some bureaucratic restrictions like the one that only allows U.S. special operations forces to work with defense forces in a given country, while foreign elite units often work for a country's Interior Ministry, McRaven said.

McRaven said he also wants Congress to allow multiyear special operations assistance missions in places like Yemen, instead of approving them a year at a time, and also give his troops more authority to buy uniforms and supplies for troops overseas without going through the State Department aid system, which can add months to the process.

"Any use of this would require secretary of state approval," McRaven said. "We're not recommending anything that goes around the State Department."


Dozier can be reached on Twitter (at)kimberlydozier



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