WATCH HEARING HERE
WASHINGTON – Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.) – House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations ranking member – delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee hearing on “SOF Culture and Climate: The Future of the Force.”
Today we will hear from four experts across the private sector for a discussion on the culture and climate of our Special Operations Forces (SOF). We have further broken this topic into three main buckets – state of the force, health of the force, and future of the force.
Indeed, there are many challenges that our special operators face today that this subcommittee must better understand in order to conduct our oversight duties. From the integration of women into the force, to deploy and dwell ratios, to mental health – this hearing will illuminate current challenges and offer recommendations on how to make Special Operations Forces more effective.
I will focus my comments and subsequent questions on the third bucket of this Hearing – the 'Future of the Force'. Our special operators have done a tremendous job with their counter-terrorism mission over the last 20+ years. As we continue to hear about China's malign activities and rapid military growth, we need to ensure SOF is ready for this future fight. This includes things like language training and other training that directly relates to combating great power competition adversaries. Furthermore, it necessitates the proper structure and authorities to conduct the SOF mission; I will highlight two recent areas of interest from this Committee.
A New York Times article on March 3rd described a policy change from the Biden Administration that placed greater restrictions on drone strikes and raids conducted outside conventional battlefield zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Previously authorized by ground commanders, these operations now require White House approval. I’m concerned about the onerous increase in approval authority for areas in which these counter-terrorism tactics are vital. As testament to the effects this policy change has created on the usage of strikes and raids – AFRICOM reported six strikes were conducted from 1 to 19 January of this year and, to my knowledge, zero have taken place since. Authorities can be delegated to leaders closer to the fight with specific parameters. With my 35+ years of military service, I completely understand the need to ensure appropriate controls are in place for conducting military operations – but I worry that this policy restricts Special Operations’ ability to conduct necessary actions for the counter-terrorism fight.
On March 3rd, Members of this Subcommittee sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressing our concerns about potential changes to the Assistant Secretary of Defense's role for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LOIC for short). The FY17 NDAA outlined required changes for this position; these changes were further substantiated in a Memo from then Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller on November 18th of last year. The elevation of ASD SO/LIC's role as a direct report to the Secretary of Defense is crucial to ensure SOF has a civilian leader shaping policy and advocating on their behalf. Empowering this role with the appropriate authorities is a priority of this Subcommittee.
I’m interested to hear our witnesses’ views on the role of ASD SO/LIC, the use of raids and strikes in areas like AFRICOM, and ensuring our SOF community is prepared to fight and win in a near-peer, global power conflict.
I want to thank our witnesses in advance for their time today. I look forward to the continuing work with our private sector experts during the 117th Congress to ensure we are appropriately postured to meet and defeat the myriad of global threats.