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Officials Describe Special Operations Forces' Contributions to National Security

Although U.S. Special Operations Command makes up just 3% of the joint force, it has suffered over half of all combat casualties over the past few years, said a Defense Department official.

Christopher P. Maier, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, testified today at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense authorization request for fiscal year 2022 and the future years defense program.

Two troops look at a screen in the middle of a field.
Troop Teamwork
A Marine with 3d Reconnaissance Battalion, 3d Marine Division and an Army Special Forces Soldier with 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) provide security for a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System fire mission during Exercise Castaway 21.1 on Ie Shima, Okinawa, Japan, March 16, 2021.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Scott Aubuchon
VIRIN: 210316-M-CG913-0206

The special operations forces, or SOF, community's priorities, he said, are to defend the nation, take care of its people and succeed through teamwork. 

"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, adding that protecting Americans from terrorist organizations is also a top priority.  

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, SOF continue to maintain a high level of operational readiness, he said. "We remain focused on and are making progress in easing the strain of high rates of overseas deployments." 

Troops operate in the snow.
Joint Training
Serbian Police from the Special Anti-terrorist Unit and U.S. Green Berets assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command Europe conduct a range day exercise as part of their Joint Combined Exchange Training, March 15, 2021, in Serbia.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt Christopher Moore
VIRIN: 210316-A-LV242-088

Maier said he is concerned about incidents of serious moral and ethical failings within the SOF community. He added that last year, Socom had conducted a comprehensive review of SOF culture and ethics. 

The SOF community is also committed to enhancing diversity, he said. "As we compete against different and more capable adversaries, a more diverse force empowers us to draw upon broader perspectives, different lived experiences and new ideas." 

Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke, the commander of Socom, also testified. He noted that SOF continues to deter and disrupt persistent threats by terrorist and extremist organizations worldwide.

A service member sits on a motorcycle facing a helicopter.
Load Ready
A soldier with 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), prepares to load a CH-53E Super Stallion belonging to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing during Exercise Castaway 21.1 on Ie Shima, Okinawa, Japan, March 17, 2021.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ujian Gosun
VIRIN: 210317-M-TU214-1885

Below the level of armed conflict SOF teams support a wide range of U.S. policy objectives, and generate options to counter China, Russia and other competitors, Clarke said. 

As SOF forge partnerships and build partner capacity, it gains access, placement and influence to counter terrorist extremist organizations, he added.

"Today, as we sit here, nearly 5,000 special operators stand vigilant in almost 60 countries. Their commitment to American security and prosperity is inspirational and their enthusiasm to learn, adapt and serve is infectious. It is my honor to lead them," Clarke said.

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