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Military Operations in the Post-Cold War Era
Prepared Remarks of H. Allen Holmes, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, Intelligence in Partnership Conference, Joint Military Intelligence College, Andrews Air Force Base,, Thursday, June 26, 1997

Defense Issues: Volume 12, Number 34-- Military Operations in the Post-Cold War Era Special operations forces must adjust to nontraditional challenges while helping transform U.S. combat capabilities and support structures.


Volume 12, Number 34

Military Operations in the Post-Cold War Era

Prepared remarks by H. Allen Holmes, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, at the Intelligence in Partnership Conference, Joint Military Intelligence College, Andrews Air Force Base, Md., June 26, 1997.

I am honored to be speaking at this gathering of officers representing friends and allies from around the world. ....

This conference occurs as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Cohen-Nunn Amendment to the Goldwater-Nichols Act. The original intent of the Cohen-Nunn legislation was to "take immediate steps to repair a flawed organization structure that leaves SOF [special operations forces] at the mercy of interservice rivalries and a military bureaucracy in which support for special operations runs counter to mainstream thought and careers" -- a pointed and, I'm told, accurate reflection of attitudes back in the SOF dark ages of the '80s. ... In any event, Sens. [William S.] Cohen and [Sam] Nunn and Rep. [Dan] Daniel reorganized and encouraged the revitalization of the special operations capabilities of the Department of Defense.

As a result, today we now have the U.S. Special Operations Command, a unified command dedicated to the preparation of special operations forces for assigned missions around the world. As components of USSOCOM, the Army, Navy and Air Force each have well-established commands for their special operations forces. And the unified theater commands all have special operations commands which are increasingly capable and engaged in pursuing the national security and foreign policy interests of our country.

The Cohen-Nunn Amendment also established my office at the Pentagon as the policy and resource focal point for all special operations and low-intensity conflict activities of the Defense Department. Additionally and most important, we were given a separate defense budget for special operations forces, Major Force Program 11, a major innovation without which I doubt we would be where we are today. Aided by these reforms, enormous improvements in the readiness and capabilities of our special operations forces were made.

Our new secretary of defense, Bill Cohen, is no stranger to the special operations community or its accomplishments. Earlier this month, the secretary joined us in a small ceremony commemorating SO/LIC's [special operations/low-intensity conflict's] 10th anniversary. During the ceremony, the secretary stressed the importance of the daily work of SO/LIC, SOCOM and our special operations forces worldwide, noting recent efforts to safeguard innocent citizens of the U.S. and our allies in Africa, our ongoing efforts to foster peace and stability in Bosnia and our efforts to stem the growing threat to our troops and citizens from terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

We have come a long way in 10 short years: The Department of Defense emerged from the tragic events of the early 1980s to construct an outstanding unconventional warfare capability. We must continue, however, to look ahead and ensure that our forces are prepared for future challenges.

As we approach the 21st century, the United States faces a dynamic and uncertain security environment. We are in a period of strategic opportunity. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the threat of global war has receded. The values that we hold dear -- freedom, democracy and market economics -- are being embraced in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, the changing global economy and proliferation of international information systems continue to transform culture, commerce and global interaction.

Nevertheless, the world remains a highly uncertain place with increasingly complex and dangerous national security threats. We continue to face a variety of regional dangers in Southwest Asia, the Middle East and Northeast Asia. Moreover, as we saw in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia and more recently in places such as Zaire, failed or failing states threaten to create instability, internal conflict and humanitarian crises. In some cases, governments will lose their ability to maintain public order and provide for the needs of their people, creating the conditions for civil unrest, famine, massive flows of migrants across international borders and stimulating aggressive actions by neighboring states. The continuing crisis in Sierra Leone illustrates the point.

Despite reduced superpower tensions and past efforts, freedom and democracy are under attack in the developing world. Achieving a free and peaceful environment will require appropriate action on our part and on the part of our like-minded allies. We as a nation must adhere to a national security strategy of engagement.

The way that we employ our special operations forces and prepare to meet future challenges should be done in the context of the recently completed Quadrennial Defense Review, more familiarly known within the Pentagon as the QDR. The QDR was a comprehensive review of our defense needs through the turn of the century. As part of this review, Secretary Cohen articulated a clear vision for the Defense Department through the year 2015 and provided a blueprint for a strategy-based, balanced and affordable defense program.

The basic tenets of our future defense strategy revolve around three components -- respond, shape and prepare. In order for us to continue to exercise strong leadership in the international community, we must use all dimensions of our capabilities to respond to the full spectrum of contingencies, to shape the international security environment and to prepare now to meet the challenges of an uncertain future.

Our forces must be able to adapt to real-time changes in mission caused by today's dynamic, complex and uncertain security environment. The QDR requirement that we prepare to fight two major theater wars almost simultaneously means that we must be able to transition quickly to fighting a major theater war from a position of substantial global engagement. Support from the intelligence community will be critical to help policy makers, strategic planners and operators prepare for such fluid scenarios. Moreover, because of their special capabilities, forward global presence, regional orientation, language skills and cultural awareness, traditional SOF, civil affairs and psyop [psychological operations] units offer an important capability for facilitating the transition from peacetime engagement to small-scale contingencies to major theater war -- and back again.

One of the most serious dangers to which we must be capable of responding is the possibility that our adversaries use asymmetric means to attack U.S. interests or our citizens. The overwhelming conventional force superiority evident in the U.S. victory in Desert Storm stimulated two reactions from our adversaries. There has been an increased impetus for acquiring weapons of mass destruction by those who believe they are necessary for major power status, independent foreign policies or direct attacks on established U.S. interests. The preferred means for countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has become measures short of war, which often include special operations in a variety of discreet roles.

Where regional or subnational actors are unable to acquire weapons of mass destruction, they are more likely to resort to indirect aggression, using terrorism, subversion or insurgency to pursue their agendas.

Events of the past year, by themselves, provide clear evidence that terrorism remains a fact of life in international politics. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and other radical regimes continue to harbor and nurture terrorist organizations, some with extraordinary international reach. At the same time, new movements (not necessarily sponsored by nation-states), new ideologies and new opportunities for terrorism are emerging in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Africa. And given America's worldwide diplomatic, economic and military interests and commitments, it seems likely that American citizens abroad will continue to be targets.

Access to weapons of mass destruction exacerbates the threat posed by terrorist organizations. As the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack in Tokyo two years ago drove home, we need to prepare for a new face of terrorism -- one that involves the use of chemical or biological weapons.

This administration inherited a well-functioning interagency system for managing terrorist incidents abroad, but its focus was on detecting, preventing and defeating terrorism in the context of a hostage taking, aircraft hijacking and barricade situations. During the last four years, we broadened the work of the interagency and incorporated two new dimensions to our combatting terrorism efforts: a terrorist incident involving weapons of mass destruction and the possibility of a terrorist incident on American soil.

Internationally, our special operations forces have an important role to play because they are most familiar with unconventional strategies and tactics. SOF continue to work closely with host nation forces to help prevent terrorist acts and, when directed, conduct offensive measures to deter and resolve terrorist incidents.

For those of us in the business of combatting terrorism, the most difficult aspect of our war against terrorism is that the front is everywhere. From a tactical perspective, we rely on the intelligence community for timely reporting on the full dimension of the terrorist threat. Such information allows us to establish requisite procedures that better protect our forces and facilitates proper contingency planning. Our goal, of course, is to deter and disrupt the activities of these organizations in order to prevent a terrorist attack.

The intelligence community also provides invaluable support from a strategic perspective, allowing us to gain a fuller understanding of the motives and modes of operations of both state-driven programs and independent, nonstate actors.

Given the trends in technology and communications, we can expect terrorist organizations to increase their sophistication and expand their global reach. Up until several years ago, Americans were under the illusion that terrorism would not happen here. Recent news coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing trials are poignant reminders that we cannot discount the possibility of an attack on U.S. soil.

Within the framework of the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici legislation enacted last year, we are developing a domestic preparedness program in support of state and local authorities, using our existing interagency systems as the foundation. This program consists of three major components: training, access to federal assistance, exercises. Because of the extensive expertise possessed by our military personnel, DoD has taken the lead on a significant portion of the training.

The training piece is designed to provide a basic response capability for first responders for the 120 most populated cities in the event of a terrorist incident involving weapons of mass destruction. In the past two months, we conducted a pilot training program in Denver, which was chosen because of its involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing trial and the Summit of the Eight last week. By the end of this year, we plan to conduct assessments for 27 major U.S. cities and begin training in nine of them.

In order to make existing federal expertise readily available for state and local agencies, DoD is developing inventories and databases; establishing hot lines and help lines; and designing low-cost training packages for wide dissemination through inexpensive media such as the Internet, distance learning, video and CD-ROM.

Finally, we will undergo regular exercises to test our capabilities and evaluate our program and to improve coordination and increase efficiencies -- between crisis and consequence managers, among federal and state and local agencies and among local jurisdictions.

Our laws place clear restrictions on the domestic work of the intelligence agencies. Nevertheless, as the threat of terrorism becomes increasingly transnational and the weapons they possess increasingly dangerous, there will be a growing requirement for us to work in close coordination with and in support of federal, state and local law enforcement entities on this front. Intelligence offers a vital early warning capability that allows us to better respond to the threat of domestic terrorism and in turn protect our citizens at home.

Like terrorism, the international drug trade is becoming an increasingly complex transnational threat. Drug trafficking continues to be an open international sore and a more than $300 billion a year business. Drug cartels today have financial resources that rival those of many nations. They have extended their infrastructure throughout the globe and have proven themselves adept at international-scale clandestine logistics and at undermining legitimate governments through intimidation and corruption.

In Colombia, drug gangs continue to murder and intimidate government officials in a brazen attempt to paralyze the democratic process and cripple the judicial system. Drug trafficking organizations are becoming a grave threat to Mexico. And increasingly, largely as a matter of convenience, the drug traffickers are joining in mutual support with Third World insurgent and terrorist groups.

To counter the scourge of drugs, today's SOF are asked to train host nation counterdrug forces on critical skills required to conduct small unit counterdrug operations in order to detect, monitor and counter the production, trafficking and use of illegal drugs. Clearly our efforts represent a strong response to the immediate problem posed by drug trafficking. At the same time, they help us to solidify relationships with host countries and shape the strategic environment, particularly within this hemisphere.

Most recently, SOF has been instrumental in our work with the Mexican military. With 70 percent of the cocaine coming into the United States through the U.S.-Mexico border, we have also made significant progress in developing cooperative counterdrug programs with the Mexican military. A year and a half ago, we had virtually no contact with the Mexican military. Today, we are helping the Mexican military stand up a number of counterdrug rapid reaction groups with an airmobile capability.

The centerpiece of this program has been the training conducted by the 7th Special Forces Group, who will train nearly 200 rapid reaction group members in this fiscal year alone. Already these rapid reaction groups have conducted innumerable raids on the leadership of the top Mexican drug lords.

Domestically, the military provides a breadth of valuable support to law enforcement agencies -- predominantly in the form of training -- to counter the drug trafficking threat. However, our personnel are powerfully constrained by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which precludes the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity. Likewise, the intelligence agencies are limited in the support that you can provide domestically. Nevertheless, the information that you collect and analyze on international drug trafficking organizations facilitates the interdiction and tracking capabilities of domestic law enforcement.

While we often associate SOF in the context of combatting terrorism and counterdrug missions, too often overlooked is the engagement of special operations forces in nontraditional, humanitarian or peacekeeping missions. With the changing world order, peacetime engagements have dominated our strategic security environment. Consequently, SOF is experiencing an increased operational tempo in pursuit of military and political objectives that shape the international security environment. Our humanitarian demining efforts around the world offer a poignant example of the significant contributions in this area.

The anti-personnel land mine crisis has taken an enormous toll on populations and governments around the world. The failure or inability of a country to address the proliferation of anti-personnel land mines, beyond the obvious personal suffering, denies farmers use of their fields, which stymies the resumption of agricultural production, denies access to markets, reduces public confidence in fledgling governments and creates many other hurdles for a nation trying to heal the wounds of war. So, beyond the injuries inflicted and the medical expenses incurred, mine fields drive whole societies into helpless poverty with no obvious way out.

Humanitarian demining is one of the most fundamental humanitarian missions that the United States -- and special operations forces -- can be involved in and is a high priority for the Clinton administration. The goal of our demining effort is to help countries establish long-term indigenous infrastructures capable of educating the population to protect themselves from land mines, eliminating the hazards posed by land mines and returning mined areas to their previous condition.

The program assists the host country in development of all aspects of mine awareness and mine clearance procedures, with the caveat that no U.S. personnel will clear land mines or enter active minefields. Under the auspices of my office, DoD is pursuing a vital role in humanitarian demining while improving the readiness of U.S. forces through the unique training opportunities and regional access afforded by demining activities.

Special operations forces are the primary U.S. military resource for the training programs. Civil affairs units play a key role in developing indigenous demining entities and helping them to develop sustainable long-term programs. Psyop personnel conduct mine awareness programs which educate populations in affected areas regarding the dangers of land mines, what they look like and what to do if a land mine is located. Special forces units train host country nationals to train others in their country to locate land mines, to mark fields and to destroy the mines strewn indiscriminately on key roads, in villages and in fields.

One of the most heavily mined countries in the world is also a success story. That country is Cambodia, and the program was developed by the U.S. military's Pacific Command in Honolulu. In a quarter century of warfare, the Cambodian civil war has become infamous for its unrestrained violence, with an estimated 1 million deaths resulting from the takeover by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Now out of power, the Khmer Rouge continue to fight sporadically. Both sides in the conflict have resorted to wholesale mining of the countryside to deny territory to their adversaries and to control and terrorize the local populace.

As a result, Cambodia is now riddled with 4 [million] to 6 million land mines. In 1994, we began a humanitarian demining program in Cambodia. Special operations forces trainers have conducted mine awareness, mine clearance and medical and professional training for the Royal Cambodian armed forces and the Cambodian Mine Action Center. Our efforts have helped reduce the rate of mine-related injuries from 300 to 100 a month.

Last year, we began a program in Laos which followed the example set in Cambodia. Over 20 years have passed since the end of the conflict in Laos, yet a significant amount of land is still infested with mines. In concert with the Lao National Steering Committee and the United National Development Program, personnel from the Special Operations Command, Pacific, established a national program whose operation and training assistance are now being expanded.

In Vientiane, mine awareness and clearance elements are assisting the U.N. Development Program in developing community awareness programs for both anti-personnel land mines and unexploded ordnance clearance programs and training schools. This is being followed by the establishment of two regional operations offices with clearance training centers.

To support full implementation of the Dayton accords, we are currently leading an international efforts to begin clearing millions of land mines scattered throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. We provided $3.5 million to help establish the Bosnian Mine Action Center and have pledged a significant additional moneys to continue demining operations this year. The Bosnia Mine Action Center operates under a U.N. mandate, coordinating all mine awareness, data gathering and mine clearance activities. It will eventually become an entity of the Bosnian government.

Through peacetime missions such as humanitarian demining operations, our special operations forces make a tremendous difference in the individual lives of the local populace. In turn, our special operators help to strengthen the goodwill of the United States in the eyes of the world, and serve as invaluable diplomacy multipliers.

These types of missions require close interaction with international organizations that have no allegiance with any particular country. Moreover, our military personnel may find themselves working side by side with forces from other countries that may not be traditional allies of the U.S. As with more conventional military operations, these missions will require timely and reliable information. However, the type of information may be very different. The reporting must be kept unclassified, whether by collecting through open sources or by developing a process for declassification of appropriate information, and the information must be in a form that can be made readily available to all involved in the humanitarian effort at hand.

In the case of humanitarian demining operations, intelligence information was collected through clandestine channels, declassified and widely disseminated. Guided by this information, we were able to help open roads in Mozambique, resume agricultural production in Eritrea and Ethiopia, and direct the flow of Rwandan refugees with minimal injuries.

As we look to the future, it is critical that we maintain a presence and develop relationships in regions that are important to our national interest through close contact with other countries. Because of their regional orientation, language skills, cultural awareness and specialized training, SOF are uniquely positioned to play a large role in these peacetime missions, enhancing the work of conventional forces and diplomatic missions. While we find SOF playing a larger role in shaping the international security environment, our challenge is to maintain an effective military presence throughout the world within a tighter budgetary environment.

Our involvement in combatting terrorism, counterdrugs and humanitarian demining operations are but a sample of the breadth of missions in which SOF have been involved.

Consider for a moment the daunting range and complexity of missions the special operations forces have recently undertaken. In response to crises, SOF recently conducted the following operations:


  • Operation Pacific Haven in support of Kurdish refugees;
  • Noncombatant evacuation operations in Liberia;
  • Recovery operations for Secretary [of Commerce Ron] Brown's accident.

On a daily basis, our special operators are deployed throughout the world, shaping the international strategic environment. I would note that some of these activities started as a response to a crises:


  • Operation Safe Border, to alleviate the ongoing border dispute between Ecuador and Peru;
  • Counternarcotics training in Thailand;
  • Demining operations in Cambodia and the Horn of Africa;
  • Haiti mission -- civil affairs and special forces.

While our military personnel have a lot to offer, we must carefully consider the way in which we employ our forces. Much as we would like, SOF cannot be everywhere. The intelligence community offers a much-needed forecasting capability for CinCs [commanders in chief] and ambassadors as they try to anticipate, plan for potential crises and allocate personnel and resources accordingly.

Like the special operations forces of yesteryear, today's special operators face unusual challenges. Our special operations forces must adjust to the nontraditional challenges we face today and, at the same time, help transform U.S. combat capabilities and support structures to be able to shape the environment and respond effectively in the face of future challenges.

To be prepared to fight and win our nation's wars, to be capable of a range of challenging contingency operations and to be ready to assist our friends and allies in the Third World in establishing a secure, stable environment, we must continuously develop new tactics and equipment that address the new age warfare we will face in the 21st century.

While improved equipment and technology are important, they cannot be a substitute for our forces. Instead, they should enhance the capabilities of our sailors, soldiers and airmen.

We will continue to rely on the intelligence community for the traditional support that they provide -- tactical information, specific to a particular area or operation with a specific near-term goal. In addition, intelligence reporting will remain critical for strategic planning on broad-scope problems such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, drug trafficking and refugee and humanitarian relief.

Pressure on the defense budget will place a premium on our adaptability and our ability and our willingness to both anticipate and accept change. As stated by Secretary Cohen through the Quadrennial Defense Review report, "We must have a globally vigilant intelligence." The years ahead will be a time of testing not only for SOF but also for the intelligence community. I am certain that together we will serve our country above and beyond expectations, well into the next century.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at