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U.S. Special Ops Command South Presses for Increased Engagement with Latin American Partners

U.S. Special Ops Command South Presses for Increased Engagement with Latin American Partners

By Dialogo
February 01, 2013

Despite dwindling resources and a U.S. defense focus on the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, the commander of Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) is committed to not only maintaining, but increasing engagements in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Regular, sustained engagement is key to SOCSOUTH’s core mission: building partner capacity so regional nations can address their own challenges, Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland told American Forces Press Service while in Washington D.C. for an annual Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition.

“On any given day, I have over 300 people deployed downrange to Central and South America, including members of every service’s special operations force and their civil affairs and military information support teams,” he said. “SOCSOUTH is engaged 365 [days a year], 24/7.”

A Green Beret who has served most of his career within Latin America, Mulholland said he’s convinced that persistent engagement establishes a level of credibility and trust simply not possible through traditional training and exercise programs. “Building partner capacity is planting seeds” that require nurturing over time, he said.

“It’s really not rocket science. It’s about personal relationships and what we do as we build partner capacity,” he said. “It is always letting your partners know that you are there, inside their country, helping them out — whether it is one guy or 50 guys and gals. It is all about contact.”

Since assuming command in October, Mulholland has made a concerted effort to promote these contacts, all governed by the host nation’s requests, in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy country team and at the direction of U.S. Southern Command.

“We don’t do anything [the host nation] doesn’t ask for. And we don’t do anything the embassy hasn’t approved that we do,” he explained. “There is nothing spooky or under-the-table about what we do. It is all above-board, and it is all about building partner capacity.”

That capacity is vital to stemming the challenges in the region: drug traffickers and other transnational criminals and terrorist elements seeking footholds in ungoverned spaces, among them. These groups use these areas to flow drugs and other illicit shipments through Central America and Mexico and, ultimately, to the United States.

“The best way to go after a threat is to have that partner nation develop a security capacity and diminish that threat,” Mulholland said. “I can affect this bridge coming up north through Mexico to the United States. I can do that by helping build partner capacity with [host nation] units that are actually going to go out there and do something about it. And that is happening.”

Mulholland cited Colombia as the shining example of what capacity building can achieve.

Today, thanks to strong Colombian leadership and persistent U.S. support and engagement, Colombia has capable, highly respected security forces. In addition to securing their own country, they are now training other regional militaries.

“They have become exporters of [force integration training],” Mulholland said, taking what they have learned and sharing it with their neighbors. “This is Latins training Latins, and that is a beautiful story,” Mulholland said. “It’s poetry.”

Other success stories can be found in Brazil, which has long stood as a strong example in the region, and increasingly in Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador.

SOCSOUTH’s special operators help partner military and police forces improve their counterdrug capabilities, then embed with them to help them plan and conduct actual missions.

This forms a bond simply not possible through traditional schoolhouse training and short-duration exercises, he said.

“We are practitioners, not visitors. … This deepens our commitment to them, and they know it,” Mulholland said. “They know we are there for them, so I think it builds partnership capacity faster.”

It’s a formula that’s been tested and proven over time, even while wartime
requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan tapped some of SOCSOUTH’s personnel
and equipment.

Now, as defense budgets get tightened, he said he’ll do everything he can to increase engagement in the region. That, Mulholland recognized, is likely to require scrapping the “nice to have” activities and concentrating on what’s essential.

It is a national duty for the American Continent countries to understand with an open mind the United States Government’s concerns and availability, through the South Command, to enlighten the common threats and contribute to prepare the friend countries against adverse movements and forces which act to profit from drug trafficking, cyber wars, asymmetric wars. The politicians and rulers are the ones responsible to create proper conditions for defense forces and public security, to guarantee a sanity human environment in their countries, which are threatened by the traditions decay, corruption, democracy erosion, and the lamentable development of materialists and Hedonists societies. Besides that, creating of an educational preparation and building up useful national citizenships, important for the development and social peace throughout the American Nations.
Ney de Araripe Sucupira – Public Relations Director - Graduates Association of the Escola Superior de Guerra (Superior School of War) - ESG - São Paulo, Brazil Very good article. I am a security consultant and advisor. Ct(R) Fabio Garzon Fiscos. I would like to be able to reach General Sean Mulholland. Thank you