Hours after announcing the U.S. would draw down U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan by Jan. 15, the acting secretary of defense reiterated that message at Fort Bragg on Wednesday along with another announcement.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller announced that special operations civilian leadership will now report directly under his office “instead of through the current bureaucratic channels.”
Officials said reforms signed by Miller are outlined in Section 922 of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
“This historic step finalizes what Congress has authorized and directed and will put special operations command on par with the military services for the first time,” Miller said. “This reform will immediately improve agility to the department and the command and will enable us to streamline information flow, enhance decision-making and more adaptly and in-depth support our commanders and their superb soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.”
Ezra Cohen-Watnick, acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, said the reforms will ensure special operations forces have a civilian advocate “commensurate to the secretaries of the other military departments.”
“It is fitting that we are again entering an era of great power competition as we gather to affirm the importance of the special operations community,” said Cohen-Watnick, who referenced former President John F. Kennedy’s vision to create special operations forces.
Rep. Richard Hudson, whose congressional district includes Fort Bragg, was unable to attend Wednesday’s announcement to welcome Miller because of being in Washington D.C. but said he “applauds the action to streamline command structures and elevate the civilian Special Operations leadership to a direct report to the Secretary of Defense.”
“This is a welcome move that Congress outlined in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act,” Hudson said in a statement after the announcement. “As Fort Bragg’s congressman, I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Miller and our Special Forces community.”
Referencing announcements made Tuesday that the Department of Defense would follow President Donald Trump’s orders to reduce troop sizes in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 in each country respectively, Miller said defense leaders “recognize that transitions and campaigns are fraught with risk and unexpected challenges and opportunities.”
Defense commanders and politicians have expressed concerns about rapid timelines for the withdrawal of troops.
Trump fired then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Nov. 9.
Miller said the reform he signed Wednesday is aligned with the three priorities he outlined, which are: “bring the current war to an end in a responsible manner that guarantees the security of our citizens; continue implementing the National Defense Strategy with an emphasis on transforming the department for great power competition, and accelerate the department’s activities to contribute to our whole-of-government effort to combat transnational threats.”
Standing in front of the statue of Maj. Richard “Dick” Meadows, an Army Special Forces soldier during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Miller recognized the contributions of past and present special operators.
He said Fort Bragg special operations forces were among the first to respond after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Miller said he served as an Army Special Forces company commander under then-Col. John F. Mulholland Jr. during Operation Enduring Freedom and alongside 2nd Battalion, 5th Special ForcesGroup during two tours to Iraq.
Miller said he’s spent the rest of his career committed to defeating terrorists and those who help harbor them.
“Today we are gathered before a monument that symbolizes the tremendous costs of these conflicts and our relentless vigilance,” Miller said. “In light of the countless sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands of American service members and our enormous progress of over nearly two decades, we are now bringing these conflicts to their successful and responsible conclusion under the bold leadership of President Trump.”
Miller said as the department transitions to “provide greater civilian oversight .. and critically advocacy for special operators,” the reform he signed Wednesday “couldn’t come at a more critical moment in time as we bring our nation’s longest conflict to a responsible end, and prepare special operations forces for this new era of great power competition”
“I can think of no better place than here — at the original home of our special operations forces — to enshrine a stronger support for the next generation of special operators hardened by combat and unrelenting deployments, who understand the fundamental nature of war, who remain committed to defeating every threat and who are undeterred by the high price of victory,” he said.
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