Army General Raymond A. Thomas, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, appeared before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on Tuesday to discuss SOCOM’s role in modern warfare 30 years after its inception. According to the General, SOCOM is more relevant than ever when it comes to addressing the evolving security threats faced by the United States and its allies around the globe.
“We have been at the forefront of national security operations for the past three decades, to include continuous combat over the past 15-and-a-half years,” Thomas told the House subcommittee. “This historic period has been the backdrop for some of our greatest successes, as well as the source of our greatest challenge, which is the sustained readiness of this magnificent force.”
General Thomas explained to the subcommittee that April was a particularly difficult month for SOCOM, as it saw the loss of three elite war fighters in combat operations in Afghanistan. Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar died on April 8th from injuries he suffered in a firefight in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, and Army Rangers Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas died on April 27th in a raid that took place in Nangarhar as well.
“This comes on the heels of 16 other combat fatalities since I assumed command a year ago, and is a stark reminder that we are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” Thomas said.
The general then provided an in-depth breakdown of the forces that fall under SOCOM, which include approximately “56,000 active duty, 7,400 reserve and guard, and 6,600 civilian personnel across the Special Operations Forces enterprise.” Of those listed, approximately 8,000 members of America’s special operations forces are currently serving abroad, working with “international, interagency and Defense Department partners in support of the geographic combatant commanders’ priorities,” the general explained.
The SOCOM Commander also laid out the storied command’s priorities, which places defeating Islamic terrorism at the forefront of the ongoing battle strategy, but also includes “countering Russian aggression, preparing for contingencies in Korea and various security operations to defend the homeland,” Thomas said.
Beyond those combat responsibilities, the general also addressed continuous priorities within the command, such as ensuring the training, equipment, and strategies employed by special operations groups continue to transform in the face of new challenges in order to remain effective and relevant. He also spoke to the importance of taking care of “the command’s people and their families.”
The hearing, which was titled, “Three Decades Later: A Review and Assessment of Our Special Operations Forces 30 Years After the Creation of U.S. Special Operations Command,” also included testimony from Theresa Whelan, the acting assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict.
As has been in the case in a number of instances when senior military leadership has been asked to speak before Congress, the future, according to General Thomas and assistant Secretary Whelan, comes down to money. Whelen, whose role within the Defense Department finds her providing policy oversight for special operations, explained to the subcommittee that the modern threats faced by SOCOM call for greater levels of coordination and collaboration both internally and externally than ever before. In order to meet that challenge, however, funding must be consistent and sustained.
Many military officials have repeatedly requested increases in defense spending since 2013, when a series of financial limits referred to as sequestration saw significant limits placed on the funds made available to the military. In the years since, the American armed forces have faced serious maintenance delays and financial setbacks that have prevented them from keeping the force at the level of readiness many believe would be required to face a near-peer level opponent like China or Russia.
In order to continue to be successful, Whelan said, “A long-term strategic approach is needed to defeat terrorists and their networks and ideologies.” According to her, that approach is not possible without “sustained funding and flexible legislative authorities.”
“We will win the fight against [violent extremist organizations] and protect our citizens’ vital interest, allies and partners,” she concluded.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense