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By Dan De Luce

Washington (AFP) — The U.S. commander who helped place special operation forces at the forefront of the American military hung up his uniform, hailing a “golden age” for the elite commandos.

Admiral William McRaven, 58, rose to prominence for his role in overseeing the successful 2011 raid by Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden at his Pakistani compound.

But his influence inside military circles extends far beyond the storied nighttime operation that took out the Al-Qaeda mastermind.

Experts and fellow officers say he helped shape a new doctrine for commandos and a new approach in Washington to military power that emphasizes “small footprints” over large-scale deployments.

That approach calls for special operations forces to hit enemies in surprise strikes — but only when necessary — while devoting most of their effort to training local armies in a “global network” to tackle adversaries on their own.

– ‘Deepened our relationships’ –

At a ceremony on Thursday, marking McRaven’s retirement as head of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said the admiral had “deepened our relationships abroad, working more closely with allies and partners to better anticipate and counter threats.”

As proof of McRaven’s bid for a “global network,” Hagel cited special forces who had recently delivered humanitarian aid in the Philippines, assisted Peruvian forces in targeting senior figures of the Shining Path rebels, and advised Eastern European allies facing a resurgent Russia.

The commandos also were advising African armies to help counter Boko Haram militants and were on the ground in Iraq assisting Baghdad government troops confront Islamic State (IS) jihadists, Hagel said.

As chief of SOCOM since August 2011, McRaven has promoted the idea of building links with special forces in allied countries around the world.

He has set up an international “coordination center” at the command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida, with officers from 10 nations working inside SOCOM’s offices.

During his tenure, McRaven also has overseen an expansion of SOCOM’s authority over commandos deployed in the field and secured additional funding and troops, at a time when the rest of the U.S. military has been forced to scale back under budget pressures.

– ‘Thrust into the arena’ –

In his farewell speech, McRaven said special operations forces (SOF) were once “relegated to a supporting role” to conventional troops.

But the attacks of September 11, 2001 “changed all of that, and we were thrust into the arena,” the four-star admiral said.

More than a decade later, “we are in the golden age of special operations, a time when our unique talents as special operators are in greatest demand.”

McRaven has said high-stakes raids like the one that killed Bin Laden represent only a small part of the work done by the 67,000-strong force.

Most of the command’s effort is focused on aiding commandos in other countries before threats grow into emergencies requiring U.S. intervention, according to McRaven.

But while his forces were advising foreign troops and police on everything from tactics to “animal husbandry,” he acknowledged in his speech that U.S. commandos were still engaged in “hard, tough fights” across the globe.

He cited a list of adversaries including IS extremists in the Middle East, Boko Haram, and al-Shebab in Africa and “barbaric elements” elsewhere.

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton has called special operations forces “the embodiment of smart power,” but skeptics argue the commandos are too often seen as a panacea for daunting threats facing the United States.

Night commando raids in Afghanistan have been hailed by American officers as crucial to weakening insurgents, but the civilian deaths caused by the operations have fueled deep resentment of the U.S. presence.

And the value of training and advising a local military force can be overstated, some analysts say.

– Useful ‘under particular conditions’ –

The approach works when the interests of a partner country match U.S. interests and goals, said Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

But often times other governments do not share America’s policy goals, Biddle told AFP.

Building the capacity of other armies and forging an international network “can be useful tools under particular conditions,” he said.

“But those conditions may not be common enough for this to fit all the places where we’d like it to.”

AFP Photo/Frederic J. Brown

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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