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