27 May 2015

SOF Commanders Confirm That ISIS and Other Militant Groups Evolving and Adapting Rapidly

Joe Gould
May 24, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. — For years, Afghanistan dominated the talk at the US Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) here, but this year there was nary a mention of the Taliban, now eclipsed by the Islamic State group and threats that are many, varied and globally networked.

The chief of US Special Operations Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, speaking at a National Defense Industrial Association conference, said his forces are “operating in possibly the most complex strategic environment in recent history.” Defense budgets are being squeezed even as demand for special ops forces grows.

Recent months have seen an “incredible eruption” in foreign fighters flowing into the Middle East from all over the world in support of the Islamic State group and its affiliates, increasing connections between transnational criminal organizations and violent extremist groups, and ISIS-inspired flare-ups in Africa and Asia. A resurgent Russia is using special operations forces and information operations, Votel said.

He lamented the budget cuts hitting the services and rippling into the special ops forces they support.

“Even small changes to their budgets will have an impact on [special operations forces’] ability to meet mission requirements around the globe,” Votel said of the services.

In the new normal of shrinking defense budgets, SOCOM’s budgets are considered stable, if not growing. The 2016 White House budget proposal included $10.6 billion for SOCOM, roughly 1.8 percent of the defense request.

Its research and development budget rose from a low of $368 million in 2014 to $538 million in the 2016 budget request, a development SOCOM acquisition executive Bill “Hondo” Geurts called “a huge win for us,” as the command moves past Mideast-specific technologies to gear for “global operations.”

Votel said there are opportunities for the command to expand partnerships with traditional and non-traditional suppliers as it seeks to make “monumental improvements, ones that revolutionize our capabilities.

"Ultimately the ability to introduce new capabilities to SOF [special operations forces] at a rate that outpaces our adversaries will rely heavily on our collective efforts to attract this wide diversity of partners and technologies,” he said.

The annual SOFIC gathering drew 340 exhibitors, with at least as many on the waiting list, and more than 9,000 attendees. Exhibitors said SOF tends to purchase in low quantities but puts the purchases to use, and this can create an entree to the conventional forces, which make bigger buys.

Among the opportunities, the command’s vehicle acquisition office is seeking to modernize longer-lived vehicles through tech insertions, replace shorter-lived small vehicles and develop a vehicle to travel in the CV-22 Osprey. Acquisition officials discussed the need for both forward-deployed rapid DNA scanners and a breakthrough in the transmission of intelligence data, among many others.

Since the Islamic State group’s takeover of large swaths of Iraq and Syria, support and pledges of allegiance have been given by groups in numerous countries, including Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia, Algeria, Iraq and Libya, according to the Site Intelligence Group, which tracks international terrorist movements.

Regional special operations commanders acknowledged the US struggle to counter the narrative and ideology of the Islamic State group, which has proved adept at proliferating its message via social media and attracting foreign fighters.

Army Brig. Gen. Kurt Crytzer, deputy commander for Special Operations Command Central, lamented that the Islamic State group and its sympathizers have used smartphones and Twitter to respond quickly to events and advance their agenda.

Intelligence reports attribute shots fired at a US helicopter to rumors that the US is supplying the Islamic State, rumors also believed by Iran’s Quds Force commander, according to Crytzer. Iraqi guards have also stopped SOF advisers and questioned them about the rumors.

Army Col. Bob Bond, the commander of Special Operations Command Pacific, said there has been a broad interest in countering violent extremism “through technologies that can share information not just across those regions, but globally.

"It’s a holistic approach on how to get after this. Every agency I know, and our counterparts, are working this problem set just as hard as we are,” he said.

Army Brig Gen. John Deedrick, Special Operations Command Korea, said the Defense Department and other US agencies should be using big-data analytics to monitor Internet chat room or social media traffic to pre-empt problems.

“We are just starting to fully realize how much can be scoped from that, and how we can get ahead of the narrative or at least see a trend line starting to develop,” Deedrick said.

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