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Officials Highlight Work of Special Operations Forces in House Hearing

The global successes of the U.S. Special Operations Command and the services’ special operations forces are due to their extraordinary people and the support from Congress, senior special operations officials told lawmakers yesterday on Capitol Hill.

Owen West, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the House Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee that funding for Socom amounts to about 1.9 percent of the defense budget, enabling a presence in 90 countries.

“This capital expenditure fuels the current fight, but it must also result in long-term competitive advantage,” West told the House panel during a hearing on the fiscal year 2019 budget request for special operations forces and Socom.

‘Outsized Effects Around the Globe’

West and the Socom commander, Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, thanked Congress for its support through funding the command and approving authorities for operations.

Socom’s budget was $11.8 billion for fiscal year 2017, Thomas said. The projected budget for fiscal 2018 is $12.3 billion, he added, noting that the figure is projected to be $13.6 billion for fiscal 2019.

The support from Congress, West and Thomas said, has allowed special operations forces to make significant contributions, such as contributing to the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“Special operations forces played an integral role as part of the joint force in the destruction of ISIS’ physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq,” Thomas said. “We continue to have outsized effects around the globe, defeating our enemies, training, equipping and enabling our friends and allies, rapidly transforming the organization to be prepared for all future threats and caring for our fallen, wounded and ill and their families.”

Recruiting Members for Elite Forces

West said he and Thomas are partners in making the command a “more efficient enterprise that supports the National Defense Strategy and the secretary of defense.”

Explaining that only 30 percent of high school students are eligible for military service, West underscored the importance of exploring “unconventional techniques and new pools” to recruit the elite force of men and women.

“Today’s battlefield has challenged the traditional definition of a combatant, successfully operating in the global contact layer demands that we build a diverse force,” he said. “The [special operations forces] entry standards are high, but America has always encouraged its pioneers.” The most important capital investment is human, West said.

“The task is to remain unpredictable but expansive, pushing the competitive boundaries in ways our enemies do not expect,” he added. “To sustain this expansion, we must be fiscally hawkish, reducing asymmetry by adopting a focus on return on investment.”

‘Decisive Advantage’ in the People

Socom and the special operations forces are “relentlessly focused on winning our current fights and preparing for all future threats facing our nation,” Thomas said. He told the subcommittee that members of the command and formations are better than they have ever been, thriving under pressure, executing the toughest missions and achieving success.

“Socom continues to enhance our role as part of the joint force in assuring allies and improving their capabilities in the face of aggressive regional hegemons, reinforcing host nation and law enforcement efforts in the Western Hemisphere in the defense of our national boundaries, and preparing for contingencies,” the general said.

The successes, he said, are directly attributable to “recruiting and training amazing Americans, outfitting with them with the best equipment and training in the world and empowering them with the requisite authorities to defeat our adversaries.”

Thomas said the people “continue to be the decisive advantage.” He paid tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Success however has carried a high price,” he said. “In the past 10 months, we suffered the loss of 20 special operations personnel from our formation in combat, with 144 wounded and injured.”

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)