US Congressional Oversight of UK Special Forces?


this morning I came across this article by Bobby Chesney, who explains how in the new US National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA) is going to increase oversight of ‘Sensitive Military Operations’, basically kill or capture missions by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that occur away from ‘a theatre of major hostilities’. Now, a US Congressional Committee will have greater oversight of such JSOC operations.

S.1036 of the NDAA defines sensitive military operations (SMOs) as:

(1) A lethal operation or capture operation–
(A) conducted by the armed forces outside a declared theater of active armed conflict; or
(B) conducted by a foreign partner in coordination with the armed forces that targets a specific individual or individuals.
(2) An operation conducted by the armed forces outside a declared theater of active armed conflict in self-defense or in defense of foreign partners, including during a cooperative operation.
Whilst greater oversight is probably a good thing, and will probably satisfy some critics of the US counter-terrorism strategy, paragraph 1(b) is really interesting to me. This basically states that a targeted kill or capture operation carried out by a foreign military, but coordinated with the US military will come under the purvue of the congressional committee.
Thus, an American political body will be able to sit and judge military actions of other states where they coordinated with the Americans. Potentially, this could open the door to the US congress judging UK and other NATO and partner country SMOs carried out jointly with the US. Considering the rich history of Special Forces collaboration between the US and the UK, particularly since the Iraq War (see Mark Urban, Task Force Black (Abacus, 2011)), and in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups (a list of known SAS operations is here), this is a development that will no doubt worry partner nations.
American and British soldiers take a tactical pause during a combat patrol in the Sangin District area of Helmand Province April 10 2007. Photo by Spc. Daniel Love, U.S. Army. (USed under US GOV public Domain license)
For example, UK special forces involvement in Libya is not officially happening according to the government. If operations are being carried out jointly with JSOC, as they are in Syria, this could lead to a situation where not only would the US congressional committee be considering US actions linked to UK operations, but also considering UK actions that are officially a secret.
Although the US congressional committee would be a political body, it will be taking a VERY different approach to the UK Court of Appeal in Noor Khan (which was about UK assistance for US drone strikes in Pakistan), where the court held that it could not sit in judgement of the actions of another sovereign state, and the claims of the Khan family were non-justicable.
An MQ-9 Reaper. Photo by US Air Force.
Whilst the Court of Appeal is a legal body, and the Congressional Committee a political one, the fact that a US body is being created that will have the ability to consider the actions of other States within its purvue is a significant change in the approach to combined military operations. I cannot imagine that the UK government, military figures, or indeed the notoriously secretive UK Special Forces will be at all happy about this development. Although, I think it is safe to say that anti-drone campaigners will be.
Until next time!

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