SOF Leaders Testify Before Congress (March 2024)

U.S. House Committee on Armed Services

Leaders of the U.S. special operations community testified in Washington, D.C. before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, in open and classified sessions. Chris Maier, (SOF News, 24 Apr 2021) the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC) and General Bryan Fenton the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) provided opening statements and answered questions posed by the members of the subcommittee.

The Chairman of the committee, Representative Jack Bergman (R-MI) provided a short but strong statement of support for U.S. Special Operations Command. Each of the representatives present expressed support for USSOCOM, although a few had some issues that they posed questions about to Maier and Fenton. The open session lasted about 50 minutes and adjourned so representatives could attend a vote on the floor. After the voting the testimony resumed in a classified closed-door session.

ASD SO/LIC Chris Maier followed Bergman’s opening statement with his own, starting with outlining the global posture of U.S. special operations forces. He cited the focus on integrated defense, crisis response, and counterterrorism. He mentioned the increased demand for SOF capabilities around the world. He also brought attention to the importance of ASD SO/LIC (SOF News, 17 Mar 2020) as an advocate for SOF; Maier mentioned the recent GAO report (SOF News, 5 Mar 2024) on this topic.

General Fenton praised the efforts of the 70,000 men and women of USSOCOM in countering the threats from autocrats and terrorists. He noted the People’s Republic of China’s attempt to rewrite the international order and the Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and continued its disinformation campaign around the world. He also spoke about the support Iran provides to its proxies in the Middle East and the continued threat posed by the ISIS, al Qaeda, and al Shabaab terrorist groups. He cited that USSOCOM’s most important aspect was its people, and that SOF transformation (SOF News, 8 Mar 2023) starts with people and technology gets “wrapped around them”. He emphasized that USSOCOM’s main effort was integrated deterrence which supported DOD’s main effort of integrated deterrence.

“Since 1942, our SOF has accumulated six decades of strategic competition experience, now combined with over two decades of hard-earned combat experience in the Global War on Terror. These eight decades make your special operations tailormade for this era.”

General Bryan Fenton, March 20, 2024

USSOCOM as a Billpayer. The 3,000 personnel cuts to Army special operations force (ARSOF) structure was a topic of discussion. Both the chairman and other representatives pressed Maier and Fenton on this issue. Congressman Jackson brought this issue front and center. General Fenton, doing his best to defend a difficult position, said the cuts were the result of a convergence of several factors resulting in hard choices: dismal recruiting for the U.S. Army, fiscal challenges, and transformational design within the DOD. Fenton noted that the cuts are coming at a bad time considering the increase in crisis situations around the world. He said that USSOCOM will be assessing the impacts of these reduction over the next few years.

Acquisition. A discussion took place about USSOCOM’s ability to rapidly bring technological solutions from concept to fielding and the special authorities that allow this to happen. An example cited of the speed and agility of this process was how counter UAS and kinetic systems have been fielded to deal with the threat of one-way strike drones and munitions.

Quality of Life During and After Service. One representative stressed the need to address the cognitive and physical well-being of the SOF personnel. He has concerns about a missing gap between the time a SOF operator enters the force and when they leave the force. He believes that USSOCOM needs to do a better job of “offloading” our service members into civilian life. One point he stressed was the need for baseline assessments at entry and departure from the service. Veterans Affairs is not responding rapidly enough in ascertaining the cognitive and physical abilities of SOF operators once they enter civilian life. Both Maier and Fenton responded that in the last several years USSOCOM has improved in this area but there is much more work to be done. The cited the POTFF program (SOF News, 29 Apr 2023) which is working towards the goal of less suicides, better brain health, and other important health issues.

Lessons from Ukraine. A question was asked if lessons learned about how SOF has been assisting the Ukrainian military are being transferred to other geographic areas around the world – especially the volatile regions of Africa. Maier answered that this is taking place – citing an example of how remote advising and assisting (NSI) can be applied to some countries in Africa and elsewhere. Also mentioned were the rapid changes on the battlefield and in modern warfare brought on by use of unmanned systems. The SOF community has adopted a business practice of sharing lessons learned across the formations using the theater special operations commands (TSOCs), schoolhouse, and operations groups and organizations.

Niger. Recent events in Africa were discussed, especially the current situation where U.S. forces may need to leave a very important staging area for the counterterrorism effort in Niger. Questions arose on how this will affect the CT effort in the Sahel region of Africa. Responses were basically – ‘it’s too early to predict what will happen”.


Statement for the Record. ASD Maier and General Fenton provided a statement for the record. PDF, 18 pages. The testimony can be viewed on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee YouTube channel (start at the 31-minute mark).

For more on the testimony read “U.S. Special Operations Underscore Continued Role in Deterring Conflict”, DOD News, March 20, 2024.

About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.