Special Operations Delegates from 96 Nations Meet in Florida

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2012 — 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.

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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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)