Extremism 'Has Reared Its Head' in Air Force Special Operations, General Says

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U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jim Slife.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, speaks after taking command of AFSOC during a Change of Command ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 28, 2019 (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Marleah Cabano)

As the U.S. military seeks to identify and root out instances of extremism in the ranks, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command said Thursday that "it has reared its head" in that community.

During a roundtable discussion with reporters during the Air Force Association's virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium, Lt. Gen. Jim Slife said there are currently cases being pursued in AFSOC's ranks that involve extremism.

"This is an issue inside of the Air Force Special Operations Command," he said. "I know it's an issue, because we have ongoing military justice cases to address this."

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Slife's remarks come as the Pentagon tries to address the issue of extremism following the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, which included a disproportionate number of people who have served in the military. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the services to conduct one-day stand-downs to talk about extremism and extremist ideologies, which he has described as "views and conduct that run counter to everything that we believe in, and which can actually tear at the fabric of who we are as an institution."

A Military.com analysis this week found that nearly three dozen people with ties to the military -- many of whom served in the Marines or infantry -- are accused of taking part in the Capitol siege.

During the roundtable, Slife said he is dismayed that some people with extremist views have displayed an affinity for the special operations community.

He declined to describe the kind of extremism cases being pursued within AFSOC, to avoid influencing the decisions of subordinate commanders, courts or panels reviewing them.

"I really, strongly believe in the value of the military justice system, but part of that depends on senior commanders like me trusting subordinate commanders to do their part in the military justice process," Slife said. "So I'm not going to get out in front of any of my wing commanders on how they choose to address the issues that come to light within their organizations."

Slife cautioned that he doesn't think extremism is a widespread problem in AFSOC, though he does not have data showing its extent. But though he sees no signs of a "five-alarm fire," he acknowledged there is a problem in the U.S. military with extremism and said the command is not immune.

And as AFSOC has prepared to carry out the stand-down, Slife said its commanders have recently had conversations about how they can address extremism, how to tell whether they have a problem in their formations and, if so, how bad it is.

AFSOC supports calls to address extremism in the ranks from Austin, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown, and acting Air Force Secretary John Roth, Slife said.

He said he is proud of his commanders for addressing extremism when it has come up. And once AFSOC is able to get a clearer picture of the problem, he believes the command will be able to better take it on.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: SecDef Austin to Troops: If You've Seen Extremism in the Ranks, Tell Your Commander

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