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For Special Operations Forces, fighting WMD means getting deeper into enemies’ leadership and decision-making

U.S. Army Special Operations Soldiers, and NATO Forces, work together to perform direct action mission training utilizing close quarters battle training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, March 5, 2018 in support of Exercise Emerald Warrior. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kristen Heller)
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As U.S. Special Operations Command has settled into its role as lead U.S. agency for planning military operations to counter weapons of mass destruction — that is, chemical, biological, and rogue nuclear weapons — it’s getting access to new realms of intelligence.

“Differentiating between peaceful scientific research and nefarious intent requires exquisite access into adversary leadership and decision,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, SOCOM’s deputy commander, told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Osterman said that the two-month-old National Defense Strategy, with its focus on Russia and China, had already made it easier for SOCOM to get both the intelligence capabilities and the tactical gear it needs to better plan counter-WMD missions.

“I do believe that there has been a significant change with an emphasis on those hard problem sets in that peer competitor range,” he said — meaning China and Russia. That change has allowed SOCOM to “open up that planning beyond just that counter [violent extremist] threat from our previous mission sets.”

In particular, he said, SOCOM planners have been better able to contemplate whole-of-government approaches.

About a year ago, SOCOM became the Defense Department’s lead agency for countering WMDs. “Our primary counter-WMD effort as a coordinating authority is really: how best to orchestrate Department of Defense activity in that pre-crisis phase” just short of open conflict, he said.

Also at the hearing, the Defense Department’s top homeland-defense official said it appears quite probable that Russia is behind the recent nerve agent attack that targeted Russian military officer-turned-British informant Sergei Skripal and his daughter in London.

“It appears highly likely, with the information at hand, that the Russians are responsible fo the use of an advanced chemical agent against this individual,” said Ken Rapuano, the assistant defense secretary for homeland defense and global security.

The United States is “working very closely with the UK as well as other partners and allies” as the government in London completed its forensic investigation, Rapuano said.

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© 2018 By National Journal Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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