Chilean, US Special Forces Strengthen Interoperability

Hundreds of service members took part in combined special operations to consolidate their response to regional threats.
Guillermo Saavedra/Diálogo | 26 March 2019

Capacity Building

Members of the Chilean and U.S. special forces carry out a fictitious urban combat operation in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, as part of combined exercise Northern Star 19. (Photo: Chilean government)

The United States and Chile formed a multinational force to combat a terrorist group whose actions destabilized peace and created insecurity in Latin America. Their units deployed air and land assets to swiftly neutralize the threat and rescue kidnapped service members, while minimizing the impact on the population.

The scenario was one of the simulations carried out as part of exercise Northern Star 19, which, for the third time, gathered units of the Chilean and U.S. special forces on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The exercise took place January 15-30, at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Mississippi.

More than 110 special forces service members from the United States and 54 from Chile took part in Northern Star 2019. Special forces units of Canada, the Netherlands, and Uzbekistan also joined the exercise to form the multinational force.

U.S. troops included personnel from Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) and the U.S. Army’s 3rd and 20th Special Forces Groups. For its part, Chile sent elements from the Army Special Operations Brigade “Lautaro,” special forces units of the Navy and the Marine Corps, and representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (EMCO, in Spanish).  

“The objective of Northern Star 19 was to improve the interoperability and capacity of the U.S. and Chilean special forces units,” U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Andrew Sarria, noncommissioned officer of Southern Cone and Andean Ridge Operations at SOCSOUTH, told Diálogo. “In addition, the [exercise sought to] promote bilateral relations and strengthen bonds of friendship between the two countries to maintain a solid relationship with our strategic partners.”

Standardizing procedures

At Camp Shelby, participants focused on training techniques for the fictitious exercises. The goal was to assess unit capabilities, exchange knowledge, and standardize procedures.

“For example, fast rope drops from helicopters, advanced procedures in convoys, assistance to the injured, location data entry, personnel rescue,” Chilean Army Major Pedro Mayorga, commander of the Special Forces Group, a unit of the Special Operations Brigade “Lautaro,” told Diálogo. “These enable us to note tactic and technique differences between one unit and another and to standardize these aspects.”

Once the multinational force was created, participants received information about the terrorist group and its activities to develop strategies and counter the threat in different areas. Then, participants began their missions on the ground, planning and conducting operations day and night, requiring coordination and synchronization.

Units of the U.S. and Chilean special forces conduct night operations during exercise Northern Star 19. (Photo: Chilean government)

“[Objectives] began to materialize in a fictitious story, which was the setting for the mission,” said Maj. Mayorga. “In this type of mission, the main stressor is a short timeline that implies rapid coordination of all elements to achieve the objective effectively.”  

Participants confronted diverse situations, such as rescuing a kidnapped pilot, collecting sensitive information, and observing long-distance targets. Service members also conducted urban warfare exercises, close combat, and air and tactical operations in small units, among others.

“Some of the main activities of the exercise included a shooting range for long- and short-range weapons, day and night combined assault, joint close combat training, and joint planning,” said Pedro Wasserman, SOCSOUTH’s senior Operations and Intelligence integrator. “We [Chile and the United States] are engaged in constant collaboration through joint and combined training exercises, which gives us the opportunity to achieve the necessary synergy to obtain positive results.”

A powerful tool

Northern Star sprang from the combined exercise Southern Star, which EMCO and SOCSOUTH conduct in Chile since 2007. Partner nations conduct the Northern Star exercise every other year in the United States since 2015.

Both countries benefited from the exchange of experience and knowledge in the operational and logistics fields during the exercise. The use of techniques and capabilities that can transfer to humanitarian operations is “a powerful tool,” said Maj. Mayorga.

“The main gain was the update of procedures,” said the Chilean officer. “For example, information management and interagency work in the United States are important experience for us [in Chile].”

For his part, Sgt. 1st Class Sarria highlighted the evolution of the exercise and Chilean troops’ capabilities to perform and understand new techniques in a limited time. “The Chilean Armed Forces’ professionalism, ability to adapt under stress, and positive attitude during the various phases of the exercise [were remarkable].”

“We managed to consolidate; we’ve been working for many years to reach this level,” said Chilean Army Colonel Ricardo Santander, head of EMCO’s Special Operations Department and general coordinator of Northern Star 19. “We want [this exercise] to grow stronger in the coming years, with the participation of more patrols, troops, and resources.”

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