Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, foreigners would point at awkward people in brightly colored shorts, and socks with sandals, and know they were American tourists visiting their country. Goofy, then-rich and usually benign, they were the face of America abroad.
These days, if a foreigner encounters an American, he is mostly likely a special forces guy.
A Quick Recap on Libya
Today’s case in point, Libya. But first a quick recap. In August 2011 (just a little more than two years ago), then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the country:
The events in Libya this week have heartened the world. The situation remains fluid, but it is clear that the Qadhafi era is coming to an end, opening the way for a new era in Libya—one of liberty, justice, and peace. We join the Libyan people in celebrating the courageous individuals who have stood up to a tyrant and defended their homes and communities against Qadhafi’s violence. The United States and the international community have stood by the Libyan people during many difficult days in the last six months. Together, we prevented a massacre, and we supported the people’s efforts to gain their freedom.
In October 2011, Clinton herself traveled to Libya, bringing along $46 million in U.S. aid, after freeing up over $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets. Hopefully some opposition researcher is collecting these choice moments ahead of the 2016 elections.
Good times, yes, good times.
Two Years Later…
So here we are, two years later and the news out of Libya is about other Americans visiting. A few days ago, a convoy of Americans “from the embassy” raced through a checkpoint in Libya. One car had no license plates. Another shot past guards and caused an accident, after which the vehicle “suddenly caught fire which authorities could not explain,” said al-Taher al-Gharbali, an army colonel in the local military council. Eventually four armed Americans with U.S. embassy ID cards were arrested by some form of the Libyan authorities (i.e., a couple of guys with AK-74 on loose slings.)
After a lot of initial silence, the Department of Defense confirmed that the travelers were U.S. military personnel. While their unit identification was not made public, one can probably surmise they were not clerk typists on shore leave. DOD said they were scouting evacuation routes for embassy personnel. The embassy said they were part of security preparedness. A State Department spokesperson said “the United States valued its relationship with ‘the new Libya’”.
Elsewhere, we have learned that the four Americans wounded in South Sudan as part of the humanitarian evacuation process were Navy SEALS.
And who can forget American Citizen Raymond Davis, who, while touring Pakistan, killed a couple of local guys. Davis wasn’t Special Forces; he worked for the CIA, perhaps as their actual employee, perhaps as a mercenary for the private security contractor Xe, formerly known as Blackwater.
While it is kinda hard to find a list of all the places U.S. Special Forces are currently deployed abroad, it is comforting to know that the U.S. military as a whole has armed personnel in more than 150 nations worldwide. The U.S. Special Operations Command has over 67,000 acknowledged personnel and a known budget of $7.483 billion for Operations and Maintenance; $373 million for Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation; $1.6 billion for Procurement; and $441 million for Military Construction funding.
BONUS: An excellent list of U.S. military interventions abroad, 1890-2011.
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