U.S. and Chilean Special Forces Poised for Regional Challenges

More than 150 troops from Chile and the United States participated in an annual combined exercise.
Felipe Lagos/Diálogo | 11 January 2018

International Relations

U.S. and Chilean special forces participated in the Northern Star 17 combined joint exercise at the end of 2017. (Photo: Joint Chiefs of Staff of Chile)

For almost three weeks, the U.S. Gulf Coast took center stage in a special operations training that included hundreds of U.S. and Chilean troops. Special forces from both countries carried out air, land, and sea maneuvers in mock situations.

The Northern Star combined joint exercise improves the capacities of U.S. and Chilean special forces. (Photo: Joint Chiefs of Staff of Chile)

The Northern Star 17 exercise included more than 70 U.S. and 88 Chilean special forces troops. U.S. participation included personnel from Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), Marine Corps Special Operations Command, and the U.S. Army's 7th and 20th Special Forces Groups. Chile attended with troops from the Army, Navy, and Air Force Special Operations Brigade as well as delegates from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (EMCO, in Spanish).

“U.S. and Chilean Special Operations Forces have a long shared history of military cooperation and training,” U.S. Army Colonel Marshall Ecklund, deputy commander of SOCSOUTH told Diálogo. “This annual exchange has become a symbol of the degree of cooperation between U.S. and Chilean Special Operations Forces.”

The exercise—second to happen on U.S. soil—took place from October 18th–November 3rd, 2017, in several training camps, including Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, the National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTR), and NASA’s Stennis Space Center, on the Mississippi coast. Northern Star seeks to increase the interoperability capacities of both countries’ special operations units.

Mutual benefits

“It’s of the utmost importance to know and work with foreign forces,” Chilean Air Force Major Daniel Román told Diálogo. “In their different spheres of action, they all have experiences that can benefit our operations in the operational, logistics and administrative areas.”

During training, troops exchanged tactics, techniques, and procedures. The combined training included planning, communications, reconnaissance, light weapons, urban warfare, hand-to-hand combat, small-unit air and tactical operations, among others.

The Mississippi coast served as the backdrop for Northern Star 17, with simulated exercises on land, sea, and air. (Photo: Joint Chiefs of Staff of Chile)

“Northern Star provides an opportunity to learn and understand potential challenges in the security environment, cultivate a friendly partner network, and increase military interoperability,” SOCSOUTH’s Public Affairs Office told Diálogo. “[It’s] essential to cooperative responses and solutions when confronting common threats.”

Service members participated in a series of mock situations simulating detailed planning as well as application and execution of the mission. “The construct of the joint and combined scenario allows the combined special operations forces elements to integrate unique tactics, techniques, and procedures to neutralize a threat,” explained SOCSOUTH’s Public Affairs Office. “This is followed by a process that includes observation, review, and discussion to identify opportunities to improve tactical and technical proficiency and achieve a higher degree of interoperability.”

Northern Star optimizes both countries’ special forces training to respond to regional threats. According to SOCSOUTH’s Public Affairs Office, “Northern Star dramatically improves combined efforts to confront internal and external threats, and better postures our forces for crisis response at the tactical level.”

“Definitely, these exercises provide experience-based tools that help obtain better results in the effective use of the forces,” added Maj. Román. “Training troops should always be focused on simulating actions in a controlled environment, under the most real possible conditions, even more so considering the assimilation of experiences by forces that have been used in combat.”

Evolution of the exercise

The Northern Star joint exercise originated from the Southern Star exercise, held jointly in Chile since 2007 by EMCO and SOCSOUTH. In 2009, the exercise counted with greater international participation, including troops from Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—the first time these countries joined the U.S.-Chile training. In 2015, the exercise took place for the first time in the United States under the name Northern Star; since then, it’s implemented every other year.

“The training venue provides an opportunity to integrate Northern Star into a unique joint training environment with dedicated training areas, assets, and equipment,” said SOCSOUTH’s Public Affairs Office. “[This] provides special operations forces the opportunity to validate interoperability with Chilean partners in various air, land, and sea training scenarios.”

In August 2018, Chile will host the Southern Star combined U.S.-Chile exercise. “Northern Star is a valuable tool for increasing mutual understanding and trust, and [to] help us achieve a higher level interoperability during combined operations,” concluded Col. Ecklund. “We are inspired by our Chilean partners’ dedication and unwavering commitment to strengthening relations and promoting the exchange of ideas. We look forward to deepening our collaboration through future training exchanges that are vital to maintaining the ready and relevant special operations forces that is required to protect our mutually shared interests.”

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