Internal study highlights struggle over control of America’s special ops forces

The study raises a number of questions, including why SOCOM was not originally set up as a separate service and what “recurring justifications” were made for its status. The self-imposed deadline for the JSOU team to complete the effort is June 30th.

Former and current officials see the study as a sophisticated straw man argument to keep civilian oversight to a minimum. Mark Mitchell, formerly the top actor Civilians who oversaw the special forces at the Pentagon during the last administration told POLITICO that it believes the study should lead to the conclusion that SOCOM should not be a separate service and that civilian decision-makers should no longer have power over command.

Command leaders have long resisted civilian efforts to enforce control of their budget and ensure more aggressive scrutiny, said Mitchell, who received the Army’s second highest distinction for combat strength in Afghanistan and was also on the staff of the national during the Obama era Security Council worked administration.

Strengthening civilian control is vital, he continued, especially as the size and scope of special operations has increased since the 9/11 attacks. The discipline problems at SOCOM got so bad that The commander initiated a full review in 2019 the culture and ethics of the community. The review finally took place No “systematic” ethical errors however, pointed out the need to strengthen leadership at all levels.

“There are problems in culture and the top civilian position needs to be strengthened on a number of fronts,” said Mitchell.

The Joint Special Operations University study came after previous Pentagon leadership strengthened the community’s civil leadership late last year and after “recurring” discussions about creating a separate service for the special operations community, said Col. Curtis Kellogg. a spokesman for the command.

Former Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller in November made the civilian officer responsible for special operations matters take the job out of the Pentagon’s policy shop and report it directly to the Secretary of Defense. This was the first time that the position was equated with the secretaries of the military service.

Former officials said Miller made the change, which eventually served a Congressional mandate, to improve civilian control over special forces in the 2017 Defense Policy Bill, primarily to curb the community’s disciplinary and cultural issues.

Common problems

Discussions on strengthening civilian control take place after a series of scandals in the community. In 2019, Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher was sentenced to pose for a photo with the body of a dead fighter. Trump intervened to prevent him from being downgraded for the offense. During the trial, another SEAL team medic took responsibility for killing the teen. Gallagher recently appeared on a podcast saying that Navy SEALs were practicing medical procedures on a dying inmate.

“The grain of the truth in the whole thing is that this ISIS fighter was killed by us and that nobody had a problem with it at the time” he said on Apple’s The Line podcast.

Beginning of the year, Another Navy SEAL pleaded guilty to killing an Army Staff Sergeant it went wrong during what he called haze. And a recent CBS investigation pointed to widespread cultural problems – including substance abuse – in the community.

Meanwhile a detailed Rolling Stone report As of April last year, at least 44 active duty soldiers were killed while stationed at Fort Bragg – which includes SOCOM headquarters. It is not clear how many of the 44 special operators were. A base spokesman told Rolling Stone that illegal drug use was linked to all murders of troops stationed there. A former Green Beret wrote a letter to the author of the play from prison serving time drug trafficking in military aircraft, which described a culture of impunity.

“Elite soldiers have access to anything they want to get into: whores, guns, drugs, whatever you call them,” he wrote.

In January, the Office of the Inspector General of the Ministry of Defense announced Checks are made to see whether SOCOM and the US Central Command have followed Pentagon guidelines when reporting possible violations of the laws of war.

A separate service?

On Wednesday, the new Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, announced that after reviewing Miller’s decision to increase the position of Civilian Special Operations, he had decided to partially reverse the change and move the position back to the Policy Shop for most matters. The role will continue to report directly to Austin on administrative issues such as manning, training, and equipment of the armed forces.

Miller’s first step in strengthening the civilian position came as an unwanted surprise to the military leadership, which got SOCOM chief General Richard Clarke and his team to act, former officials said. In March, Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, former chief of Army Special Operations Command, wrote in retirement a warning that the move could result in a call for a separate service.

Despite Austin’s reversal, Clarke is likely still on the defensive on the civilian control issue, former officials said.

DoD officials and experts see little support within the military and up the hill for creating a separate special forces service that they believe would add unnecessary logistical and bureaucratic hurdles to a community that prides itself on stealth and agility.

Furthermore, it is said that the status quo will benefit SOCOM Commander Clarke, who in the absence of a fully empowered civilian leader was the decision maker on budget priorities, strategy and armed forces structure. The establishment of a new service would require an act of Congress.

Clarke doesn’t support making SOCOM a separate service, said Kellogg, the SOCOM spokesman.

“Congress intended that USSOCOM be an organization that brings together the best capabilities of the service to meet the needs of the nation,” Kellogg said. “USSOCOM is inherently better suited to this role as a joint combatant command that works with and relies on the services to accomplish its mission.”

So why study the question at all? The university began its endeavors after discussions arose after Miller’s move late last year. It will analyze the history of SOCOM’s creation “as a functioning combat squad with limited peer-to-peer powers, rather than as a separate service,” Kellogg said.

News of the study was not publicly reported, but it has made the rounds in defense circles. Some find it worrying and see it as part of an extensive lobbying effort to reduce oversight of SOCOM.

“It is a total abuse of the JSOU, which is supposed to provide special training for special operators and other DoD employees to use them in a SOCOM lobbying campaign,” said a former senior Pentagon official, who asked for anonymity, said to openly speak. “It is ridiculous.”

Defending the university, Kellogg said the organization started the “purely academic” study because it determined “that it would be of value for an academic institution to conduct an independent, in-depth study on the subject.”

Former officials and sources close to the discussions also noted SOCOM’s unusual attraction for Congress. SOCOM has a massive legislative outfit compared to the other commandos of the combatants, with more than a dozen people frequently advocating for Congress on funding and other issues, they said.

While lawmakers supported the move to empower the top civilians overseeing the special forces, the appetite of Congress for the creation of a separate service appears to be low.

“Based on my experience in the field and at the Pentagon, I see no need for special forces as a separate branch,” said Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican serving on the House Forces Strategic Forces Subcommittee. He said the command already had “unique peer-to-peer agencies and funding.”

Defense officials say creating a separate special forces service would create unnecessary bureaucracy and logistical hurdles. In particular, the move would pose a challenge to SOF’s recruitment process as the community is dependent on both military service and civilians, one of the officials said. For example, while most Navy SEALs are recruited from the street rather than the Navy, Army Green Berets usually come to SOCOM from the Army, the civil servant said.

In addition, setting up a new service would require more funding and human resources. During the debate about creating a separate space service, one of the main arguments against moving was the cost – At least $ 13 billionaccording to initial estimates.

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