WASHINGTON, DC (Jim Garamone) – Army Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel said he understands why some people believe special operations forces are feeling pressure from extended wartime service, adding that if he’s confirmed as the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command he’ll work to mitigate such issues.
Votel, who testified at his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, has been selected by President Barack Obama to succeed Navy Adm. William H. McRaven as Socom’s chief. Votel currently serves as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.
“I firmly believe that special operation forces perform a vital function within the Department of Defense supporting our geographic combatant commanders and providing our leadership with unique solutions to challenging problems,” Votel told the Senate committee.
Special operations forces have been operationally very active and remain very effective, Votel said.
“Key to this, I think … has been Admiral McRaven’s focus on ensuring that we do address pressure on our force and families and provide them the mechanisms that allow them to continue to serve their country, but also take care of the needs that are generated by years of combat and years of service overseas,” he said.
Wartime pressures have been felt across the military, the general said.
“I do think there are some things that we ask our special operators to do, manners in which they operate, the secrecy with which they operate that do not allow them the normal opportunities to talk about things afterwards,” Votel said. “So I think we do have to address that aspect of it when it comes to our special operations forces and families, and making sure that we provide those appropriate outlets for them.”
The senators expressed concern that the NATO base contraction that is happening in Afghanistan leaves the special operations counterterrorism mission exposed. Votel said he has been following the planning closely, and assessed that “we have adequate locations at this time to continue to do the operations — counterterrorism — and partnership operations we need to continue to apply pressure against the networks that we are dealing with.”
Going forward, a significant number of special operations personnel will remain in Afghanistan post-2014. Plans for the follow-on Afghanistan mission Operation Resolute Support, call for a total of 9,800 U.S. troops, provided the incoming Afghan government signs a security agreement with the United States.
“Approximately 2,000 of those are special operations forces,” Votel said. “Of those 2,000, about half of that, just around 980 or so, are anticipated to be forces that would be directly supporting the [counterterrorism] effort.”
These efforts, he added, will involve continuing to do unilateral operations to keep heavy pressure on Al Qaida networks and those supporting them.
“Importantly, it will allow us to maintain the relationships with our Afghan partners that we have worked for many years and which we are seeing now come to full fruition,” Votel said.
The general said training the Afghan special operations capability is going well. “We are moving very quickly and effectively to make them partners on the battlefield — not only their ability to execute operations, but the ability of their leaders to direct operations and properly supervise those,” he said.
Votel said he’s impressed by the Afghan special operations kandaks, or battalions, and he believes their trajectory is on the right path.
Turning to the danger posed by foreign fighters operating in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, Votel noted that such men undergo combat and then go back to their own countries where they are dangers to their governments and people. Africa is a prime example.
To help address that, Votel said the special operations community needs to continue to work with local forces to build relationships. The U.S. military, he added, needs to foster capabilities and look to share information and intelligence wherever possible “to better enable them to deal with the challenges of returning fighters to their countries.