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As wars wind down, spec ops mission shifts to conflict prevention

Jul. 31, 2013 - 09:13PM   |  
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While special operations forces have been heavily focused on direct action since 9/11, the future of special ops missions will be refocused toward international partnerships to prevent conflict, commanders say.

Under the new strategy, 90 percent of special ops efforts are on avoiding the use of lethal force, according to Capt. Steve Wisotski, commanding officer at the Center for SEAL and SWCC, or Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman.

“We’re not the special ops of the movies,” Wisotski said in a discussion on the special operations sorces community on Monday at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “We’re trying to avoid conflict — that’s where our primary investment is — and it’s a lot harder.”

Special operators’ combination of unique skills have made them ideally suited for combating terrorism and insurgency over the past 10 years.

However, as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan and attempts to refocus its national security objectives, the spec ops community is similarly returning to its emphasis on its “indirect” missions — those that strive to prevent conflict rather than engage in it.

And it’s not going to be a U.S.-only show.

A key aspect is cooperation with other nations and militaries, Wisotski said. On an average day, spec ops troops operate in about 78 countries, working to build partner capacity. According to Wisotski, the SEALs are focusing more on increased collaboration with allies through security force assistance, intelligence sharing and collaboration, and international forums for networking.

“In many of these countries, we are working by, with and through our partner nations,” Wisotski said. “It works.”

It is all part of the United States Special Operations Command 2020 vision to become a globally networked force of special operations forces, services, agencies, allies and partners, able to rapidly address regional contingencies and threats to security. There are four main objectives: win the current fight in Afghanistan, expand the global spec ops partnership, preserve the force and families, and provide responsive resourcing.

SOCOM commander Adm. William H. McRaven, who has encouraged interested nations to send representatives to SOCOM headquarters in Florida, has worked to break down barriers to information-sharing so that international partners can be fully integrated into the SOCOM staff. By January 2013, SOCOM had foreign representation on staff from the United Kingdom, Canada and France, among others.

Many see this as a visionary return to the roots of the spec ops community.

“The world is more dangerous than it was before,” said Steven Bucci, a foreign policy expert at the Heritage Foundation. “This is offering ways to diffuse those threats before they turn to violence — it is a way that will lead to improvement in effectiveness.”

Part of the 2020 vision is the concept that “you can’t surge trust,” meaning spec ops forces need to focus on building trust and maintaining human relationships.

“Killing Osama Bin Laden-type missions, that is such a very small percentage of what we do,” Wisotski said. “Every day our men and women are in many different countries trying to avoid conflict, trying to empower the host nation so that we don’t have to go into any countries and conduct combat operations.”

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