U.S. Special Operations Command South, a SOUTHCOM component, works to find and counter threats to the Western Hemisphere.
Diálogo spoke with U.S. Army Brigadier General Antonio Fletcher, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), which leads all special operations forces in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Diálogo: What is SOCSOUTH’s mission and how does it fit into broader U.S. security cooperation efforts in the region?
U.S. Army Brigadier General Antonio Fletcher, commander of Special Operations Command South: First, let me say how thrilled I am to have the opportunity to take command of Special Operations Command South. As a long time 7th Special Forces Group soldier with numerous deployments to our partner nations, to lead this organization is truly a special experience. I was previously at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) as director of Plans and Policy (J5), so I had some time to think about and formulate what I would pursue as a mission, what my priorities are, and how I would fit SOCSOUTH into SOUTHCOM’s strategy to meet some specific challenges in the Western Hemisphere.
Our mission at SOCSOUTH is to find and fix threats and enable our interagency partners and partner nations to counter threats to U.S. interests and maintain regional stability. We bring unique capabilities to assist SOUTHCOM with its strategy in the region, and we are constantly engaging with the SOUTHCOM team to ensure our efforts are aligned. We can deploy rapidly, we have organic cultural and language abilities, and we have built positive and enduring relationships with security force leaders throughout the region, especially those involved in counter terrorism operations. These relationships are vital to our success and simply cannot be built at a time of crisis—they must be built beforehand.
Diálogo: What are your priorities for SOCSOUTH for 2019 and beyond?
Brig. Gen. Fletcher: As I mentioned earlier, being director of SOUTHCOM’s J5 before taking command gave me a unique vantage point to develop priorities for the command. My priorities are: countering threat networks, particularly terrorist and insurgent networks; supporting U.S. and partner nation law enforcement agencies’ initiatives to counter transnational criminal organizations; maintaining our readiness to deploy and respond rapidly; and, lastly, proving through our actions that the United States is the best partner to meet today’s security challenges in the region.
Diálogo: How do you expect to foster interoperability and jointness with SOCSOUTH’s/SOUTHCOM’s partner nation militaries in Latin America and the Caribbean?
Brig. Gen. Fletcher: First, I would prefer to say partner nation security forces instead of militaries because some of our valued partner nations have non-military forces, specifically Panama and Costa Rica. So, how do we foster jointness? We do this by highlighting the idea that challenging national security situations are often best solved by a whole of government approach. The whole of government approach is much better at countering threat networks and providing long-term security for citizens, and lays the groundwork for improving prosperity in contested areas because it brings together experts from across the government to solve these problems. This is a much more effective and efficient approach than relying on just a military solution which may eliminate the immediate security threat but leave citizens little future protection and support. The goal is an enduring state of security that will promote prosperity and provide stability for its citizens.
Diálogo: What is the importance of combined special operations forces (SOF) engagements among regional partner nations?
Brig. Gen. Fletcher: SOF engagements benefit the United States and our partner nations in many ways, but I’ll highlight three specific examples. First, as I mentioned previously, we build valuable relationships with security professionals in the region. Second, we share tactical skills and learn from each other. Finally, we continue to build linguistic and cultural skills and develop more in-depth knowledge of the partner nations’ governance.
Diálogo: What do you think are the most important lessons SOCSOUTH SOF personnel can share with their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in the face of transnational organized crime threats?
Brig. Gen. Fletcher: It takes a whole of government approach to disrupt a transnational criminal network. National as well as local level leaders must develop cooperative strategies to confront these threats. One of the most important lessons our SOF personnel can share is that criminal networks threaten citizen security, undermine human rights, cripple the government’s rule of law efforts, and hinder economic development—they undermine our partner nation governments on many different levels. That is why a whole of government approach is necessary to counter these threats.
Diálogo: How do combined events like Fuerzas Comando play a role in sharing that experience and furthering jointness and interoperability with partner nations?
Brig. Gen. Fletcher: Fuerzas Comando is our flagship event of the year, promoting partner nation military-to-military relationships, strengthening ties, increasing expertise among the region’s SOF while promoting regional security. This exercise not only builds trust between each other but challenges everyone in a multinational special operations skills competition. The end result of the exercise is a fraternal community of elite forces who are able to collaborate to support security and stability in the region. Every event is geared toward working as a team in a competitive environment emphasizing jointness and interoperability. This year’s event was held in Panama, and Chile has agreed to host the exercise in 2019.
Diálogo: How can SOCSOUTH support partner nations to develop and increase their capabilities to counter threats?
Brig. Gen. Fletcher: SOCSOUTH has a long history of working with our partners in the region. Our interactions with our partner forces have been very positive and of mutual benefit. Security cooperation is our primary focus; we facilitate our partner nation forces’ training and work side by side to become more interoperable. When our SOF interact with partner nation units, we develop a common understanding of capabilities and training opportunities, we all adhere to the principles of human rights, and rule of law is everything we do. What SOCSOUTH cherishes the most about our international SOF partners is the high level of professionalism and camaraderie.
Diálogo: How do success stories such as Colombia influence your vision to help develop other partner nations’ capabilities?
Brig. Gen. Fletcher: Like many other countries in the region, Colombia is a strategic partner for SOCSOUTH. Colombia’s successes are in great part because the United States has been working with them through their challenging times. SOCSOUTH understands the many successes other countries have had in Latin America. For example, Brazil led MINUSTAH in Haiti and other partner nations led various humanitarian assistance/disaster response and peacekeeping operations throughout the region. SOCSOUTH recognizes the tremendous sacrifices all our partner nations put forth when they contribute to regional security and stability.