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Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Wider World of War

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Ambassadors of the traditional kind? Who needs them? Diplomats? What a waste! The State Department? Why bother? Its budget is to be slashed and its senior officials are leaving in droves ever since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office. Under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, hiring is frozen, which means those officials are generally not being replaced. (Buyouts of $25,000 are being offered to get yet more of them to jump ship.) Dozens of key positions have gone unfilled, while the secretary of state reportedly focuses not on global diplomacy or what, in another age, was called "foreign policy," but on his reorganization (downsizing) of the department and evidently little else. Across the planet, starting with the A's (Australia), American embassies lack ambassadors, including South Korea, a country that has been a focus of the Trump administration. Similarly, at the time of the president's inflammatory Jerusalem announcement, the U.S. had no ambassadors yet in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, among other Middle Eastern states. It's quite a tale and it's being covered as the news story it certainly is.

All of this could be seen, however, not just as the foibles of one president surrounded by "his" generals, but as the culmination of a post-9/11 process in which American policymaking has increasingly been militarized. In this context, as the State Department shrinks, don't think this country has no ambassadors across the planet. America's Special Operations forces increasingly act as our "diplomats" globally, training and bolstering allies and attempting to undermine enemies more or less everywhere. We've never seen anything like it and yet, unlike the slashing of the diplomatic corps, it's a story barely noted in the mainstream. Nick Turse has, however, been covering it for TomDispatch in a groundbreaking way since 2011. In these years, he's focused on what should have been seen as one of the major developments of our era: the phenomenal growth and historically unprecedented deployment of this country's special operators in an atmosphere of permanent war in Washington.

In the post-9/11 years, the once "elite" units of the U.S. military, perhaps a few thousand Green Berets and other personnel, have become a force of approximately 70,000. In other words, that secretive crew cocooned inside the U.S. military has grown as large as or larger than the militaries of countries such as Argentina, Canada, Chile, Croatia, South Africa, or Sweden. Now, imagine that those Special Operations forces, as Turse has again been reporting for years, are not only being dispatched to more countries annually than ever before, but to more countries than any nation has ever deployed its military personnel to. Period.

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Shouldn't that be a humongous story? We're talking, as Turse points out today, about the deployment of special ops teams or personnel to 149 of the 190 (or so) nations on this planet in 2017. You can, of course, find articles about our special operators in the media, but over the years they've generally tended to read like so many publicity releases for such forces. The story of how our special operators came to be our "diplomats" of choice and the spearhead for American foreign policy and how expanding wars and spreading terror movements were the apparent result of such moves has yet to be told, except at places like TomDispatch. Tom

Donald Trump's First Year Sets Record for U.S. Special Ops
Elite Commandos Deployed to 149 Countries in 2017
By Nick Turse

"We don't know exactly where we're at in the world, militarily, and what we're doing," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in October. That was in the wake of the combat deaths of four members of the Special Operations forces in the West African nation of Niger. Graham and other senators expressed shock about the deployment, but the global sweep of America's most elite forces is, at best, an open secret.

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Earlier this year before that same Senate committee -- though Graham was not in attendance -- General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), offered some clues about the planetwide reach of America's most elite troops. "We operate and fight in every corner of the world," he boasted. "Rather than a mere 'break-glass-in-case-of-war' force, we are now proactively engaged across the 'battle space' of the Geographic Combatant Commands... providing key integrating and enabling capabilities to support their campaigns and operations."

In 2017, U.S. Special Operations forces, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, deployed to 149 countries around the world, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command. That's about 75% of the nations on the planet and represents a jump from the 138 countries that saw such deployments in 2016 under the Obama administration. It's also a jump of nearly 150% from the last days of George W. Bush's White House. This record-setting number of deployments comes as American commandos are battling a plethora of terror groups in quasi-wars that stretch from Africa and the Middle East to Asia.

"Most Americans would be amazed to learn that U.S. Special Operations Forces have been deployed to three quarters of the nations on the planet," observes William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. "There is little or no transparency as to what they are doing in these countries and whether their efforts are promoting security or provoking further tension and conflict."

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America's elite troops were deployed to 149 nations in 2017, according to U.S. Special Operations Command. The map above displays the locations of 132 of those countries; 129 locations (in blue) were supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command; 3 locations (in red) -- Syria, Yemen and Somalia -- were derived from open-source information. (Nick Turse)

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"Since 9/11, we expanded the size of our force by almost 75% in order to take on mission-sets that are likely to endure," SOCOM's Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May. Since 2001, from the pace of operations to their geographic sweep, the activities of U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) have, in fact, grown in every conceivable way. On any given day, about 8,000 special operators -- from a command numbering roughly 70,000 -- are deployed in approximately 80 countries.

"The increase in the use of Special Forces since 9/11 was part of what was then referred to as the Global War on Terror as a way to keep the United States active militarily in areas beyond its two main wars, Iraq and Afghanistan," Hartung told TomDispatch. "The even heavier reliance on Special Forces during the Obama years was part of a strategy of what I think of as 'politically sustainable warfare,' in which the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to a few key theaters of war was replaced by a 'lighter footprint' in more places, using drones, arms sales and training, and Special Forces."

The Trump White House has attacked Barack Obama's legacy on nearly all fronts. It has undercut, renounced, or reversed actions of his ranging from trade pacts to financial and environmental regulations to rules that shielded transgender employees from workplace discrimination. When it comes to Special Operations forces, however, the Trump administration has embraced their use in the style of the former president, while upping the ante even further. President Trump has also provided military commanders greater authority to launch attacks in quasi-war zones like Yemen and Somalia. According to Micah Zenko, a national security expert and Whitehead Senior Fellow at the think tank Chatham House, those forces conducted five times as many lethal counterterrorism missions in such non-battlefield countries in the Trump administration's first six months in office as they did during Obama's final six months.

A Wide World of War

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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