Clinton Calls for New Partnership Between Special Operations Forces and Diplomats
A day after Special Operations Commander Adm. William McRaven touted the importance of military information campaigns overseas, Clinton revealed that a new inter-agency communications unit that includes special operations forces recently hacked into websites launched in Yemen on which al-Qaida had bragged about killing Americans and tried to recruit supporters.
“Within 48 hours, our team plastered the same sites with altered versions of the ads that showed the toll al-Qaida attacks have taken on the Yemeni people,” Clinton said. “We can tell our efforts are starting to have an impact because extremists are publicly venting their frustration and asking supporters not to believe everything they read on the internet.”
The new communications center, which is housed at the State Department, includes a team of tech-savvy specialists fluent in Urdu, Arabic and Somali. They patrol the Internet and use social media to expose “al-Qaida's contradictions and abuses, including its continuing brutal attacks on Muslim civilians,” Clinton said.
Such international and inter-agency partnerships were the focus of Clinton's remarks at a May 23 gala dinner during the annual conference hosted by Special Operations Command and the National Defense Industrial Association. The secretary's appearance is yet another endorsement by the Obama administration of the role of U.S. special operations in national security.
Clinton said that SOCOM's fame is warranted and joked about McRaven's recent appearance at the White House correspondents' dinner. She reminisced to applause about the killing of Osama bin Laden a year ago by Navy SEALs, commended international partners for their efforts and outlined ways in which diplomats and special operators could combat terrorism around the world.
“Extremist networks squeezed in one country, migrate to others. Terrorist propaganda from a cell in Yemen can incite attacks as far away as Detroit or Delhi. A flu in Macao can become an epidemic in Miami,” Clinton said. “Technology and globalization have made our countries and communities interdependent and interconnected. And today’s threats have become so complex, fast-moving and cross-cutting that no one nation can hope to solve them alone.”
Under an agreement finalized this year, State and Defense will double the number of military and foreign service officers that they exchange. The secretary noted that one of her department's senior officers has joined McRaven's staff in Tampa. The work of diplomats has obvious parallels to what Clinton called the “quiet work” of special operations forces.
The State Department each year trains about 7,000 police, prosecutors and counterterrorism officials from more than 60 countries, including “front-line states” such as Yemen and Pakistan. The department is stepping up efforts in terrorist recruiting hotspots such as villages, prisons and schools, trying to create jobs, promote religious tolerance and broadcast the stories of terrorism victims. These efforts fit nicely with special operations efforts to train elite troops in places such as the Philippines, Lebanon and Afghanistan, Clinton said.“We’ve learned that to truly defeat a terror network, we need to attack its finances, recruitment and safe havens,” Clinton said. “We need to take on its ideology and diminish its appeal. And we need effective international partners in government and civil society who can extend this effort to all the places where terrorists hide and plot their attacks.”
Another new State Department bureau is working with special operators in Central Africa to pursue Joseph Kony and his guerrilla Army, Clinton said. Their efforts have encouraged defections from the Lord's Resistance Army, she said. A few weeks ago, State Department civilians and military special operators helped one community establish its own radio station that broadcasts “come home” messages to fighters.
“This mission isn’t finished yet, but you can begin to see the potential when soldiers and diplomats live in the same camps and eat the same [rations],” Clinton said.
As al-Qaida becomes more decentralized, the State Department and military must help build an international counterterrorism network that collaborates with local governments and communities in vulnerable areas, the secretary said.
“And so we need special operations forces who are as comfortable drinking tea with tribal leaders as raiding a terrorist compound,” Clinton said. “We also need diplomats and development experts who are up to the job of being your partners.”