WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s nominee to become the next civilian head of the country’s special operations forces gently pushed back against a proposal by Adm. William McRaven — head of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) — in his written responses submitted to lawmakers for his nomination hearing on Oct. 10.
Asked if the head of SOCOM should have greater control over personnel management decisions for the nation’s special operators, Michael Lumpkin said that he would prefer that “additional coordination and study should be done within the Department to fully understand the impact of this proposal” before it be given the green light.
Lumpkin, a former Navy SEAL with operational experience in Latin America and the Middle East, has been nominated to succeed Michael Sheehan as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC).
While the line might not sound like much, the proposed change would for the first time give the SOCOM commander a role in deciding on promotions, assignments, retention, and training of special operations forces.
SOCOM, unlike the other combatant commands, doesn’t actually control troops. Instead, the command is only responsible for the equipping and training of special operators who then deploy under the operational control of the global combatant commanders they are assigned to.
But since assuming his position in 2011, McRaven has made a big push to claim more control over the force, and has launched a controversial campaign he dubbed the “Global SOF Network” which would allow him to coordinate intelligence sharing among his operators once they are assigned to work for a combatant command.
The proposal has met with some pushback from Capitol Hill, with the House Armed Services Committee cutting the $10 million SOCOM request to establish a Washington office in its fiscal year 2014 markup bill. The committee also slashed the $15 million requested to create regional SOF coordination centers in Colombia and Hawaii.
McRaven briefed the global commanders on his Global SOF plan at his Tampa, Fla. headquarters in September — a meeting which a source told Defense News generally went over well with the regional chiefs.
While there’s no indication that Lumpkin would work block McRaven in any significant way, his comments do show that if nominated, his office wouldn’t simply rubber stamp the significant changes McRaven is proposing.
During the hearing, an animated Sen. John McCain — who left the Armed Services committee earlier this year but was taking the place of the ailing Sen. Jim Inhofe — also pressed Lumpkin on Syria. He asked if current US efforts to train Syrian rebels are enough to change the balance of power in the civil war.
Lumpkin responded that “as it sits right now I don’t see a significant balance [of power] changing” between the government and rebels based on American efforts.
In his written responses to questions submitted by Senate staffers before the hearing, Lumpkin also said that he supports “working closely with allies, partners and multilateral institutions” to oust the Syrian dictator Bashir al Assad. He wrote that he’s most concerned about al Qaida-affiliated groups like Jabhat al Nusrah and al Qaeda in Iraq who “are a growing problem inside Syria as the security vacuum caused by the instability has allowed these groups to make modest gains.”
And while Lumpkin said that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) — which has given the president wide authority to use military force to conduct counter-terror operations since it was enacted 2001 — should remain in place, he would prefer that military action be governed under the traditional Title 10 authorities.
Title 10 is “a preferred way to do things when we can. And I think we should strive to make Title 10 the principle method of conducting these operations,” he said.
Some members of Congress pushed to have a debate over the AUMF as part of the fiscal year 2014 budget discussions, and former defense secretary Leon Panetta and CIA chief John Brennan have called for moving away from the AUMF and reverting back to Title 10 authorities.