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Sorry, Charlie. This Is Michael Vickers's War.

Defense officials once jokingly described Michael Vickers as being in charge of the "take-over-the-world plan."
Defense officials once jokingly described Michael Vickers as being in charge of the "take-over-the-world plan." (By Ann Scott Tyson -- The Washington Post)
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"It's not just the Middle East. It's not just the developing world. It's not just nondemocratic countries -- it's a global problem," he said. "Threats can emanate from Denmark, the United Kingdom, you name it."

The plan deploys a variety of elite troops around the world, including about 80 to 90 12-man teams of Army Special Forces soldiers who are skilled in foreign languages and at working with indigenous forces. Today, those forces are heavily concentrated in Iraq and Afghanistan, but as their numbers grow, they will increase their presence in other countries.

"The war on terror is fundamentally an indirect war. . . . It's a war of partners . . . but it also is a bit of the war in the shadows, either because of political sensitivity or the problem of finding terrorists," Vickers said. "That's why the Central Intelligence Agency is so important . . . and our Special Operations forces play a large role."

Vickers is pressing Congress to double "train and equip" funding from levels approved in recent years for the military. The funds, which total $325 million for fiscal 2007, allow the U.S. military and Special Operations forces to pay indigenous fighters and paramilitaries who work with them in gathering intelligence, hunting terrorists, fomenting guerrilla warfare or putting down an insurgency.

The funds are "very important . . . so we can move rather rapidly to train and equip foreign security forces" and more will be needed, Vickers told senators at his confirmation hearing in July. "If you don't have close cooperation, you can't fight the war," he said later.

But while local forces can be far more effective in countering terrorism in their regions, creating the forces must be done carefully, said Thomas, the former defense planner. "The last thing we want to do is create a bunch of right-wing goon squads that go out and shoot jihadists with very little legitimacy."

Vickers is also arguing for billions of dollars in new technology: specialized stealthy aircraft able to fly over countries undetected, unmanned aerial vehicles and other equipment for distant and close-up surveillance, and technology to "tag" and "track" individuals and cars for long distances over time.

Finally, Vickers seeks authority for more flexible and rapid "detailing" that would allow Special Operations forces, in larger numbers, to be seconded to the CIA and allowed to work under agency rules.

"It's striking to see how quickly he moves through large amounts of information" and then gives guidance how to get things done, said Kalev Sepp, deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations, who works under Vickers. "He knows the key players on Capitol Hill. . . . He understands what level of general officer has to be contacted to make decisions," Sepp said.

But with just over one year left in the Bush administration, Vickers is impatient with bureaucratic infighting within the military and between the Pentagon and other agencies, current and former officials said. One official noted that it took Socom about three years to write the counterterrorism plan, and two years for the administration to approve a classified "execute order" against al-Qaeda.

Vickers, who has advised President Bush on Iraq strategy, is convinced that more U.S. troops are not enough to solve the conflict in Iraq and that working with local forces is the best long-term strategy for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Its imperative that the Iraqis provide . . . security, so transitioning to an indirect approach is critical," he said. "The surge has been phenomenally effective . . . but not sufficient," he said, adding that he thinks that without political change the effects of the troop buildup "will dissipate."

Working with proxy forces will also enable the United States to extend and sustain its influence, something it failed to do in Afghanistan, he said. "After this great victory and after a million Afghans died, we basically exited that region and Afghanistan just spun into chaos," he said.

"It's imperative that we not do that again," he said.


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