By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
America's elite Special Operation Forces will take a greater role in the fight in Afghanistan but their total numbers will not increase significantly from the current level, the head of Special Operations Command said Tuesday.
As the United States and its allies continue to draw down troops in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is considering escalating the role of Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan between now and 2014, CNN reported Monday. The plan, still in the "idea stage," would be to have those forces increase their combat role in hunting key terrorists as conventional forces wind down combat and focus more on training Afghans.
By Adam Levine
If there was any question that the Obama administration sees the shadowy world of special operations as an instrumental element in their vision for the military's future, the drama around the State of the Union and the speech itself removed any such doubt. That point will be driven home further on Thursday when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reveals the first details of its budget decisions to deal with half a trillion dollar in cuts over the next 10 years.
It was the heroics of the Navy SEAL team's killing of Osama bin Laden that Obama used to open and close his State of the Union speech. But a few hours later, the world would learn that even as Obama headed to the floor of Congress to speak, a Special Operations team was just finishing up a raid to rescue two hostages, including an American, in Somalia.
These elite troops operate in daring and dangerous ways, and the administration sees them as an integral part of the military's future with a continued focus on counterterrorism.
Special operations and related new technologies that allow for less 'boots on the ground' - such as drones; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities (referred to as ISR); and cyberwarfare and defense capabilities - will be spared and in some cases see budget increases as the administration prepares to cut back on ground troops and related capabilities.
From Larry Shaughnessy at the Pentagon, with reporting from Justice Producer Terry Frieden
Timing of the raid
The president authorized the operation on Monday, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little and “the military commanders decided to move ahead with this yesterday.”
"We're confident that there was enough of a sense of urgency and there was enough actionable intelligence to take the action that we did for the President to make the decision that he did,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby.
"Well there are a variety of factors that you consider when you are planning an operation that you hope will contribute to success. And I'm not going to get into specifics, but those factors can range from weather to other considerations,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
When Obama said “good job” as he strode to the podium for his State of the Union address, the military “had indications at that point that the two hostages were secured,” Little said.
"I think it's safe to say at that point we knew that we had recovered the hostages and that they were in good condition. But there was still work to do to complete everything. Meaning making sure everybody is out and safe,” added Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby. FULL POST
From Larry Shaughnessy
All nine of the kidnappers were killed in the rescue operation last night in Somalia, a Pentagon spokesman said.
"There were nine criminal suspects who were killed. They were heavily armed and had explosives at the site," said Pentagon spokesman George Little. "They were not Al Shabab. They were suspected criminals,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
"They were kidnappers, we don't have any indication that they were connected to any terrorist group or idealogical group at that point. We don't have any firm indication that there was a connection to piracy although piracy is nothing more than a crime so I certainly can't rule out the fact that they might have had those kind of connections but nothing to indicate definately that they were,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby.
Read also: The connection to Osama bin Laden
The bin Laden connection
By Chris Lawrence:
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the rescue team was comprised of special operations troops from different branches of the military, but Little would not specify what services. A US official told CNN that among the rescuers were Navy SEALs from the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan last year. The official, who is not authorized to speak to the media and asked not to be named, did not say whether any of the same people were involved in both operations.
"This was very much a joint mission," said Pentagon Spokesman Capt. John Kirby.
By Larry Shaughnessy: An American special forces raid to rescue two hostages in Somalia was not complete when President Barack Obama said "good job" to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Tuesday night during the State of the Union address, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday. The American and Danish hostages were safe at that point, but the American assault team was not yet safely out of Somalia, he said.
Panetta went over for a routine meeting in the afternoon at the White House and ended up staying until the State of the Union. Panetta monitored the operation from the White House and spoke by phone with General Carter Ham, the Commander of US Africa Command, who was running of the operation.