By Representative Kathy Castor
When Special Operations forces brought Osama bin Laden to justice in an obscure Pakistani compound, commanders and personnel at U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa had every right to be proud.
SOCOM and CENTCOM have been leading the critical missions involving al-Qaida and other terrorists for almost 10 years. For the half-century following World War II, the threat to our national security came largely from hostile nation-states. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, America's Special Forces have evolved to address unconventional threats to our national security.
Today, the greatest threats to our national security are from non-state actors, terrorist networks and autonomous cells. Attacks on America are more likely to be generated via computer networks or through loose nuclear materials in the hands of extremists than an army on the march.
The bin Laden mission gives us a window into the modernization of our Special Forces, led by commanders such as SOCOM Commander Admiral Eric Olson. Our nation has become smarter, more strategic and better prepared to face the unconventional and emerging threats.
Our country has strengthened its physical force of Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Green Berets and Army Rangers who receive rigorous training on land, in the air and at sea. You do not hear about them often (and SOCOM responsibilities represent only 2 percent of the entire Defense Department budget), but the bin Laden mission has given Americans a glimpse at their professionalism and abilities. Olson, a Navy SEAL himself, and defense chiefs focus on the highest-quality soldier for these most-demanding assignments.
Technological advances give America a competitive edge. Consider how rapidly the internet, GPS and mobile phones have developed over the past decade. We have ensured that our Special Forces do better than keep pace. Special Forces have harnessed cutting-edge science to give them the edge in the field.
Further, Special Operations and our intelligence community operate in close collaboration. The September 11 Commission criticized the disorganization of the various intelligence, law enforcement and military agencies.
Now, as the bin Laden operation demonstrates, America's intelligence community and military have vastly improved their integration and ability to analyze and respond to terrorist threats. I viewed this directly at a forward-operating Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) center in Afghanistan with Commander Vice Admiral William McRaven two months ago.
When you heard the news that bin Laden had been brought to justice after 10 long years, you may have pumped your fists, breathed a sigh of relief and felt a renewed confidence in America. The sacrifices of many, the service of all and the talents of the Special Forces are cause for renewed confidence and optimism. We can tackle any challenge together, and I trust we will in the days ahead.
The gutsy decision of President Obama to target bin Laden with a Special Forces raid certainly was made a little bit easier by the professionalism of our Special Forces. I was able to personally thank McRaven, Olson, CIA Director Leon Panetta and the bin Laden intelligence team last week on behalf of this patriotic Tampa Bay community.
More Americans now appreciate the incredible dedication of the Special Forces -- indeed, all of the brave men and women who serve in uniform.