Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, who appeared along with McRaven, told McCain, “We don’t have a very big footprint in the country right now . . . for security reasons, so some of the good programs that we were doing, for example to try to build up their Ministry of Defense, some of the mentoring that we were doing on the civilian side, have stopped dead in their tracks.”
McCain then turned to Mali and asked Chollet if he had confidence that when the French leave, “the situation will not deteriorate back to a situation that basically is the same as before the French intervened?”
Chollet said the United States would work through the United Nations to get peacekeepers there that would train a new African force, but added, “I think we have a shot, but I wouldn’t say that it’s high confidence.”
When McCain said that neither the Africans nor the United Nations had the aircraft to support peacekeepers, another witness, Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations, jumped in.
He said that the U.N. forces would maintain control over Mali’s main cities and that going after members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb would be a job for the French and perhaps the Algerians. He said the United States, which has put surveillance drones and aircraft in the area, could “track down the [al-Qaeda] leadership with much more capable counterterrorism forces.”
Neither mentioned SOCOM, and McCain never asked McRaven about Mali or Libya.
When Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), the subcommittee chairman, asked whether the United States should provide additional support to opposition elements in Syria “that share our views and interests,” McRaven had responded, “Ma’am, I’m not sure there’s much I can add to that in this forum. . . . I’d be more than happy to talk to you in a little bit more detail in the closed session on what we’re doing.”
That’s one problem with SOCOM’s growing role around the world. Its plans are discussed in open hearings, while its actual operations are described only behind closed doors.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage