Navy SEALs to Shift from Counterterrorism to Global Threats

Ten years after finding and killing Osama Bin Laden, the US Navy’s SEALs are undergoing a major transition to improve their leadership and expand their commando capabilities to better combat threats from world powers like China and Russia.

The new plan reduces the number of SEAL platoons by up to 30% and increases their size to make teams more lethal and capable of countering sophisticated sea and submarine opponents. And there will be a new intensive screening process for elite navy warriors, to get better leaders after scandals that rocked the force and involved murder, sexual assault and drug abuse charges. drug.


Rear Admiral Hugh Howard, Commander-in-Chief of the SEALs, laid out his plans in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. He said the Navy’s special operations forces have focused on counterterrorism operations but now must begin to evolve beyond those missions. Over the past two decades, many of them have fought in the deserts of Iraq and in the mountains of Afghanistan. Now they are focusing on getting back to sea.

The move reflects the Pentagon’s broader strategy of prioritizing China and Russia, which are rapidly expanding their armies and trying to expand their influence around the world. U.S. defense leaders believe that two decades of war on militants and extremists have depleted resources, causing the United States to lose ground to Moscow and Beijing.

Counterterrorism has had its benefits, allowing SEALs to hone their skills in developing intelligence networks and finding and hitting targets, said Howard, who heads Naval Special Warfare Command, which includes SEALs and special combat crew men. “A lot of these things are transferable, but now we have to push ourselves to act against threats from our peers.”

As a result, Howard adds personnel to SEAL platoons to enhance cyber and electronic warfare capabilities and unmanned systems, honing their skills to gather intelligence and deceive and defeat the enemy.

“We are pressing ourselves to evolve and understand our capability gaps and what our true ability to survive in the face of these threats” posed by global competitors is, he said.

Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, said the goal was to better integrate SEALs into Navy missions at sea.

“As the Navy’s Special Warfare community increasingly returns to its maritime roots, their increased integration into the entire fleet – above, under and at sea – will unequivocally strengthen our unique maritime capabilities. to help us compete and win against any opponent, ”Gilday said in a statement to the AP.

Increasing the size of SEAL platoons will add high-tech capabilities. And the reduction in the number of units will allow Howard to rid the force of toxic leaders and be more selective in choosing commanders. This decision is a direct result of the character erosion that Navy officials have seen within the force.


In recent years, SEALs have been involved in a number of high profile scandals. One of the best known was the arrest of Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher on war crimes charges, including the murder of a captive Islamic State activist and attempted murder during the shooting of civilians while deployed to Iraq in 2017.

Gallagher was acquitted of all but one count, posing in photos with the captive dead. A jury recommended that his rank be reduced, reducing his pension and benefits as he was about to retire. But President Donald Trump intervened and ordered that Gallagher be allowed to retire without losing his SEAL status.

Most recently, a squad of Team SEAL was pulled from Iraq in 2019 amid allegations of sexual assault. Members of the SEAL 10 team have been implicated in cocaine use and tampering with drug tests. And Navy SEAL Adam Matthews was sentenced to one year in military prison for his role in the 2017 hazing death of an Army Green Beret in Africa.

Navy chiefs were also angered when the Navy SEALs broke with their “low-profile professional” ethics, announcing their participation in the raid on Pakistan that killed Bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader responsible for the plot of the 11th attacks. September. Two SEALs wrote books on the mission, prompting a rebuke from then-Special Naval Warfare Commander Rear Admiral Brian Losey.

“A core part of our philosophy is that ‘I don’t advertise the nature of my work and I don’t seek recognition for my actions,'” he said.

Since taking office last September, Howard has reached out to the Army and Marine Corps for ideas on how to better screen his commando forces and assess them as they progress through the ranks. Almost immediately he instituted a “double-blind” process for interviewing candidates that was used by the military, so that neither side was swayed by actually seeing the other.


In addition, it intensifies the selection process with more psychological assessments to assess personality traits. And it expands on other assessments made by subordinates and peers of candidates to review. The increased control, Howard said, will extend to all levels and help leaders better understand the character of each member of the service. The process, he said, will provide more feedback to individuals so they can improve and also help senior leaders match commanders with the right teams.

In some cases, Howard said, sailors who had already undergone the initial SEAL screening had to do it again as part of the new process. Not all so well the second time around.

“We have learned that some of the officers who have scored in the midrange are officers who I think would have scored much higher,” he said.

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