Special Forces Not Learning Local Tongues
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
WASHINGTON – American special forces, the cutting edge of the global strategy for winning the fight against terrorism, are so overstretched that many units are deploying in the world’s trouble spots unable to communicate with the locals.
Billions of dollars are being added to their budget by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and their ranks are being expanded to numbers unseen since the Vietnam war after they were identified as the key to defeating Al Qaeda.
It is these units that will be crucial for assessing targets for possible air strikes if diplomacy fails to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
But officials have conceded that the special forces are so busy they have had no time for the standard training in languages.
Veterans are also concerned that special forces will be rushed into action before they have completed the arduous two-year training routine. All five of America’s 1,250-strong Green Beret army battalions have been rotated in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
A spokesman for the special operations command in Tampa, Fla., Ken McGraw, said units were being deployed in regions for which they had not trained. Since the September 11 attacks, the Spanish-speaking unit trained to operate in Latin America and the “Europe” unit that specializes in French, German, and Russian have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.
In some cases they have had to rely on interpreters while working undercover. “The problem is that Middle Eastern languages are among the toughest,” a spokesman for central command, Colonel Richard McNorton, said.
Inspired by the part played by special forces in Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld believes they are the key to the “Long War” against Islamic terrorism. Over the next five years, the Pentagon aims to increase the overall number of special forces battalions, including Delta Force, Navy Seals, and Army Rangers.
“Before the September 11 attacks, JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command, which runs special missions] was essentially seen as a hostage rescue unit,” a former special forces colonel told the Navy Times.
“Now the command is deployed somewhere 24/7.”