Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Special Forces Can Rescue the U.S. Pivot: A plan to open elite military training centers in Asia could be a rare bright spot in an era of U.S. defense cuts.

Does the Pivot need rescuing?  But note the controversy:
Congress is an equally daunting impediment to Adm. McRaven's dreams of a global special forces network. The core of his plan is to establish partner-led coordination centers in Latin America and Asia that are similar to NATO's in Europe. Congress, however, has rejected SOCOM's request for $14.7 million to begin building a regional center pilot program, despite interest in Asia and Latin America.
I have been somewhat critical of this concept not necessarily because of the concepts itself but because it has apparently been difficult to explain in the media and to Congress (as evidenced by the Congressional action above).  I frankly do not think that Michael Auslin helps here because not only does the sensational headline put people off but this unsupported and un-provable concluding assumption does as well:
A global special forces network will not by itself solve the world's security problems, of course. But Adm. McRaven and his strategists believe, with reason, that such a network can materially improve the quality of allied special operations forces around the globe. That, in turn, will serve to protect the U.S. homeland threatened by interlinked, international webs of terrorist financing and drug running.
The hubris in the title and in the concluding statement are unhelpful to SOF.  In some ways this could undercut the legitimacy of SOF because  I think that there are countries that will be put off with the idea that receiving training from US SOF will "in turn, serve to protect the US homeland."  Yes, every military engagement and operation has to be to support US national security interests and objectives first and foremost and we should never hide that fact.  However, there are those that would rather receive training because it is of mutual benefit and would rather not have it advertised in the media that such training is to support the defense of the US homeland.  Furthermore the emphasis only on terrorist financing and drug running as well as counter-proliferation of WMD as stated elsewhere in the OpEd is too narrow a focus for SOF (though in Michael's defense he could not describe the full range of SOF missions and objectives and the editor probably cut most of them out and only went with sexy missions that support the thesis of the OpEd).

But most importantly.  I also think that if you removed the phrases “Global SOF Network” and “Regional SOF Coordination Centers” and just described in plain language the work that is being done by SOF to train, advise, and assist friends, partners, and allies in support of the Geographic Combatant Commanders' theater campaign plans and Country Teams'  mission strategic plans you would be describing the traditional work of Special Forces which most people (in the GCCs, Country teams and in Congress as well as host nations) should understand and for which there might  be little to no controversy.  The so-called "network" would exist "naturally" as SOF provides bridging capabilities that link the Geographic Combatant Commanders and Chiefs of Mission with various indigenous elements (regular, special, irregular  or paramilitary forces) throughout countries and regions as well as assist in providing situational understanding of various conditions, capabilities, potential conflicts, and actual conflicts through their normal engagement activities that can help adjust, adapt, and shape current and future GCC theater campaign plans and the Chiefs of Mission mission strategic plans.  The GSN and RSCC's are nice attempts to codify traditional SOF work but instead they have become lightening rods for controversy as everyone has their own idea of what they mean and intend to do.

Special Forces Can Rescue the U.S. Pivot
An plan to open elite military training centers in Asia could be a rare bright spot in an era of U.S. defense cuts.
The disconnect between U.S. defense cuts and President Obama's strategic pivot toward Asia has raised doubts about whether the policy can live up to its billing. Amid this uncertainty, however, one part of the military is eager to expand its footprint in Asia and make the pivot real, at a relatively low cost – if only Congress would loosen its purse strings.

Admiral William McRaven is the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) here in Tampa, Florida. For the past several years, some of his top officers have been creating a plan to use America's special operations forces to radically transform Asia's security environment. The goal is to help America's elite warriors better train Asian militaries and special forces to counter threats such as narcotrafficking and terrorism. In the process, Adm. McRaven says, such training could bring Asian nations together to reduce the risk of future conflict.

When most people think of U.S. special operations forces, they think of Navy SEALs taking out Osama Bin Laden or the Army Delta Force kicking down doors and rescuing hostages. This is what SOCOM calls "direct action." Yet the bread-and-butter of special operations work is the long-term "indirect action" of training foreign military forces and sharing information. While there will always be a need for special forces' ability to execute high-risk missions, their partnering with foreign militaries often pays a higher dividend over time.

These special forces partnerships are usually planned on a country-by-country basis, with little coordination across missions. The exception—and the model for Adm. McRaven's plans for Asia—is NATO's special operations forces headquarters in Belgium, which began as a coordination center in 2006 and now trains forces from 26 NATO nations. Centralized cooperation there has led to a dramatic increase in the number of European special operations force missions conducted with and without help from U.S. soldiers.

Now Adm. McRaven wants to establish a "Global Special Operations Forces Network" of similar training centers for allies in Asia and elsewhere. By standardizing and expanding U.S. allies' special operations training, Adm. McRaven says that this network could reduce the number of doors American SEALs have to kick down themselves. Instead, better-prepared Philippine or South Korean forces could pick up the slack.
(Continue at the link below)

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