Even as the U.S. winds down in Iraq and Afghanistan, some special forces have done 10, 12, even 14 tours, and are only likely to do more as the conventional troops go home
Members of the 320th Special Tactics Squadron exit an MC-130P Combat Shadow / Reuters
Army Ranger Kristoffer Domeij was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday while on his 14th combat deployment, highlighting a dispiriting fact of life for some of America's warriors: conventional forces are leaving Iraq and Afghanistan in large numbers, but the sky-high demand for special-operations troops like the Rangers won't be changing anytime soon.
The strain on the highly-trained forces will only increase as the Obama administration expands its shadow war against high-ranking militants in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, all of which have been the scene of targeted raids by elite troops in recent months. Senior Pentagon officials have also made clear that Special Operations troops will be used to conduct counter-terror raids in Afghanistan even as overall U.S. troop levels there begin to decline.
Elite forces like the Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force don't deploy for as long as conventional Army and Marine units, which usually spend six to 15 months in the war zones per tour of duty. But they deploy far, far more often. Many conventional troops have done four or five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. By contrast, Special Operations troops have done 10, 12, and even 14 tours.