United States Army Special Forces

What's next for Navy's SEAL Team Six?

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When President Obama unveiled his military budget earlier this year, it was clear that he was essentially putting a new defense strategy on the table. The Pentagon’s plan called for the ranks of the active-duty Army to be reduced from 570,000 to 490,000 troops over five years. The Marine Corps, meanwhile, was supposed to shrink from 202,000 to 182,000. At the same time, drones were a high priority in the budget—not surprising, given that Obama has ordered about five times as many drone attacks as his predecessor.

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Alexei Slapovsky’s 2010 novel, March on the Kremlin, opens with a young poet being accidentally killed by a policeman. Not knowing whom to blame and what to do, the poet’s mother picks up the body and, cradling her dead son in her arms, walks almost unconsciously toward the Kremlin. Her son’s friends trail close behind. Across the city, just as the mother is starting her long trek in pursuit of justice, an aging drunkard decides that his brother, who died the previous night, deserves to be interred by the Kremlin walls. So he, too, heads toward the Kremlin.

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Despite lingering concerns about the cost and scope of the mission, President Obama’s recent decision to send 100 combat-equipped Special Forces to quell the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA—a group of insurgents marauding around Central Africa—was met with a decent display of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill this past month. Senator Jim Inhofe is on board. So is Obama’s old nemesis, John McCain, albeit with reservations.

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The Crossroads

The death of Osama bin Laden will raise the inevitable question: What are we still doing in Afghanistan? The answer, of course, is that the mission in Afghanistan is about something bigger and more ambitious than eliminating Al Qaeda’s leaders—most of whom, in any event, are probably living in Pakistan, as bin Laden was when the United States finally tracked him down. No, the mission in Afghanistan isn’t about killing Al Qaeda members.

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“Command climate” is what shapes a military organization. The preferences, priorities, and peccadilloes of the commander echo across its staff and subordinate units. Command climate functions as an organization's persona and it plays just as powerful a role in its behavior—and effectiveness—as an individual's personality.

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The Battle for Tora Bora

Four days before the fall of Kabul in November 2001, Osama bin Laden was still in town. The Al Qaeda leader’s movements before and after September 11 are difficult to trace precisely, but, just prior to the attacks, we know that he appeared in Kandahar and urged his followers to evacuate to safer locations in anticipation of U.S. retaliation. Then, on November 8, he was in Kabul, despite the fact that U.S. forces and their Afghan allies were closing in on the city.

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No matter what you think of it, the kind of troop increase that President Obama announced tonight is going to be expensive. With an estimated $1 billion dollar price tag for each additional thousand troops deployed, the new strategy will drive costs well above the $130 billion originally budgeted by the administration for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal year 2010, likely requiring a supplemental spending bill to pass sometime early next year.

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Hawk Down

With the 2008 presidential campaign in full swing two summers ago, Joe Biden, then making his own bid for the White House, ridiculed Barack Obama on a momentous issue: Afghanistan. The occasion was an August 2007 speech by Obama outlining his plans to fight Al Qaeda, which included sending an influx of American troops and aid to the country. Later that day, Biden issued a snarky press release gloating about his own extensive record of pushing similar policies, and which cast Obama as a naïve newcomer.

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If Obama really wants to smite Al Qaeda, this is what he should do.

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