U.S. special operators could help Taiwan bolster its defenses against a potential Chinese invasion, the nominee to oversee special operations told lawmakers Thursday.
Christopher Maier, the nominee to be assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. "should be considering strongly" an effort to help Taiwan strengthen its ability to conduct irregular warfare.
"I do think that is something that we should be considering strongly as we think about competition across the span of different capabilities we can apply, [special operations forces] being a key contributor to that," Maier said.
During the hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., floated the idea of special operations forces assisting Taiwan, in a manner similar to how American special forces help Baltic nations strengthen their ability to resist Russian aggression.
Maier said that special operators could help Taiwanese troops hone their skills, and mentioned resistance networks and counteracting potential enemy amphibious landings as examples.
Information operations is a key area where special operators can help conventional forces deter Chinese aggression, he said. Improving how U.S. special forces conduct information operations will be one of his top priorities, he added.
If the Afghanistan government in Kabul falls, Maier said, the U.S.'s ability to gather intelligence and conduct "over-the-horizon" counterterrorism operations would become "immensely more challenging."
The military is looking at options for basing locations outside of Afghanistan, he added, but said a collapse of Afghan security forces would make that much harder.
Maier said he thinks the military will be able to work with regional and local stakeholders to get the job done, "but it's really a spectrum."
"It'll be better if we're closer, and we have more capability that we can apply against the problem," he explained.
When asked whether special operations forces should help maintain relationships with local leaders -- similar to how special forces worked with the Northern Alliance in the early days of the war -- if Kabul were to fall, Maier said he would consider that.
"I think it's fair to say that SOF was first into Afghanistan, and maybe last out, and this is definitely an option that I would look at if confirmed," he said.
Maier added that increasing the diversity in special operations, and ensuring female troops have equipment that fits them, would be some of his top priorities if confirmed.
Opening all jobs in the military to women was the first step, he said, and the military has seen an evolution since then, such as when the Air Force moved to ensure women have body armor and flight suits that fit them.
"This is indicative of the ongoing effort to build both the ability for women to operate on equal footing and having the acceptance and, in many cases, the equipment that's required," Maier said. "We know as we compete globally, we're going to need both genders in the fight. And we're going to need people with other expertise that we might not have had as much of in the force."