Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

If you want a number, try 194. That’s how many countries there are on planet Earth (give or take one or two). Today, Nick Turse reports a related number that should boggle your mind: at least 137 of those countries, or 70 percent of them, already have something in common for 2017 and the year’s not even half over. They share the experience of having American Special Operations forces deployed to their territory. Assumedly, those numbers don’t include Russia, China, Iran, Andorra, or Monaco (unless guarding global casinos is a new national priority for our casino capitalist president). Still, they’re evidence of the great bet American casino militarism has made in these years ― that elite special ops troops could do what the rest of the U.S. military couldn’t: actually achieve victory in a conflict or two. 

Think of the Special Operations Command (or SOCOM) as having won the lottery in these years. From thousands of elite troops in the 1980s, their numbers have ballooned to about 70,000 at present ― a force larger, that is, than the armies of many nations, with at least 8,000 of them raiding, training, and advising abroad at any given moment.  In fact, these days it’s a reasonable bet that if American war is intensifying anywhere, they’re front and center. A year ago in Syria, for instance, there were perhaps 50 special operators helping anti-ISIS forces of various sorts.  Now, as the battle for the Islamic State’s “capital,” Raqqa, intensifies, that number has soared to 500 and is evidently still rising.  (Something similar is true for Iraq and undoubtedly, after the Pentagon dispatches its latest mini-surge of personnel to Afghanistan in the coming months, that country, too.)

As for money, SOCOM has certainly won the Pentagon’s version of roulette. (Of course, in that version, everybody wins, even if some are more triumphant than others.)  Between 2001 and 2014, the special ops budget increased by a not-so-modest 213 percent, and its budget has continued to grow since.

There’s only one category in which the special ops bet has turned out to be anything but a winning hand and that’s the subject of Nick Turse’s latest report on the operations of SOCOM globally, “A Wide World of Winless War.”  I’m talking about actual victories, not exactly a winner of a category for the U.S. military in the twenty-first century.  And by the way, given the astronomical growth and uses of America’s Special Operations Forces and their centrality to the U.S. military story over the last nearly 16 years, aren’t you just a little surprised that the best reportage on the phenomenon can’t be found in the mainstream media, but in Turse’s reports at TomDispatch?

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