Tacoma native in line to lead Special Operations forces

WASHINGTON - Vice Adm. Eric Olson, a Tacoma native and highly decorated Navy SEAL, sailed through a low-key Senate Armed Service Committee confirmation hearing Tuesday on his nomination to head the Special Operations Command.

Under questioning, Olson said:

n Special Ops forces are covered by the same rules when it comes to interrogating prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan as other U.S. forces.

n Despite the quickened pace of operations, morale and retention rates remain high.

n Plans to add an additional 13,500 Special Ops personnel during the next five years are on track.

"This nation expects to have forces that can respond to the sound of guns whenever and wherever they are needed," said Olson, who is now second in command of Special Ops.

A Naval Academy graduate who received a Silver Star for his actions during a battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, popularized by the book and movie "Black Hawk Down," Olson is expected to be confirmed. The committee gave no indication when it would vote.

Olson said he was optimistic that efforts to defeat al-Qaida and the Taliban and install a new government in Afghanistan were working.

"Things are headed in the right direction, and we continue to work to eliminate enemy safe havens," Olson said in written responses to questions the committee asked in advance of the hearing.

When it comes to Iraq, Olson said U.S. forces will continue to face an "irregular enemy," and Special Ops and regular U.S. forces sometimes "overlap" when it comes to responding.

"Special Operations forces are routinely performing tasks that could be performed by existing general purpose forces capabilities or general purpose forces with additional training," Olson said.

Olson said he had no personal knowledge that Special Ops forces might have violated interrogation regulations in Iraq. A recent Defense Department inspector general report said a special missions unit task force had used such abusive techniques as sleep deprivation, stress positions, use of dogs and survival, escape, resistance and evasion techniques during battlefield interrogations. The incidents took place before reports of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison surfaced.