Special operations delegates from 96 nations gathered this week in Tampa, Fla. for a conference that U.S. Special Operations Command hosts every few years.
Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, Socom’s commander, and his counterparts from Australia and Colombia briefed the press on the final day of the international gathering.
The conference “is always a tremendous opportunity for us to get our partners, our allies, our friends from around the globe to come and interact with each other,” McRaven said, adding that this year’s theme was “Building the Global SOF Partnership.”
McRaven was joined by Maj. Gen. Peter Warwick Gilmore, Special Operations Commander Australia, and Brig. Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, commander of the Colombian National Army’s Fifth Division.
At a gala dinner last night, keynote speaker Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton thanked conference attendees for keeping the United States and other nations safe and strong.
“Your service is making the world safer for people to be who they are, to live their lives in peace and harmony,” Clinton said. “That is going to be the challenge of the 21st century.”
Knowing that U.S. Special Operations forces and their partners are at the point of the spear, she added, “I think it’s a pretty good bet that [we will] once and for all recognize our common humanity and stand together against the forces of darkness.”
McRaven said he appreciated Clinton’s remarks about how U.S. special operations and allied special operations partners do business.
“There is always a desire on the part of the media to pick up on those very dynamic news-making operations we do — the raids [and] the hostage rescues,” he said. “But as Secretary Clinton pointed out, McRaven continued, “that’s really less of what we do, than building the partner capacity, establishing relationships, helping other nations — … the softer side of special operations, where we can get ahead of the problem … by dealing with our partners [and] by allowing our partner nations to deal with their own security problems.”
McRaven told reporters it’s been a great week to exchange ideas, along with the tactics, techniques and procedures of different nations’ special operators.
In one capability exercise, he said, 10 different nations were involved “in jumping out of airplanes, fast-roping, doing mock raids, all in an effort to continue to build this partnership.”
The conference also allowed international special operations forces to engage with industry partners, with support from the National Defense Industrial Agency, McRaven added.
Conducting special operations exercises with international partners provides “the opportunity to engage globally and to understand the challenges that exist around the world,” Gilmore said. Participation in such exercises, he added, also gives his troops the chance “to see the different approaches to managing stability and security on a global scale is a really valuable opportunity.”
Rodriguez thanked the U.S. government, and especially U.S. special operations forces, for help in neutralizing the terrorist activities of his nation’s long-time adversary, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC.
“The situation in Colombia is very different [today] because our democracy now has support from the other countries, but especially from the United States,” the brigadier general said.
Terrorism will continue to be a threat into the future, Rodriguez said.
“The only way you can neutralize terrorist action,” he said, “is [by] working together, [cooperating with all countries], integrating our intelligence and working together.”
Taking questions from the press, McRaven and his counterparts discussed a range of topics, including special operations in Afghanistan after 2014 and the mindset of special operations forces.
“We right now have a plan to be in Afghanistan after 2014 in an advise-and-assist role to the Afghans,” the admiral said. “I do not know right now what the size of the U.S. special operations force will be … the details of that are still being worked [between] senior members in our government and the Afghan government and the coalition.”
Special operations forces members are “very proud, and they put a lot of effort into their direct-action capability,” McRaven said. “This is an important capability for any nation, to be able to rescue its citizens, to eliminate threats to a nation, irrespective of the country.”
For that reason, he added, all special operations forces “train to an exceedingly high standard, to do the direct-action piece.”
But most of the time, the admiral said, special operations forces do other kinds of work, sometimes called military assistance or security force assistance or partner-nation capacity building.
For these jobs, special operations forces have a small footprint and consist of what McRaven called “a handful of guys who speak the language, who know the culture, who earn a position to be able to partner with a host nation at their request … working through the U.S. mission, the State Department, and geographic combatant commanders.”
This great capability of special operations forces is important, cost-effective and a great return on the investment, the admiral said, “in allowing the host nation to develop its own capability to deal with its own security problems.”
The point, he said, “is to get ahead of the problem, or as we tend to say, left of the boom.”
The admiral explained, “If this is where things really go bad, what we want to be able to do is engage with the host nation very early on to build up their capability and allow them to deal with the problem, so we don’t get to the point where it goes boom.”
American Forces Press Service
For up-close-and-personal coverage of the exhibition, see our friends at Soldier Systems Daily and ITS Tactical.