Special Ops ‘Fight’ Persistent Conflicts Around the World, Panelists Say
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2009 About 55,000 members of U.S. Special Operations Command are providing humanitarian aid and training soldiers and police in more than 60 countries, according to their commander Navy Adm. Eric Olson.
"They're building long-term relationships in every country in every region in the world, and we need them there for a long time,” Olson said here yesterday at the 20th Annual Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict symposium. “Special operations forces -- especially Army special operations -- do this better than anyone.”
Olson, and a panel of experts provided insights on special operation activities throughout the world to more than 300 participants at the Feb. 10-12 symposium. While humanitarian efforts are part of their mission, these deployed special operations forces main focus is on deterring America's enemies.
“As I read the papers from around the world, it seems to me that those who would do violence to our republic and other allied democracies … have not lessened in their intensity and their passion,” said Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Lawrence P. Farrell Jr. “It looks like it’s going to be a long, hard fight.”
Although Iraq and Afghanistan dominate the headlines, much of the “fight” is occurring elsewhere, said Farrell, who now serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Naitonal Defense Industrial Association.
In the Middle East, illiteracy among women, population growth and poverty make this part of the world very challenging and somewhat unstable, said Army Lt. Col. Chuck Miller Jr., an operations officer for Special Operations Command Central. These and other factors such as narcotics smuggling and economic instability raise the possibility that this region will be problematic for some time, he added.
Miller described Pakistan, not Iraq or Afghanistan, as the world’s most dangerous place. It’s known as an army with a country, he said, because of the weakness of its central government, and it has nuclear capabilities, Miller said.
“[Pakistan] represents more than just resupply routes for the war in Afghanistan,” he added. “As the only Islamic nuclear power, Pakistan represents one of the world’s most complex environments with which the Western world must deal.”
Poverty and a poor economy in Pakistan pre-date the current global economic crisis, Miller said. Large, ungoverned areas serve as safe havens for militant groups to train and operate along the country’s border with Afghanistan, operating under an umbrella of tribal networks that place value on family and other relationships over anything else.
“They don’t recognize the legitimacy and right of the central government,” Miller said.
Despite the growing insurgency inside its borders, Pakistan continues to view India as its No. 1 threat, and the Pakistani army remains focused on a possible conventional conflict with its neighbor, he said.
The U.S. concern in Pakistan is its border with Afghanistan, Miller said, and special operations forces are using the counterinsurgency approach to train and equip Pakistan’s army.
“Pakistan is working closely with American military and government partners,” Miller said. “An enduring approach, paced out over time [and] measured in patience, is the most appropriate way to engage our partners there.”
Special operators also have been practicing an enduring approach in Asia and the Pacific. Although large conventional forces, nuclear capabilities and economic influence loom with China and North Korea, “the other Operation Enduring Freedom” has been taking place in the southern Philippine Islands for the past seven years, Army Lt. Col. Brian Petit, commander of 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, said.
Islamic and communist insurgencies and ungoverned regions threaten the stability of the island nation, Petit said.
“We don’t see it in the headlines, but this is a very real and lethal fight in the southern Philippines,” he said. “We don’t have American soldiers on the front pages, and we don’t have casualty lists, but the Filipinos do. They are engaged in a very lethal struggle.”
Special Forces troops are providing medical support and military training to their Filipino allies. The U.S. mission there is to build capacity of government forces to better serve and protect their populace, Petit explained.
“With seven years of persistent engagements,” he said, “we have a tremendous partnership with the Filipinos, and their capacity and professionalism is absolutely better as a result of our soft mission down there.”
In Central and South America, “huge steps” have been made with the U.S.-Brazil partnership, as well as in the ongoing relationships with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay, Navy Cmdr. Victor Hyder, an operations officer in Special Operations Command South, said.
Special operators are working to disrupt people, arms and narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and corruption among the police and governments. Paraguay, in particular, has no border security, and although no terrorism threats have been identified, all of these problems are factors that support terrorism, Hyder said.
“There is a true reason for special operation forces in Paraguay,” he said. “All of the networks that a terrorist organization could use are in place in the region.”
But since there is no actual terrorism in Paraguay, Special Forces are working to build the nation’s capacity, as they are doing in Pakistan and the Philippines, and not focusing on combat operations to prevent future terrorism.
“We’re building capacity to help them deal with these problems and to prevent the region from becoming a terrorist threat to the United States,” Hyder said. Much like in the Philippines, “taking the soft approach” and stopping terrorism before it can occur is the most important reason for special operations in Paraguay, he added.