Leaders Shift From Rumsfeld Strategy
May 10, 2008
WASHINGTON - The military command overseeing the nation's most elite forces has moved away from a contentious plan that gave it broad control over anti-terrorism operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the globe.
The expanded authority for U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., was hammered through by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld well before he resigned in November 2006. The shift caused friction among leaders at other warfighting organizations who saw it an intrusion into their geographic domains.
Navy Adm. Eric Olson, the command's senior officer since July 2007, has steered clear of micromanaging specific missions against al-Qaida or other terrorist groups. The command's primary focus is to ensure these plans are fused into a broader strategy for defeating extremist ideologies. That reflects Olson's position that the troops closest to the action know best how to handle it.
"It's a much different place," Army Lt. Gen. David Fridovich, a Green Beret who runs the command's Center for Special Operations, said in an Associated Press interview.
The command, which has an annual budget of more than $7 billion and nearly 50,000 military and civilian personnel, is also responsible for training and equipping the Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Air Force combat controllers.
Fridovich, who has extensive experience in the Pacific region, arrived in Tampa last year just as Olson was taking over. For the previous six years Fridovich had been a key player in what the Defense Department considers a successful effort against Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaida outgrowth in the Philippines.
Along with Olson, Fridovich is a proponent of indirect warfare, a slow and disciplined process that involves training foreign militaries and providing humanitarian, financial and civic backing to areas viewed as possible terrorist breeding grounds.
Before filling his new post, Fridovich was in charge of special operations at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. He didn't like being controlled from afar.
"I didn't awfully care too much for people from somewhere else to come in and tell me what they were going to do," Fridovich said.
As head of the Center for Special Operations, Fridovich's job is akin to that of a chief operating officer. Instead of running a business, he's ensuring anti-terror plans are properly coordinated across military channels. That means tracking more than 200 countries that are havens for terrorists, potential U.S. partners, or both.
"We bring together people with a common interest," Fridovich said. "That is vastly different than us coming into a theater and saying, 'Here's what you're going to do.'"
In March 2005, after months of heated debate inside the Pentagon, Special Operations Command was assigned the lead role in planning, coordinating and conducting the military's anti-terror activities around the world.
Olson, a Navy SEAL, was deputy commander of special operations when he was named to the top job after Army Gen. Bryan Brown retired. Pointing to how difficult it was to meet the new charter, Olson told members of Congress prior to his confirmation hearing last year that the "command's ability to drive behavior within DOD is limited due to unclear definition of authorities."
During an early March appearance at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, Olson was more specific when discussing the expanded authority.
"It's too much for us to do that and it's not right for us to do that," Olson said in remarks delivered on the condition there be no attribution. A transcript of the session was later posted on the group's web site.