By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2014 – The threats the United States faces are continuing to evolve, the military’s top special operations officials said on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Michael D. Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, testified at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee.
“The threat we face, especially from al-Qaida, is continuing to change,” Lumpkin said. “Although the scale of the threat to the homeland has diminished, threats to our interests overseas are increasing. With their leadership depleting, al-Qaida still retains sanctuaries in remote areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.”
With threats also evolving with terrorist organizations expanding in Syria, North Africa and the Sahel, he said, the United States must maintain pressure on such organizations to protect the nation.
Lumpkin said practical realities will make this task harder. “We are in a time of transition. We face a yet-undetermined drawdown in Afghanistan and new fiscal realities,” Lumpkin said. “It may become more difficult to maintain pressure on al-Qaida and their traditional safe havens.”
Lumpkin said he closely monitors how cuts to the military services affect Socom’s readiness, and Socom is assessing the impact on “critical enablers” In light of the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2015 budget request and fiscal uncertainty beyond next year.
“We’re ensuring the cuts to the [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] fleet will not erode our capabilities to find, fix and finish targets,” he said. “As we transition in Afghanistan and redistribute special operations forces into other theaters, we need to ensure our operations and maintenance accounts are resourced to support operations.”
As the United States moves toward a global-network perpetual engagement, Socom’s efforts are grounded in experience that demonstrates the success of such an approach, Lumpkin told lawmakers. In Columbia, for example, Socom has provided counterinsurgency training and humanitarian help to prevent narcotics traffickers from developing sanctuaries, he said.
“This effort not only resulted in a far more secure and prosperous nation, it has emerged as the great exporter of regional security,” Lumpkin added.
The same opportunities exist in Africa and the Middle East, he said, adding that “discreet activities and operations” constitute a global special operations force network, which is required for perpetual vigilance.
“I am committed to do everything I possibly can to ensure these brave warriors have the best training, equipment and support we can provide,” Lumpkin told lawmakers. “Working with Congress, we will surely have the right strategies and policies in place to employ them effectively.”
Socom has made great strides dealing with existing conflicts, preparing for future conflicts and taking care of its people, McRaven told subcommittee members. As DOD’s synchronizer of the war on terrorism, Socom coordinates its activities locally, regionally and globally with the Gulf Cooperation Council and U.S. ambassadors, he said.
“I believe the future of U.S. special operations will be in helping to build partner capacity with those willing nations that share our interests,” McRaven said. “This will mean strengthening our existing allied relationships and building new ones. No nation alone can stem the rise of extremism. We need our friends and allies more now than ever before.”
Socom’s future as a special operations force also is “inextricably linked” to the general-purpose force and other agencies, he said.
“The past 12 years have shown us that the whole-of-government effort is required to be successful against extremism, and in the special operations force, we have always relied heavily on our fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines for support around the globe,” McRaven noted.
The admiral said people are the command’s most precious resource, and that Socom officials have gone to great lengths to take care of the force and their families.
“The Preservation of the Force and Families Task Force has already seen a marked improvement in the morale and well-being of those who serve in [the special operations forces],” he said.
After more than 10 years of combat operations, Socom launched the task force in 2012 to make resources available to its service members and families who felt the strains and pressures of multiple deployments and busy training schedules.
“While we still suffer from the tragedy of high suicide rates, I believe we have laid the foundation for keeping our force and their families strong and resilient in the future,” McRaven said.