New SOCOM Chief Pledges to Crack Down on Operator Misconduct

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Richard D. Clarke is seen at his promotion ceremony, Tampa, Florida, March 29, 2019. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Richard D. Clarke is seen at his promotion ceremony, Tampa, Florida, March 29, 2019. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

Army Gen. Richard Clarke, the new head of Special Operations Command, pledged Tuesday to tackle misconduct and ethical failures in the ranks of the special ops community that threaten to erode the nation's trust in its "silent" warriors.

Special operators are held to the "highest professional standards," Clarke said. "We're also aware that members of our units have failed in recent times to always meet these standards."

Congress' support is "contingent on the trust that you place in us to execute our missions" in accordance with the nation's laws and values, Clarke told a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on special operations and low-intensity conflict.

"This misconduct erodes that trust," he said. "You have my commitment that I will hold people accountable and preserve the trust that America has in its special operations forces."

Clarke did not get into specifics, but special operations has been rocked by charges that Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher, a member of SEAL Team 7, stabbed to death a wounded ISIS prisoner in Iraq in 2017. Gallagher also allegedly tried to coerce potential witnesses against testifying.

In another case, two Navy SEALs and two Marines have been charged in the June 2017 homicide in of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in Bamako, Mali.

In his testimony at the hearing, Mark Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, also stressed ethical standards in accordance with the laws of armed conflict.

"As we continue to make progress, we share the committee's concerns about the serious ethical failings of some members of our SOF community," said Mitchell, an Army special ops combat veteran who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for actions in Afghanistan in 2001.

"While they don't reflect the true nature of an SOF professional, such incidents erode morale and the confidence of our partners and elected representatives," he said. "I can assure you that these incidents have our full attention."

The hearing was called to review SOCOM's fiscal 2020 budget request of $13.8 billion, an increase of about 2% over the previous year.

According to a Congressional Research Service analysis, the $13.8 billion represents a $381 million increase over the fiscal 2019 SOCOM budget.

The $13.8 billion includes $9.6 billion for the baseline budget and another $4.2 billion from the Defense Department's Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, funding, the so-called "war budget" that does not count against spending caps of the Budget Control Act 0f 2011.

Both Clarke and Mitchell said the budget request would aid in SOCOM's ongoing transformation under the National Defense Strategy from counter-terror operations to more focus on deterring near-peer competitors such as China and Russia.

During his confirmation hearing in December, Clarke told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "while violent extremism persists, challenging regional stability and threatening our interest, near-peer competitors grow in both capability and intent to contest our vital national interest."

Clarke succeeded Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas III, who retired last month after completing a 90-day review of misconduct and ethical challenges facing SOCOM.

Under questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, Clarke pledged to share with Congress the findings and recommendations of the review.

Clarke, 56, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, came to SOCOM from his previous post as director for strategic plans and policy, Joint Staff, at the Pentagon.

In his career, he has commanded five different divisions, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 75th Ranger Regiment in Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan and stateside, according to his official biography.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct Clarke's military awards.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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