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The U.S. May Lose Its Special Operations Forces (SOF)

By: Sophie Mangal

 

The current commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, known as SOCOM, General Raymond A. Thomas, addressing the Senate Committee on Armed Services said that Special Operations Forces (SOF) are not able to maintain the current intensity of operations. He stated the servicemen are psychologically exhausted, which is reflected, among other things, in a large percentage of suicides.
The general stressed that 8,000 U.S. Special Forces fighters are now participating in special operations in more than 80 countries around the world. At the same time, 55.3% of servicemen are in the Middle East, 17.3% in Africa and 12.7% in Europe. About 500 commandos are in Syria. Such active involvement of Special Forces has a negative impact on the stress-resistance of the units.
General R. Thomas expressed concerns about the number of suicides among military personnel. At the same time, he did not cite specific data, deciding not to go into the ‘terrible statistics’.
In this situation, attention is drawn to the information of several media, according to which the peak of suicides among servicemen of special units of the United States took place in 2012. Then, an agreement on strategic partnership in the military sphere was concluded between the United States and Afghanistan, and an active phase of confrontation in Syria began. According to Reuters, more than 350 cases of suicide were officially registered then. In 2014 – the beginning of the military intervention of the international coalition in Syria and Iraq – 275 servicemen committed suicide. In 2016, more than 400 cases were recorded.
Moreover, the head of the Special Forces expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that recently Special Forces have been increasingly used as universal means to solve any problems. He believes that U.S. SOF are currently forced to solve tasks that go beyond their usual functions.
According to the American general, the SOCOM experiences difficulties with the staffing, which are caused by the wide geography of troop’s deployment, as well as the long terms of their missions. As an example, Thomas pointed out the operation in Afghanistan, which, according to plan, was to end as early as 2014.
The general stressed that in recent years, the SOCOM command has doubled and even tripled its efforts to provide psychological assistance. With this purpose, two years ago, a contract was signed with the American Association of Suicidology to develop a program to prevent suicides and identify early signs of possible tragedies.
These tragedies are unfortunately not surprising, after almost 16 years of uninterrupted wars. As early as 2015, the former commander of the Special Forces, General Joseph Votel, as well as Adm. William McRaven in 2014, warned of the excessive pressure on them. Now the soldiers of the U.S. SOF negatively speak about the rules of combat, their small number and high mortality in Iraq and Syria.
Special Forces were eagerly waiting for the inauguration of Donald Trump. In December 2016, Trump, speaking in North Carolina, said that the U.S. will concentrate on combating terrorism and defeating the IS, and not at overthrowing governments. It seems that these plans will not come true, as at such a pace, the United States may soon disable its most combat-ready forces.

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