The US military is taking the rare step of sending home an elite team of Navy SEALs from Iraq due to “a perceived deterioration of good order and discipline” that caused a military commander to lose “confidence in the team’s ability to accomplish the mission.”
“The commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (in Iraq) ordered the early redeployment of a SEAL Team platoon to San Diego due to a perceived deterioration of good order and discipline within the team during non-operational periods,” US Special Operations Command said in a statement Wednesday.
“The Commander lost confidence in the team’s ability to accomplish the mission,” the statement added.
A US Defense Department official familiar with the situation told CNN that the unusual step of sending the team home was due to allegations regarding the consumption of alcohol during their downtime, which is a violation of general orders issued to troops participating in overseas campaigns.
The official added that there is no evidence the alcohol consumption happened on missions and there is no evidence of drug use.
A fact-finding investigation has been initiated.
Officials told CNN that the alcohol use was uncovered as part of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault by one of the SEALs. Officials said that members of the SEAL platoon were not particularly cooperative in that investigation, raising red flags.
The disciplined service members were members of SEAL Team 7, according to multiple defense officials.
US Special Operations Forces in Iraq have been helping to combat the remnants of ISIS, which continues to operate in the area despite the terror group’s loss of territory.
Special Operations Command said that “commanders have worked to mitigate the operational impact” of sending the SEAL platoon home.
“To mitigate potential impacts of this redeployment, other (Naval Spacial Warfare) personnel are available to complete the assigned operational requirements,” Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence told CNN.
“Naval Special Warfare insists on a culture where ethical adherence is equally important as tactical proficiency. Good order and discipline is critical to the mission — the loss of confidence outweighed potential,” she added.
US Special Operations Command said, “All Department of Defense personnel are expected to uphold proven standards and to comply with laws and regulations. Alleged violations are thoroughly investigated.”
The news comes amid other allegations of misbehavior against Navy SEALs and other Special Operations Forces personnel.
Earlier this month, a military court decided that Navy SEAL team leader Eddie Gallagher, a one-time member of SEAL Team 7, would be demoted in rank and have his pay reduced for posing for a photo with a dead ISIS prisoner while he was serving in Iraq.
New details have also recently come to light regarding an investigation that found that several members of SEAL Team 10 used cocaine last year while they were stationed in Virginia and were subsequently disciplined.
Gen. Richard Clarke, the commander of US Special Operations Command, told Congress in April that “we will hold members of our SOF (special operations forces) enterprise accountable to our ethical , moral, and discipline standards , and preserving the trust America has in its SOF.”
“The overwhelming majority of our teammates continue to serve with honor and distinction as our ethos demands and anything less than 100% is unacceptable. We understand that criminal misconduct erodes the very trust that enables our success,” Clarke said.
Asked about the apparent increase in instances of misbehavior, Special Operations Command’s senior enlisted adviser told reporters that the command had conducted a congressionally mandated review.
“Do we have an issue? No, we have challenges, we have fraying, but are these things systemic? No, after a hard look,” US Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Smith told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
“Is there room for improvement? Is any one ethical breach too much? Yes,” Smith added.