In March, the top military and civilian leaders of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) testified in Congress about the state of US special operations forces, offering great insight on current and future operations, initiatives, and priorities.
Army General Richard D. Clarke, the commander of SOCOM, and Christopher P. Maier, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, testified in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense authorization request for fiscal year 2022 and the future years defense program.
Here are some interesting tidbits from their testimonies.
Special operations units continue to bear the brunt of the fighting and casualties. During the past two years, 15 special operators were killed in active operations, making up 50 percent of all U.S. combat casualties. These numbers become even more impressive if you consider that SOCOM makes up only 3 percent of the US military. But it also shows that special operations units have been the go-to choice for US policymakers for almost any contingency.
SOCOM has approximately 5,000 commandos currently deployed in 60 different countries, conducting combat operations or training with allied and partner forces. Interestingly, there has been a 15 percent reduction in countries where U.S. special operators are deployed, the lowest since 2001; in previous years, American commandos were in more than 70 countries.
“We continue to adapt the unique capabilities and problem-solving expertise of our special operators to the challenge of great power competition with Russia and China, while strengthening the alliances and partnerships that enhance our ability to compete,” Maier said.
General Clarke recognized that although counterterrorism and countering violent extremist organizations remain on SOCOM’s target list, Great Power Competition is the future. Ever since the publication of the National Defense Strategy in 2018, near-peer competition is all the rage. Russia, in the shorter term, and China, in the longer term, are now the main focus of the Pentagon. In 2021, SOCOM plans to focus 40 percent of all its deployed forces in Great Power Competition activities. This can range from a joint training event with Japanese commandos to special reconnaissance missions in the South China Sea to Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations in Africa.
General Clarke stated that “We are actively realigning our operations, activities, and investments to align with NDS [National Defense Strategy] priorities and the operational needs of the GCCs [Geographical Combatant Commanders], maintaining sustainable pressure on priority C-VEO [countering-violent extremist organizations] threats while enabling the Joint Force to maintain advantage in competition, respond in crisis, and win in conflict. We are modernizing and innovating for the future, updating our organizational structures and processes for improved performance and affordability. Most importantly, we are staying true to our first SOF Truth – ‘Humans are more important than hardware’ – by investing in our people, ensuring a trusted, capable, diverse, and committed force that is ready to meet any challenge.”
General Clarke also mentioned that SOCOM is making strides in terms of diversity, with the first Black Navy SEAL officer commanding a SEAL Team and the first Black Ranger officer commanding a Ranger Battalion.