A congressional review has been ordered into the future of US Special Forces after alleged "non-sanctioned military combat operations in Africa" and unprofessional conduct elsewhere suggests the elite troops are "beyond the ability to handle them".
Policymakers and defence officials "are questioning the future role" of America's elite fighters amid concern that the size of the US Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the scope of their missions have expanded so much that military chiefs are failing to provide adequate oversight.
A document prepared for US political leaders by the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan staff providing support to committees and members of Congress, has highlighted "growing congressional concern with [the] misconduct, ethics and professionalism" of US SOF.
The report states the need for "an introspective look at US SOF's culture, roles and responsibilities" as a precursor to "rein in and reorient" the force away from counter- terrorist operations, towards state-based threats.
The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a 2,500-strong headquarters based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, has overall responsibility for all SOF units. The current commander is General Raymond Thomas, who reports directly to former Marine Corps General Jim Mattis, the Secretary of Defence. Gen Thomas will be replaced in 2019 by Lt Gen Richard Clarke.
The US army, navy, air force and marine corps all have separate SOF elements.
Overall, USSOCOM comprises just over 70,000 personnel.
The most highly trained of all US SOF units is the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. JSOC comprises the elite Delta Force and Seal Team 6, broadly comparable to Britain's SAS and SBS. Seal Team 6 was the unit that conducted the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
The review is due to report by March 2019.