Pentagon To Probe Middle East, Special Forces Law of War Violations Amid Biden Review

The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General is launching a review of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command to probe the recent record of both in following Pentagon "law of war" requirements, which will include a review of whether CENTCOM and SOCOM violations have been properly reported.

The Inspector General review comes amid a change of command at the Pentagon, with President Joe Biden's new secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, asserting his control over the military with a series of reforms.

The probe will begin this month, and will "determine the extent to which U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) and U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) developed and implemented programs in accordance with DoD Law of War requirements to reduce potential law of war violations when conducting operations," an Inspector General memo explained.

"We will also determine whether potential USCENTCOM and USSOCOM law of war violations were reported and reviewed in accordance with DoD policy," the memo added. If appropriate, the Inspector General may change its objective in the course of the probe.

CENTCOM and SOCOM have borne the brunt of American military action over the past two decades, a period dominated by the open-ended and ever-swelling "War on Terror" and subsequent engagements in the Middle East and South Asia.

CENTCOM, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, is responsible for American operations in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and parts of South Asia. CENTCOM oversaw the 1991 Gulf War, the 2001 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the 2014 Inherent Resolve intervention against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

CENTCOM is currently commanded by General Kenneth McKenzie. Austin led the command under President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2016.

SOCOM has been an important adjunct to CENTCOM operations in recent decades, its special forces troops used for highly sensitive missions against militant leaders across the region, as well as lead units in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Special forces have also served in Syria and Yemen, and have undertaken hostage rescue missions in several nations.

Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, SOCOM is currently led by General Richard Clarke Jr.

Both CENTCOM and SOCOM troops have been accused of war crimes during deployments in the Middle East. CENTCOM, in particular, was mired in such allegations during peaks of activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Most recently, CENTCOM's push to dislodge ISIS fighters from Iraq and Syria involved air and artillery strikes in urban areas like Mosul and Raqqa, which inflicted significant civilian casualties.

A detailed review of how both commands dealt with such incidents could reveal tough truths about America's long-running and unpopular foreign wars. Journalist Marc Ambinder, professor at USC's Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, said the "investigation will take a long time and I suspect the findings will not be a comfortable read."

The review comes as Biden looks to exert his authority on the Pentagon and shape military culture. The president will also have to evaluate whether U.S. forces should remain deployed in foreign hotspots and—if so—in what capacity.

Austin has already ordered a review of military sexual assault prevention programs amid concerns that assault and harassment are too often overlooked or hushed up within the forces. Biden also this week reversed President Donald Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military.

82nd Airborne paratroopers deploy North Carolina
This file photo shows 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers deploying from Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina on January 1, 2020. CAPT. ROBYN HAAKE/US ARMY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty