The Army expects to make cuts to its special operations community but the force of Green Berets who conduct combat missions is not expected to be reduced, a U.S. official told Task & Purpose on Friday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has told the Army and U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, to not reduce the number of Green Berets, an official told Task & Purpose, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Army’s final plan has yet to be approved. Some currently unfilled Green Beret positions may remain unfilled. 

Many of the other special operations billets that could be cut are also currently vacant, the official said.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Army expects to cut about 3,000 special operators from its ranks, including Green Berets. The cuts would represent about 10% of U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

Austin has not yet made any final decisions on cuts to Army special operations forces, a defense official told Task & Purpose on Friday.

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.), a retired National Guard colonel and Green Beret, has said he strongly opposes any cuts to the Army’s special operations community.

“I am stunned and appalled by reports indicating the U.S. Army will cut 3,000 troops from its special operations ranks as a means to manage their worst recruiting crisis since the Vietnam War,” Waltz said in a statement on Thursday.

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While Army special operations forces have launched countless missions to kill or capture insurgent and terrorist leaders as part of the Global War on Terrorism, Special Forces have also historically been tasked with training and fighting alongside indigenous forces as part of their “foreign internal defense” mission.  Over the years, Green Berets have embedded with local forces in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Syria, Niger, and elsewhere.

Special Forces
A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier assigned to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan provides security during an advising mission in Afghanistan, April 10, 2014. (Sgt. Sara Wakai/U.S. Army)

“Special operators play a crucial role in training allies across the world and are needed for the most dangerous missions in times of conflict and to deter enemies,” Waltz said. “Special operations are more relevant than ever as we address threats from China, Russia, Iran, and terrorists on the march in Afghanistan.”

Now that the war in Afghanistan is over, the Pentagon’s attention is fixed squarely on China, which defense officials have said could try to invade Taiwan by 2027. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has reverted to trench warfare, has also shown that the massive combined arms conflicts of the 20th Century have not gone away.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth recently told reporters that the Army is looking to make changes to its overall force structure as it pivots from counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations to large-scale combat operations.

“Our SOF [special operations forces] grew considerably over the last 20 years, given the kinds of wars we were fighting,” Wormuth said at an Oct. 3 media roundtable. “Meantime, the overall Army has gotten smaller. So, I think there’s some room to make some very modest targeted reductions there.”

The Army needs to bring “new capabilities” to the force, while it no longer needs as many capabilities to fight insurgents and terrorists, Wormuth said.

Because the Army, which is facing recruiting challenges, has gotten smaller in recent years, it must adjust its force structure to get rid of positions it no longer needs, she said.

“We need to shrink the size of that over-structure because essentially, if we don’t, it’s hollow structure,” Wormuth said. “So, part of what we’re doing is driven by the recruiting challenges we’ve had for the last few years. Part of that force structure transformation is about transforming to build new structure and to figure out what spaces we could afford to take off our books.”

However, Waltz told Task & Purpose that Special Forces could play a role if the United States and China went to war over Taiwan.

“Green Berets & their support teams are critical to advising and assisting partners in the Indo-Pacific and globally with strategic effects,” Waltz said. “The Army’s proposed cuts demonstrate a reckless ignorance of special operations impact on the soft power competition happening worldwide.” 

The prospect of cuts to the Army’s special operations community comes after SOCOM’s massive expansion during the first 20 years of the Global War on Terrorism. The command has purview over all of the military branches’ special operators, including Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders, and Special Tactics airmen.

Between Fiscal Years 2001 and 2021, the number of military and civilian personnel assigned to SOCOM swelled from  about 45,700 to about 73,900, according to the Government Accountability Office.

But the process of developing mature special operators takes more time than training service members for conventional military units. The Army Special Forces Qualification Course, for example, can last between 12 and 24 months.

Any soldiers or civilians cut from the Army’s special operations community would take years to replace if needed. One of the “SOF Truths” coined by retired Army Col. John Collins, a renowned national strategy expert, is “Special Operations Forces cannot be mass produced.”

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