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Senate Committee Considers Special Operations Nominee

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2011 – The Senate Armed Services Committee met yesterday to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee for assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict.

Michael R. Sheehan told the committee that if he’s confirmed, he will “make every effort to live up to the … excellence demonstrated by our special operations forces around the world every day.”

Counterterrorism operations can involve cooperating with nations “that have less-developed systems of governance and less-developed judicial systems,” Sheehan said.

Military and intelligence organizations in such countries, he noted, often don’t maintain the same human rights standards as those in the United States.

“I feel that if we're working together with them, we can achieve both our intelligence collection objectives and work to professionalize those services so they work toward moving to the standards of professionalism and human rights that we expect of them,” Sheehan added.

He acknowledged that achieving those objectives require “patience and long work.”

Sheehan also responded to questions on whether Afghan forces are yet capable of conducting night operations without partnered U.S. forces.

Afghan special operations forces have greatly increased their ability to conduct a wide range of operations, Sheehan said, including night operations. Yet, the Afghans can benefit from more training, he added.

U.S. special operations forces’ ability to conduct night operations is a valuable capability in every theater, Sheehan said.

“As we train our local counterparts and give them the technology and expertise to work at night, it also gives them a great advantage,” he added. “The key here is transferring the lead of these night operations to the local special operations forces as they develop their capacity in conjunction with ours.”

U.S. forces in Afghanistan are “moving well in that direction” with partnered Afghan forces, Sheehan said.

“The key, as in all of counterinsurgency operations,” he said, “is shifting that primary burden to the local security forces that then can make that initial interaction in the villages in Afghanistan.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Sheehan will advise the defense secretary on special operations and low-intensity conflict matters. He also will be responsible for overall supervision of special operations and low-intensity conflict policy, resources and activities including counterterrorism, unconventional warfare, direct action, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, civil affairs, information and psychological operations, and counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Sheehan served as an Army infantry and Special Forces officer. He commanded a counterterrorism unit in Panama, was a counterinsurgency advisor in El Salvador, an infantry company commander in Korea, and served on peacekeeping duty in Somalia and Haiti. Also while on active duty, he was assigned to the White House National Security Council staff for former presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

In 1998, he was appointed coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department with the rank of ambassador-at-large. Following an assignment as assistant secretary general at the United Nations in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Sheehan served as deputy commissioner of counterterrorism for the New York City Police Department. Currently, he is president of Lexington Security Group, an international consulting firm.

If confirmed, Sheehan would succeed Michael D. Vickers, who served as assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict from July 23, 2007, to March 17, 2011. Vickers now is the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

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