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Senate panel tells DOD to end the hunt for extremism in the ranks

The Senate Armed Services Committee says it’s time for the Defense Department to shut down its highly publicized effort to identify extremism in the ranks, after millions of man-hours of work determined that only about 100 cases exist throughout the U.S. Armed Forces.

The committee sent this message to the Pentagon in a report accompanying its fiscal year 2023 defense policy bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That report noted officials have spent more than 5 million hours talking to enlisted service members about extremism, an effort that the committee believes is out of line given the relatively small size of the problem.

“The committee believes that when extremist activity does in fact occur that it must be dealt with swiftly and appropriately; however, the case incident rate does not warrant a Department-wide effort on the issue,” the committee report said on page 232.

“[T]he committee believes that spending additional time and resources to combat exceptionally rare instances of extremism in the military is an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, and should be discontinued by the Department of Defense immediately,” it said.

The committee added that spending so much time on the matter had a detrimental effect on those who serve. “The committee believes that the vast majority of servicemembers serve with honor and distinction, and that the narrative surrounding systemic extremism in the military besmirches the men and women in uniform,” it said.

The report language is remarkable because it is the product of a committee on which Democrats set the agenda. The report language indicates that the committee voted 14-12 in favor of including the language, and that Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine, voted with every Republican to include it, while every Democrat voted against it.

Had King voted with Democrats as he usually does, the 13-13 tie would not have been enough to include the language in the report.

Because the language is in the report that accompanies the bill, it does not have the force of law and is only a recommendation from the Senate Armed Services Committee. Still, it’s a sign that pressure is building on the Pentagon to abandon the controversial stance it has taken on the risk of extremism among enlisted Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.

The Biden administration announced its effort in the weeks that followed the January 6, 2021 protest at the U.S. Capitol that turned violent. Participation by some veterans led to fears about, in the words of the committee, “perceived extremism within the ranks of the military.”

The Senate version of the NDAA was released days after the House passed its own language that authorized funding for additional Navy ships and put limits on the Navy’s ability to decommission ships too quickly.

The Senate bill is similar to the House bill in that it authorizes more defense funding than the Biden administration was seeking – the House bill authorizes $839 billion in spending, the Senate bill tops that at $846 billion, and both are larger than the administration’s request of $802 billion.

The Senate bill would require a minimum of 31 amphibious ships for U.S. Marines, creates a Navy end strength of 354,000 Sailors, and allows for multiyear contracts for destroyers, oilers and other ships, according to a committee summary.

The Senate NDAA calls for building eight battle force ships in FY 2023 that the Biden administration requested: Two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two Virginia-class submarines, one Constellation-class frigate, one San Antonio-class amphibious ship, one John Lewis-class oiler and one Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ship.

But the Senate bill gets even more aggressive when it comes to the Navy’s push to decommission 24 ships in the coming fiscal year. The final House bill blocks the Navy from decommissioning five Littoral Combat Ships, and the Senate bill goes further by preventing the Navy from mothballing the five LCS ships, plus four dock landing ships, two expeditionary transfer docks and one cruiser.

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