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New Congress cmte will step into military special forces’ secret missions, scandals

A special operations soldier protects a helicopter landing zone in an undisclosed location in South West Asia Oct. 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kelly Walker)
February 26, 2021

Members of a newly formed subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee are planning to bring added scrutiny to U.S. military special operations units after years of secretive missions and high-profile scandals.

The new “Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations” chaired by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), a U.S. Marine combat veteran, will direct some focus on the secretive nature of special operations units and their high tempo deployment pace, Gallego told Business Insider on Thursday.

Addressing their secretive nature, Gallego told Business Insider, “It definitely is a problem. They are special operators, but they are still under the purview of civilian authority, and I also don’t appreciate that they’ve been essentially used to … go around Congress’s ability to wage war.”

“So we are going to bring that under control as much as possible,” Gallego continued. “We want to see more transparency when it comes to their usage. At the same time, we also want to make sure that we guard their usage, because their consistent rotations, I think, [are] actually debilitating towards their effectiveness.”

Gallego said the Pentagon probe needs to bring accountability for “any type of abuse” but he mostly hopes to see that the probe brings “steps and checks to make sure that we don’t find ourselves going into mission creep in terms of use of our special forces.” Gallego said policymakers have a tendency of deploying special operations troops without public knowledge and debate, in hopes they “never get ‘caught’ or create situations where then they have to answer to the public.”

Lawmakers are concerned the mental strain from high deployment rotation schedule of special operations forces can, combined with public praise, and a lack of accountability due to their secretive missions, raise the risk of misconduct.

Special Operations troops, and particularly Navy SEALs, have also been the subjects of several scandals in recent years. In 2019, Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s faced military trial on war crimes charges but was ultimately acquitted on the most serious allegations he murdered an ISIS prisoner. He was reduced in rank for posing alongside his unit in a picture with the slain ISIS prisoner.

Several special operations troops were also implicated in the 2017 hazing death of Army Special Forces Green Beret Logan Melgar. Navy SEAL Team 6 member Tony DeDolph was sentenced to 10 years in prison for putting Melgar in the chokehold from which he never regained consciousness. Fellow Navy SEAL Adam C. Matthews and U.S. Marine Raider Kevin Maxwell Jr. have also been convicted on charges related to Melgar’s death.

Last month, the Pentagon announced a new evaluation of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), to determine whether the command has implemented programs to reduce the risk of misconduct and violations of the laws of war within its elite ranks.

The intense operational tempo for special operations forces can also raise the risk of other mistakes with tragic consequences.

Following an October 2017 ambush in Niger that resulted in the deaths of four Green Berets, Pentagon investigations determined a series of failures and “deficiencies” led to the event. The review of the ambush led to a restructuring of special operations leadership. Gallego said for many people, the biggest surprise from the incident was to learn U.S. troops were even deployed in Niger at the time.

“Members of Congress were surprised that we had military in Niger,” Gallego said. “The fact that it is that pervasive, abuse of our military, that even people in the Armed Services Committee did not know that we were actively involved there is a problem.”