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Defense secretary partially reverses Trump-era order on special operations chief

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin realigned U.S. Special Operations Command and its responsibility for reporting to his office, partially reversing a Trump-era decision to raise the command to that of the other U.S. military branches. Pictured, U.S. Army Special Operations troops practice jumping from a C-130 cargo plane. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin realigned U.S. Special Operations Command and its responsibility for reporting to his office, partially reversing a Trump-era decision to raise the command to that of the other U.S. military branches. Pictured, U.S. Army Special Operations troops practice jumping from a C-130 cargo plane. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

May 5 (UPI) -- A bureaucratic Pentagon change, authorized on Wednesday, partially reverses an order last year to place the civilian chief of special operations at the same level as a military service secretary, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a memo.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict will continue to report the Secretary of Defense for specific missions and other items, but will resume reporting to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy -- as the position was defined before last November.

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The ASD(SO/LIC), as the Pentagon phrases the officeholder, was moved in November 2020 to report directly to then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

The adjustment to the Defense Department's hierarchy was meant to increase civilian authority of the military's special operations forces and improve communications between the defense secretary and the Washington leadership of special operations forces.

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The change came three years after Congress had mandated it, following years of review, but garnered some controversy when Miller made the move.

Austin's action on Wednesday partially reverses that order, with the special operations chief again reporting to the under secretary, but keeping some of the duties of the command reporting to Secretary of Defense.

The partial realignment can be seen as a continuation of military policy changes undertaken by the administration of President Joe Biden to reverse those of former president Donald Trump.

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"The change ensures that Special Operations policy is fully integrated into all aspects of the Department's policies," a Defense Department statement on Wednesday said.

The Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, was established in 1980 as a unified combatant command charged with overseeing the various special operations component commands of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

Its scope and budget have increased significantly since Sept. 11, 2001, and analysts have suggested that critical decisions within the agency should be made with civilian oversight.

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With additional independence, the special operations position will have a role similar to that of a deputy secretary in internal matters such as sexual assault and increasing diversity, but will report to the Defense Department chief of policy on broader matters such as counterterrorism and irregular warfare.

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