WASHINGTON—Navy Vice Adm. Eric Olson, who has been nominated to lead the nation's Special Operations forces, said Thursday the U.S. Special Operations Command was not prepared to become the lead combat command for "planning and synchronizing" the war on terror after Sept. 11.
"Now we have our legs under us," said Olson, a Navy SEAL who won a Silver Star for his actions in Mogadishu in 1993. Olson said his forces are focused on capturing, killing and disrupting the "terrorists who wake up each day planning to do us harm."
Olson did not mention any specific missions, but he did say that Osama bin Laden is likely hiding out in western Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. He said it was unclear how much day-to-day influence the terrorist leader has on al-Qaida operations.
The Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, Olson said, puts that country in a precarious position.
"This is a long ways from being over," Olson told a group of Washington state business executives gathered by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services' Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, which has jurisdiction over the Special Operations Command. "I don't know what the trend is. I think this is a key moment in determining Afghanistan's future."
Olson was nominated last week to head the Special Operations Command, located at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. He is currently the deputy commander. His nomination requires Senate confirmation.
Olson attended the U.S. Naval Academy and qualified as naval special warfare officer in 1974. He is fluent in Arabic, has been stationed in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia and served with U.N. peacekeeping forces in Israel, Lebanon and Egypt.
Olson was among four Navy SEALs who received the Silver Star for their actions in Mogadishu, Somalia, which were chronicled in the book and movie "Blackhawk Down." Under sustained small arms, automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire, Olson and the other SEALs helped rescue and evacuate the wounded.
Olson emphasized that while "direct action" special ops missions were the stuff of Hollywood movies, the duty also includes a "softer line" such as training indigenous forces, engaging in civil affairs programs to "remove the motivational causes" of terrorism and assisting in other government-to-government programs.
"Most of our forces work in the softer line," he said. "We understand fully we will not kill our way to success. It is important for us to respond to the sound of guns, but it is equally important for us to be there before the sounds of guns."
Congress formed the Special Operations Command following a failed effort to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980. It coordinates training and oversees missions of special ops forces. The command includes Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine personnel.
Its roles include counterterrorism, the search for weapons of mass destruction, direct action, psychological operations and civil affairs, Olson said.
It now has one more mission—fighting terrorism.
"We synchronize the global war on terror," Olson said. "That's the big change for us since 9/11."
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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