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Commandos’ Behavior Prompts Pentagon Review of Special Operations Culture

WASHINGTON — The head of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command has ordered a wide-ranging review into the culture and ethics of the elite military forces, after several reports of drug use, violence and other misconduct.

The unusual review ordered by the four-star officer, Gen. Richard D. Clarke, and announced Monday by his command, comes amid growing concerns among senior Pentagon officials and top-ranking commanders about misbehavior and criminal offenses by Special Operations forces.

“Recent incidents have called our culture and ethics into question and threaten the trust placed in us,” General Clarke said in a letter to all Special Operations forces. “This trust is paramount and must never be compromised.”

Last month, an entire platoon of Navy SEAL commandos was abruptly removed from Iraq amid reports of an alcohol-fueled Fourth of July party and an accusation that a senior enlisted member had raped a female service member attached to the platoon.

General Clarke said the review, which will conclude this fall, will seek insights from leaders inside and outside the Special Operations ranks. He said the review will also focus on recruitment, grooming leaders and education and training, and how “to address ethical failures when they occur.”

Exactly what will emerge from the review is unclear. This year, the Pentagon completed a congressionally mandated study of Special Operations ethics and cultures. But lawmakers complained it rendered few hard-hitting changes. One result was that General Clarke’s predecessor directed a 90-day “focus period” on core values.

Indeed, the problems plaguing commandos have persisted. A week after the platoon was pulled from Iraq, the leader of the Navy’s Special Operations forces, Rear Adm. Collin P. Green, told his command in a strongly worded letter that “we have a problem” with breakdowns in discipline among members of the Navy SEALs “that must be addressed immediately.”

The withdrawal of the platoon was the latest in a series of black eyes for the SEAL teams.

Two members of the SEALs and two Marines were charged in the death of a Green Beret who was strangled in 2017 during a hazing incident while the commandos were on a secret deployment in Mali, in West Africa. One of the SEALs commandos pleaded guilty and was sentenced in May.

Navy Times reported last month that cocaine use was widespread on SEAL Team 10, based in Virginia, and that members of the team considered the Navy’s drug testing efforts “a joke.”

Accounts of broad drug use among senior enlisted SEALs emerged in the court-martial of Special Operator First Class Edward Gallagher. He was acquitted last month of charges that he had shot unarmed civilians and stabbed a wounded captive to death while leading a platoon in Iraq in 2017, but he was convicted of posing for photographs with the teenage captive’s corpse.

Misconduct allegations have been leveled against other elite forces, as well. Last year, a Green Beret detachment from the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group was withdrawn from Afghanistan after members of the unit were implicated in the abuse of an Afghan prisoner.

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