Cheney Praises 'Silent Professionals' of Special Operations
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 11, 2005 Praising the warriors he calls "the silent professionals," Vice President Richard B. Cheney culminated International Special Forces Week here June 10, providing closing remarks for U.S. Special Operations Command's annual conference - the first to include international partners in the global war on terror.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney speaks during the closing ceremonies of U.S. Special Operations Command's International Special Forces Week in Tampa, Fla., June 10. Photo by David Bohrer
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
More than 70 nations, including Iraq and Afghanistan, participated in the conference at the Tampa Convention Center.
Cheney noted his longstanding admiration for the work of special operations forces.
"I had my first dealings with special ops while serving in the House of Representatives, when many years ago I visited Fort Bragg (N.C.) and saw a demonstration by Delta (counterterrorism force)," he said.
"Later, as secretary of defense, I saw the skills of our special operations forces in action from Panama to the Persian Gulf. And in my current role, serving with President Bush, I see regular evidence of your unparalleled skill, your ingenuity and your daring. Every single day SOCOM confirms its reputation as a small command that produces big results for the United States of America."
Earlier in the day, the vice president met with SOCOM and U.S. Central Command leaders for an update on various operations. He noted the evident joint service and multinational cooperation in those operations, saying he was "thoroughly impressed by the focus and the professionalism" of U.S. forces and the strong relationships they have built with host nations.
Cheney told the audience that before traveling to the convention center, he had presented several medals to special operations personnel at nearby MacDill Air Force Base.
"I presented the Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a Distinguished Service Cross to special operators from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force," the vice president said. "I consider it a great honor to award these medals -- but even more of an honor to have met the men who have earned them. To hear the citations is to be reminded of the absolute centrality of special operations for the global war on terror, and of the leadership, quick reactions, precision and steadfastness that characterizes these elite, carefully selected warriors."
When the global war on terror began, Cheney recalled, President Bush said it would be a different kind of war. "It may, he said, include dramatic strikes, visible on television, and covert operations, secret even when successful," the vice president said. "Special ops have been vital to answering some of the fundamental challenges of this war -- fighting the enemy on its own turf (and) supplying a model for transformation, not only for our military, but also for coalition partners."
A terror network acquiring weapons of mass destruction "and thereby gaining the power to kill hundreds of thousands, and to blackmail entire nations," poses the biggest threat to civilization today, Cheney said. "In the face of such a danger, free nations must act decisively to defend ourselves against attack, yet we also understand that this war cannot be won on the defensive," he added, and he emphasized the need for multinational cooperation in defeating the terrorist threat.
"We are dealing with a network that has cells in countries all over the world," he said. "Yet bit by bit, by diplomacy, through intelligence cooperation, police work, and the spread of democratic institutions, we are acting to shrink the area in which the terrorists can operate freely."
Nations fighting terror, he said have been enforcing a clear doctrine that "governments that support or harbor terrorists are complicit in the murder of the innocent, and equally guilty of terrorist crimes."
"We gave ultimatums to the brutal regimes led by the Taliban and Saddam Hussein -- and when those regimes defied the demands of the civilized world, we acted to remove them from power and to liberate their people," he said, and much of the credit belongs to special operations forces.
"At every stage of this conflict, we have looked to the special operations forces to carry out the most perilous, most technical, most time-sensitive, and least visible missions," the vice president said. "When you have enemies that are hidden, diffuse, secret in their movements, asymmetrical in their tactics, the only alternative is to find out exactly where they are, and then to go in and get them -- one at a time, if necessary."
In contrast to the conventional Cold War military strategy of massing large forces at borders, today's security environment often requires "small teams of men searching caves, going over mountain peaks and walking along narrow ledges in the pitch-black night," Cheney said. "And for that kind of work, we turn to the 'silent professionals.'"
Noting that special operations forces were "the first boots on the ground" in Afghanistan, Cheney said they overcame extreme obstacles.
"Operating by their wits, their intelligence and their cultural knowledge, they went to the far corners of Afghanistan, built relationships with anti-Taliban forces, engaged enemy holdouts, and designated high-value targets for the bombing campaign," he said. "They also linked the technology of the 21st century with the transportation modes of the ancient world -- riding horseback on wooden saddles, painting targets with lasers, and calling in precision air strikes from hundreds of miles away. In the space of about seven weeks, despite all the obstacles we understood going in, the regime was destroyed and the Afghan people were set free."
Later, in Iraq, he said, special ops teams worked with Kurdish opposition forces to secure the northern front, and they destroyed Scud missile launchers in the west. "Once again, the contributions of special ops were critical to the swift downfall of a regime -- and a strutting dictator went from a palace to a bunker to a spider hole to a prison cell." Special operations forces still are hard at work in Afghanistan and Iraq, Cheney said.
"In the continuing hunt (in Afghanistan) for al Qaeda, we have men working at high altitudes in the mountain range above Kandahar and Jalalabad -- often operating at the upper limits of human endurance -- moving calmly and patiently to deliver justice to the terrorists," he said. "And in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we are helping to train local security forces, so that those nations can eventually take on the responsibility for their own security."
Special operations forces, Cheney said, are demonstrating the value of transforming military forces from the Cold War posture to a new model for facing the threats of the 21st century.
"In Iraq and Afghanistan -- and in other places where the fight against terror is less talked about, but still critical -- such as the Philippines, the Balkans, Colombia, and the Pan Sahel region of Africa -- special ops units have provided a glimpse of the kind of force we want to build for the future," he said. "A military that was designed for the mid-to-late 20th century needs to be a force that is lighter, more adaptable, more agile, and more lethal in action.
"Our country's military is going to build upon traditional advantages such as technological superiority, our ability to project force across great distances and our precision strike capabilities," he continued. "Our transformed military will stress rapid reaction and reward new thinking, breaking down old information stovepipes, and placing greater emphasis on jointness of operations."
The vice president noted that among the Special Forces Week discussions were the ways terrorists and weapons or drug traffickers try to exploit the seams between governments, and how to close up those seams through better communication and joint operations. "This is going to be a critical challenge going forward," he said, "as we move against shadowy enemies in many countries and a variety of environments, from urban areas to jungle to desert."
The multinational audience in Tampa illustrates both the world's diversity and the common interest of the nations represented, the vice president noted. "None of us wants to turn over the future of mankind to tiny groups of fanatics committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale horror," he said. "And so we must direct every resource necessary to defending the peace and freedom of our world, and the safety of the people we serve. That's the commitment of the United States that we've made to ourselves and to other nations. And with good allies at our side, we will see this cause through to victory."
Cheney noted the variety of skills involved in special operations. "It is difficult to put into words the intensity of your training, the hazards of your hardest assignments, and the speed of thought and action that are needed at the tip of the spear," he said. "You are the ones who can go into unfamiliar territory and become part of the environment -- preparing battle spaces, learning languages and cultures, building relationships, and picking up intelligence.
"Special ops are the ones who hunt down, engage, kill and capture enemies," he continued, "yet also set up hospitals, call in humanitarian aid, and help villages to become self-sufficient -- leaving behind you men, women, and children who feel gratitude for your kindness and good will for our country. Special ops, it's been said, play every role from warrior to physician to diplomat to engineer. And at times you have to switch from one role to other in the blink of an eye."
But special operators, he noted, do that work under a blanket of secrecy. "It's also in the nature of your business that the best work goes unrecognized until years after the fact, if ever, and we may never know all the grief that has been spared because of you," he said. "I can only say, with complete certainty, that your efforts are paying off -- and today all of us live in a world made safer by your actions."