U.S. Special Operations Forces are shifting their strategic posture to the Pacific and regions where Al Qaeda affiliates are seeking safe haven as the Afghanistan war winds down, Pentagon leaders said.
The strategic shift involves an increased focus on global hot spots such as Africa, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula. In particular, there is a focus on Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, Michael Lumpkin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/ Low Intensity Conflict, told Military.com in an interview.
“Al Qaeda has kind of metastasized. The SOF demand signal from other geographic combatant commands is increasing because Al Qaeda and its abilities are expanding globally through Africa, Syria and Iraq. AQAP (Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula) has grown, which is actually probably the greatest threat to the United States,” Lumpkin told Military.com.
SOF is trying to return to its original mission set of building partner capacity by training foreign forces, Lumpkin added. Improving those forces reduces the risk and costs for SOF who might otherwise need to conduct more direct action missions.
“If you look at where SOF has been over 13 years of conflict and you look at where it was in 2001 compared to where it is today – we’ve seen that the force is significantly larger the budget is more robust. The op tempo for the men and women is significantly higher as well,” Lumpkin said.
Lumpkin said Al Qaeda continues to look to establish an operational presence anywhere there might be a security vacuum, meaning somewhere without a strong government, military or existing infrastructure. Not much has changed since 2001.
“The core mission of US Special Operations Command is to reduce a security vacuum and create an area that is not favorable for Al Qaeda growth. We’ve seen them grow and spread wherever their ideas can grow and there is a central government that is not strong enough to keep them in check,” he said.
Along with the continued focus on extremists like Al Qaeda, Lumpkin said SOF will follow along with the rest of the military’s pivot to the Pacific. Even though only a small slice of SOF forces remained in the Pacific, Lumpkin insisted U.S. special operators never left the region.
“SOF has historically had a presence in PACOM. SOF has been there and never left,” he added.