During three days of presentations, open and sincere discussions of each country’s situation, and sessions to pave the way ahead, representatives from 11 countries in the Americas came together at the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) for a Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) on Information Operations (IO).
SOUTHCOM co-hosted the second IO SMEE from April 16-18, following the positive outcome of the first one held last year in Miami between Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Panama and the United States. But this year, in addition to having twice as many countries in attendance, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) joined SOUTHCOM as co-host, bringing with them the expertise of Canadian and Mexican participants that share the same threats and interest of making the entire American continent a safer region for all.
The opportunity allowed military representatives from Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, El Salvador and the United States, all of whom are involved in building, strengthening and/or reinforcing IO capabilities in their countries’ forces, to openly discuss their specific situations, as well as their strengths and weaknesses to establish courses of action and collaboration opportunities to benefit each one individually as much as the entire region in the short, medium and long term.
Austin Branch, Senior Director of IO at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy was also present at the conference. He urged participants to take advantage of the “real opportunity at hand for collaboration and work in unison that the event provided, but more specifically, to draw from the experiences that each particular country has to offer. “Don’t just sit back and talk about it,” he recommended. “Figure out what needs to be done, prioritize, and do them.”
The most senior IO representative in the United States also highlighted Colombia as a regional pioneer in mastering the use of the Internet and social media to have one unanimous voice, specifically against transnational organized crime. “The Internet is a vast space,” he said, “and we ought to take some of it back from our adversaries.”
For his part, Colombian Army Colonel Wilson F. Torres Pardo, Deputy Chief of Integral Action, as their IO initiative is called, discussed the whole of government approach Colombia has taken in this domain, resorting very actively to Twitter, Facebook, web pages and blogs to prevent rival attacks with the help of citizen participation, as well as to establish a positive relationship with the civil society through various public health, education and family campaigns throughout the country. “Because of our unique experience,” said Col. Torres Pardo, “we’ve learned that our operations must adapt to the changes that our adversaries undergo.”
The Colombian delegation also took the opportunity to highlight the Colombian Army’s International Missions and Integral Action School, where IO doctrine is imparted along with those of Strategic Communications and Public Relations, among others, and offered that capability to their counterparts attending the SMEE.
More than anything, the conference offered a venue for each attending country to learn the way other partner nations tackle and respond to common threats that affect them all in very similar ways, including organized crime and its ramifications; illegal trafficking of drugs, weapons and others; gangs; and drug trafficking. It offered unique lessons learned and experiences from each participant nation that, according to Honduran Army Colonel Francisco I. Alvarez Urbina, from the operations and training department, made the event “the best conference” he had attended in his 27 years of service.
Meanwhile, his colleague, Lt. Col. Willy J. Oseguera Rodas, director of operations and training at the Honduran Army’s Joint Force Headquarters, agreed with his Belizean counterpart, Lt. Col. Louis E. Sutherland, Commanding Officer of the Belize Defence Force Support & Services Battalion, in that “these events are always good to share ideas and see what other countries are doing and how they carry out their operations.”
In spite of the different terminologies that each country’s military and public security force gives its information operations, and the internal organization of each, the objective is the same: to involve the civil society in their actions, gain its trust and willingness to participate jointly in countering illegal activities; and unify efforts nationally, as well as across the region to have one unanimous voice against the actors of these.