Post-Afghanistan, Special Operations to Shift to Conflict Prevention
The ability to build relationships with partner nations will determine whether this shift from combat to prevention works or not, said Col. Stuart Bradin, chief of the global network operational planning team at the U.S. Special Operations Command.
The command has changed its strategy from training and fighting to operations and prevention. “The reality is that strategically we have to put as much energy and effort in prevention as we do fighting wars,” Bradin said at a Heritage Foundation panel in Washington, D.C.
This cannot be achieved by just visiting host nation headquarters, Bradin said. There needs to be “a persistent presence where you are able to build a relationship with one of our key partners and allies that allows us the ability to help them and help ourselves,” he said.
“A lot of what we do is based on friendship. We’ve known our foreign partners 20 or 30 years. We are personal friends,” he added.
The vision to build a global special operations network sprouted from the January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance document, he said.
To develop its strategy in accordance with the guidance, command officials compiled government and academic reports in order to pinpoint potential hotspots, Bradin said.
“If you take a good hard look at where those friction points might be, then it can lead you to an area where you think you might be utilizing SOF in the future,” he said.
“In today’s environment, when you’re dealing with networks and flatter, faster enemies out there, you’ve got to have something that not only exists, but is more capable so it can respond to those types of threats,” he added.
In order to strengthen relationships with foreign partners, members of the special operations community must be well educated and at least partially bilingual, said Capt. Steve Wisotzki, commanding officer of the Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen centers.
Some special operators will need to be sent to schools outside of the military network — both to U.S. universities and overseas. If these personnel mix with those that they will be living and working with, it will create a more comfortable and credible network, Wisotzki said.
“It’s not going to be a U.S. only show and if our guys know a little bit of the language and can work with foreign SOF allies, it comes back to us more than double. We work with them, we don’t impose or tell them necessarily how to do things and we can respond to what they need,” he added.
Skeptics question how SOCOM will convince partner nations to implement its advice. The answer lies with treating them as equals, said Steven Bucci, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
“You can’t treat the countries like they are little kids. You’ve got to advise and get to know them, or they’re not going to listen,” Bucci said.
“But if you build a relationship ahead of time and prove your worth to them as a friend and a colleague, then when crisis starts they will take your advice and be prepared to deal with the crisis,” he said.
The only downside to this strategy is the fear that policymakers will decide that special operations is the answer to everything, he added. If so, the government may “use them [forces] in ways that will cause them to be thrown into a situation where they are really not the right answer and we get a whole bunch of really highly qualified, highly skilled folks killed.”
The new strategy is “a visionary return to the roots of the community with an acknowledgement of the present-day situation that we are running short of assets,” Bucci said.
“The world is more dangerous than it’s been before with a lot of potential threats out there and SOCOM is offering policymakers ways to address those threats at a very low level with a low footprint in ways that can hopefully defuse those threats before they turn to violence,” he said.