OPERATOR: It is now my pleasure to turn the conference over to Anya Schmemann.
ANYA SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Good morning, everyone. This is a Council on Foreign Relations on-the-record media call to discuss U.S. special operations forces.
As we know, the United States will soon note the anniversary of the Navy SEAL raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, and U.S. special operations forces are doing more things in more places than ever before. They're presently active in some 70 countries, with a budget that has almost quintupled since 2001.
So to discuss the role of U.S. special operations forces going forward, we're joined by two guests.
We have Linda Robinson, who's a former adjunct senior fellow for U.S. national security and foreign policy at CFR and a current senior policy analyst at RAND. She has spent much of the past decade studying U.S. special operation forces.
And we're very pleased to be joined by a special guest today, Lieutenant General Frank Kearney, who's the former deputy combatant commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He has spent more than 35 years in the U.S. Army and most recently served as the deputy director for strategic operational planning at the National Counterterrorism Center.
So we welcome both of you to this call today. And I'm Anya Schmemann, director of task forces at the Council on Foreign Relations.
So as we enter an era of fiscal austerity, lower budgets, greater aversion to war and aversion to large-scale military interventions, the importance of special operation forces grows. And Linda Robinson, after extended travel to Afghanistan and many interviews with policymakers and others, recently released a council special report on the future of U.S. special operations forces. Linda, you discuss two different models of special operations in your report, a direct approach and an indirect approach. Can you tell us a little bit about your analysis and what you recommend going forward?
LINDA ROBINSON: Yes. Thank you, Anya.
This report outlines future directions for the special operations community, and the first thing to note is the great investment in growth that's gone on the last decade has been largely devoted to optimizing the direct approach, which is a fairly straightforward issue of mostly unilateral raiding devoted to the counterterrorism mission, and that is, I would argue, highly optimized at this point. So the report really calls for optimizing those other special operations capabilities that are thrown into the bucket called indirect, but it really includes a range of specific things -- working through partners with the advisory mission but also other political-military activities, civil affairs; information activities that the vision is, they're all stitched together in a campaign carried out over time to have an impact on a threat and to help stabilize countries.
So the question is what is needed to optimize the force in that regard in this environment of a flat or declining budget but continued irregular threats. So we come up with a series of recommendations for improving the theater special operations commands that, as of February, now belong to SOCOM, the Special Operations Command, and some other changes, like gaining management authority over SOF personnel and redirecting some funding.
SCHMEMANN: Thank you.
Lieutenant General Kearney, Linda argues in her report that resources need to now be realigned. In your capacity as the former deputy combatant commander of U.S. special operations forces, do you agree that the forces need reform? And what kind of resourcing would that reform need?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL FRANK KEARNEY: Thank you.
First, it's a pleasure to be here, and second, thanks to Linda for providing such an informative report. I mean, as you take a look at the -- an approaching QDR and then the inflection point that she describes in the report and where we are and we've focused at resourcing, inside of Special Operations Command, probably for the last five years, they have looked at and recognized the imbalance in resourcing toward the direct approach and recognized the growing requirement that in order to be successful in building partner capacity, in doing foreign internal defense better, the -- which are kind of the solutions set to help your partners take on a larger burden here -- that we've failed to invest properly in people, infrastructure, in capital inside of the theater special operations commands.
And I'll give you a quick example. You know, from 2005 to 2007, I was the commander of Special Operations Command Central and worked for both General Abizaid and Admiral Fallon.
We actually were a paragraph and line number on the combatant command's joint manning document, which meant they determined what our fill level was. So as the theater special operations command at war in two theaters and with -- having Lebanon, the Horn of Africa all in turmoil at the same time, we were about at 65 percent strength inside of the theater SOC while Central Command headquarters was well doubled in strength. They were at about 200 percent.
Those decisions are made by the combatant commander, how to resource those paragraph and line numbers that his subunified command, a theater SOC, and a war fighter, as the commander forward for the theater forces, as opposed to the direct action forces under General McChrystal.
So we really need to take a look at who owns the structures, and this recent change in February, where SOCOM has picked up responsibility for resourcing theater special operations commands, is critical, because we actually need to put the people with the right qualifications in the right billets to be able to do the job. And quite honestly, that was not happening under the combatant command structure.
Second piece is that it's unique in our militaries that there's an executive agent for each combatant command. So in Central Command, the executive agent was the United States Army, so the United States Army has to fund special operations infrastructure for the theater combatant commander, the COCOM. And so you're fighting with a service to be able to manage projects like a headquarters inside of the AOR, the area of responsibility. Our headquarters in Qatar was trailers for years -- just not conducive to doing anything, though, because we were not a permanent headquarters, you want to have some temporary infrastructure. But there was a tremendous imbalance in that. And the two causes really are the resourcing agency is not the combatant command -- it's a service who has area responsibility for that -- and secondly, the manning documents are owned by the combatant commands, who prioritized where the talent went.
I guess the last I'd bring up in this regard is that the services own special operations manpower. The Special Operations Command commander -- in this case, Admiral McRaven right now -- only owns those special operations personnel that are assigned to special operations units. Those who are excess to the TO&Es and modified table of authorizations and equipment -- they are owned by the services. So in order to get at that manpower pool, we have to find a way to work better with the services to tap into our manpower that is not assigned to our operational units. Those three things are critical to be able to resource and invest in manpower, dollars and infrastructure to be able to allow theater SOCs to do their job.
SCHMEMANN: Thank you very much. That's very helpful.
Linda, let me just return to you for a moment. We've seen over the past couple of years some spectacular, really movie-worthy incidents of counterterrorism operations by U.S. special operations forces. But now that we're approaching a drawdown in Afghanistan and a shifting of our military abroad, what do you see the role -- what will the role be for U.S. special operations forces going forward? Are you forecasting a more -- a quieter, a more behind-the-scenes role? What will it actually look like?
ROBINSON: Well, first, I think it's important to note that there will remain some requirement for the direct action skill set against -- what do you want to call it -- al-Qaida 2.0, 3.0. That's not going to go away. But in relative terms, there'll be nothing like the OPTEMPO of the Afghanistan-Iraq period.
And the model would look more like -- the most often cited examples are Colombia or the Philippines, where small numbers of special operations forces from all of the services go out on repeat rotation. So you have a persistent presence out there of some dozens or hundreds -- but certainly not thousands -- out there, working with those countries' forces to do a variety of things, but essentially adds up to those countries being able to deal with the threat themselves. And then when they reach a certain level of competence, as occurred in the case of Colombia, they actually become a net security exporter, and they begin working with other regional partners on security projects.
So it's really a model of a cost-effective defense solution by using a variety of force multipliers. And what we've done, like in Afghanistan, is there are 22 other countries' special ops forces that are out there helping to train special police units. So it's really a very large combined multinational effort. So that, I think, is one of the models of the future.
The other thing, though, I'd like to mention is it is not a SOF-only operation. And this is why I think it's very important that despite the transfer of the theater SOCs over to SOCOM, the geographic combatant commands remain -- they have operational control of those SOF elements when they go downrange. So it is still an imperative that special operations integrate with the other conventional forces and the theater campaign plan. They're not going off on their own to do something that hasn't been orchestrated, both with the military, but also, very critically, with the embassy, because these are generally going to be what's called Title 22 environments, not a wartime environment, and the ambassador in the given country is the one who's in charge.
So it's very important for these nodes, these special operators, to be out there, well-integrated with the ambassador's vision of what should happen and offering up ways to solve the problems.
SCHMEMANN: Thank you. So an interesting time of transition for U.S. special operations forces.
I think at this point, we'll open it up to questions. Just a reminder to all those who have joined us a little late, this is an on-the-record CFR media call on U.S. special operations forces. We're joined by Linda Robinson, who's the author of a new Council on Foreign Relations special report on the future of U.S. special operations forces. That report is available on cfr.org, along with a number of other pieces by Linda. And we have a special guest today, Lieutenant General Frank Kearney, recently of U.S. Special Operations Command.
And at this point, operator, we'll open it up for calls.
OPERATOR: At this time, we will open the floor for questions. (Gives queuing instructions.)
We are currently holding for questions. Our first question comes from Henry Gaffney with CNA.
QUESTIONER: Hello, this is Hank Gaffney. I worked for years as the director of plans in DSAA, now DSCA. And I'm curious about -- Linda has spoken of Title 22 authorities. And of course, this is the 150 foreign assistance account, which is not very well-funded, especially in this current time. And I just wonder, who is going to pay for all of these operations helping countries? I know AFRICOM has talked about sending teams to 34 different African countries. I just don't know whether there's the resources to do all that.
And they can draw from their own accounts; that invokes the Antideficiency Act, which we ran into in trouble in the '80s in Honduras. So who is going to pay for all of this?
SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Linda, let's go to you first.
ROBINSON: Yes, I'll take a first crack at this with a few specific data points. There is a new -- there are several existing authorities that are funded annually, and they are known as the 1206, 1207, 1208 series. There are also counter narcotics fundings, and that -- and a Joint Combined Exchange Training, which sends a lot of soft elements down to various countries -- up to 78 countries in a given year. And they do short-term training exercises.
And this mode of employing special operations forces has largely been tactical and episodic. So the question is, how do you put together a more -- a well-thought-out and designed campaign so that these discrete activities add up to an enduring impact over time? And that's what the case of Colombia and the Philippines show, is kind of a model for how you bring together not just soft activities but also things like USAID and some of the counter narcotics entities to have a combined effect.
This global security contingency fund is a newly-funded -- one of these authorities with mostly DOD funds -- I think it's 250 million (dollars), although not all of that has been obligated -- and what happens is, the different commands propose activities for a given country, and they compete for funding. And this is a (dual key ?) approach. So the State Department has the authority to say yea or nay on this. Some of the fundings, though, are directly from DOD. So the question is, how do you (lash up ?) these different buckets of money with a plan that makes sense, that is, in the first instance, approved by the ambassador (over ?).
SCHMEMANN: General Kearney, do you have anything to add to that?
KEARNEY: I think Linda's kind of hit on this. Having one, two, three-year funds (forces ?) is not really helpful in developing a campaign which should integrate the theater security cooperation plan developed by the J5 and the combatant command staff, and it's coordinated with the country plans that are done for each country by the country teams in each embassy.
I know, when I was operating to help build the Pakistani Special Services Group, we inherited that mission from another government agency who had funded certain things with intelligence fundings. And I, as the theater special operations commander, had to go and find the funds to be able to build a multi-year plan. And as stated in there, I used our Joint Combined Exchange Training funds, which are largely for special operations forces to make sure they are trained -- they are immersed in the theater, they work with other nations.
Fifty-one percent of that is supposed to be for training us, but we have turned around and are using those in a way that helped -- builds capability. Counter narcotics funding -- once I learned that there was money available for this, you actually saw a shift from where it was probably focused to go into the actual (heavy ?) war at hand where we needed the money, and we shifted it, probably, from SOUTHCOM's AOR to ours.
You have IMET funding there to help you with getting people into -- into different schools so you can train leaders. And IMET is -- it's how we educate foreign leaders in our Department of Defense and military school systems. Integration with USAID -- looking at where they had their funding. And again, SOCOM made great use of largely 1208 funding, which helped build capacity and was focused directly on the counterterrorism fight. But in each case, you had to go up the military side of the -- the chain of command and the Department of State side of this.
Department of State really brings very, very little from funding to the table to work these things under title 22. In fact, Secretary Gates very, very often would say, you need to move some of this money that we have into the State Department's coffers so that we can help be the tool to help do those things and give them the confidence that we are going to work as part of an integrated effort in a campaign-like program to get ahead in multi-year. Because as Linda said, episodic doesn't work. The cycle of change in organizations, whether they be military organizations, whether they be Department of Defense or intelligence staffs that we're helping to build, they turn over too quickly that if you only touch them once every few years, you're just doing "Groundhog Day," you start all over again with a new team. So this funding piece is critical, and it's part of the investment recommendation that I believe Linda has in the paper.
SCHMEMANN: Thank you.
Operator, could you just give a reminder about how to get in the queue please?
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
SCHMEMANN: Thank you. And while we're waiting for new questions, let me just ask Linda -- Linda, as a nonexpert, I read your report and thought it really was -- made a lot of sense. And it seems to me, you know, it's common sense to align resources with new capabilities and capacities. Where are the sticking points here? Where are you finding -- as you are presenting the support and speaking to officials on the Hill and in the administration and elsewhere, where are you finding that the difficulty is? Why not just -- why aren't your recommendations being implemented?
ROBINSON: Well, thank you. They may seem like common sense on some people's -- by some people's measure, but here's the thing. I think right now at this moment, we have many people believing that there can be a quick fix simply by sending in a black special ops unit with a pinprick strike, take out the individual that's a problem, move on to the next problem set. And that -- frankly, I mean, there are such things as strategic rates and having a decisive impact through a raid. But really if you're looking for a decisive or enduring impact, it's much more likely to come through this long, slow, patient effort. And so there's, I think, sort of, though, an infatuation with the direct approach as number-one hurdle you have to get over.
And the other part is a sheer ignorance of the full range of special ops capabilities. Many people are not aware of what they can do or they're suspicious of it and they see that behind all these activities is going to be somebody jumping out of a helicopter in the middle of the night to go kill someone. So it really requires, I think, a consistent effort on the part of the special operations community to say, here are the different ways in which we can be used. This is how we can have impact. And I want to emphasize, this is not an argument for spending more. There -- it -- that would be, in my view, an irresponsible recommendation given the country's budget situation. It is a case of reallocate -- a case for reallocating funding so that you have more impact, using this theater special operations command to combine all SOF elements and be more efficient in using them.
SCHMEMANN: OK, thank you.
Operator, we'll take a question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Andrew Tilghman with Military Times newspaper.
QUESTIONER: Thanks a lot. I'd like to address my question to General Kearney. You mentioned that Special Operations Command doesn't own the personnel other than those that are specifically assigned to them. And I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about what kind of challenges that creates and what the policy changes that you might suggest to fix it.
KEARNEY: Sure, thanks for the question. And it's a good one because it's the core. If you don't own the resources, it's very, very hard to resource a solution. And part of this becomes -- there's a piece about management of personnel in Section 167 of Title 10, and it says that the Special Operations Command commander can monitor the management of personnel in the Special Operations community that are in the services. And so because all organizations -- and you saw the numbers in Linda's report. That talks about the amount of special operations personnel organic to units that are assigned under combatant command to the combatant commander -- in this case, Special Operations Command. That means when he gets the theater Special Operations Commands under this authority, it is now his responsibility to man them with personnel.
Now, those personnel are still paid for by the services in part of the services, but those billets, those spaces now come under his authority, and so he has the responsibility to fill them, and that's going to allow us to put the right people in the right place at the right time, and it will allow us to get talent and put it into some of those places where we haven't had that before.
The real challenge that is alluded to in Linda's paper comes out of the fact that you want to be able to manage, through assignment, people to develop them. I mean, if you look at leader development in the services -- and I'll take the Army, for example -- the Army has three pillars on their leader development stool. They have institutional military education; they have assignments, so experiential learning; and then they have a personal pillar where you do a lot of your own professional readying, you get education through civilian sources to kind of get there. Well, we don't own the institutional military education piece, and we don't own the ability to assign except inside of our tactical formations.
So if you believe that the best person to run the training command in Afghanistan is a special operator, then Admiral Olson (sp) -- when I was there, and now Admiral McRaven, have to convince the services to nominate someone with special operations experience. I was frustrated for years as the only organization that has a core mission to develop partner capacity through what we call foreign internal defense is special operations forces. They have developed the organizations that are most capable in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Afghan commandos and special operations forces and the Iraqi counterterrorism force and the Iraqi commandos. And they did that because they know how to build organizations, do things and build them in a sustaining way, yet we did not have, until, I believe, Ken Togo (ph) -- General Ken Togo (ph), who's now nominated to go over and take that command over inside of Afghanistan.
So you don't have the ability to influence people who have special operations skill sets that are no longer assigned to special operations units. And so you have to do that through influence. And we made a recommendation for a change to Title 10 and U.S. -- and Department of Defense policy when I was back as the deputy commander in 2009, I believe it was, when we asked to change the language in Title 10 to the United States SOCOM commander is responsible to coordinate the management of special operations personnel with the services. That resulted in a 16-star letter to the armed services committees of the Senate and the House from the service chiefs, who did not agree with that language.
Now, clearly, we need to be able to work together with the services to do this, and that's the crux of the way forward. But historically it has taken Congress to legislate change to be able to allow Special Operations Command to have more management, whether it was funding, which is largely why we were formed, to managing our personnel to be able to develop them. We need to be integrated in our services, but at the same time we need to have some flexibility with how to grow and develop this unique skill set. Over.
SCHMEMANN: Linda, on this question of personnel, in you report, you recommend that the commands develop a pipeline for talented officers. How can that be encouraged?
ROBINSON: Well, I would like to just answer by emphasizing what General Kearney has just gone through because this report resurrects that attempt. In the report, it calls for co-management, that the legislation be changed to give SOCOM co-management of its personnel, and that's really the same thing because there's been an attempt by SOCOM to influence and try to get the services to put their people in the right place.
But it's one of those things that just -- and his anecdote about the 16-star letter, I think, really shows that without that authority in legislation, they're not going to be able to get there. And that then really does determine their ability to shape where these people go, where they get assigned, the education path that they get. And that feeds into this whole basket of intellectual capital development recommendations because if you don't have your senior leaders developed in the right way, they can't possibly mandate the kind of intellectual capital that needs to be developed in the community and then applied so that you get this consistent, decisive impact in the actual employment of SOF. So that legislation change is one of the big asks from Congress in the report.
There's also a request that they take more seriously the need to provide consistent funding for the sustained SOF operations in a given country. And I would just note these aren't big bucks; this is nothing like the Iraq, Afghanistan price tags. The promise here is for a much lower level of funding, but extended for something like a decade you can get a very definitive result.
And then finally, Congress needs to also keep an eye on the budget to make sure it's rebalanced to really optimize these capabilities because Congress has been really pretty much in a rubber-stamp mode, that anything that has been requested to refine the direct approach has been supplied and now, I think, Congress needs to take on this rebalancing mission in a serious way.
SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Operator, we'll take another question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Henry Gaffney with CNA.
QUESTIONER: Hello. Back on the line again.
SCHMEMANN: Hi, welcome back.
QUESTIONER: About four years ago I got a pretty good thorough briefing at SACEUR on their trans-Sahel initiative, and especially what they were doing in Mali. Now, obviously the Mali operation has gone belly-up. Back then they were spending most of their time keeping the Malians the Tuaregs separate. And then there was a coup.
So the question really is, number one, how are you going to prevent this -- making coup forces in the countries? And second, how do you get the vertical link up into ministries, as opposed to just training people out in the field?
SCHMEMANN: General Kearney, why don't we go to you first on this one?
KEARNEY: Oh, absolutely. I think it's a great question and there's always a risk associated with investing in developing capability and then how it will be used. And of course, the key to this is that the military piece of this, the special operations forces that are building capacity, or partners in the agency who are -- different agencies who are building -- are doing it underneath the country plan of the chief of mission.
So the chief of mission, with people who live there, understand the region, have a country team that should be helping us decide where to place emphasis, that we're investing together inside of that plan. And it's cooperative from a regional point of view as well as a country point of view.
The vertical piece of this is who has the right capability in the United States government to help build capacity and ministries? Arguably, there is a piece for the military in this, but there's also a piece for the Department of Defense, our intelligence community folks, people inside of justice to help with rule of law, because it's the -- it's the complete picture.
It does no good to have a military capacity or a police capacity and not have a capacity for rule of law to adjudicate so that you don't -- you don't bring people in and then have a catch and release program inside of the court system that just allows people to come back out on the streets.
But the cornerstone of this is the country plan and the theater security cooperation plan that are put together in a way that then the special operations players and interagency can build a campaign plan, help build capacity overtime with sustained, persistent investment in this and have an influence.
But you know, I come back to this all the time. There is some risk, but wouldn't you rather be on the ground influencing the way that risk will be played out and knowing the players who are involved, if it goes sour, so that you have a real good understanding of what's going on. If you're absent, you're absent. You can't influence after the fact and people don't really want you to come in when you didn't play in the game from the get-go. Over.
ROBINSON: If I could, Anya, I'd like to just make a quick couple of points because I think it's a great example to say a couple of things. First of all, you could make an argument that the U.S. should have been more engaged, not less engaged.
I know that the individual involved in the Mali coup has been, you know, the focal point. But I think you need to step back also and look at the program that's been in place, which has been under two names for a number of years now, almost a decade: the Pan-Sahel and then called Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism program. And that's actually a State Department-run program.
And it's good because it takes a regional focus. I think there are nine countries, maybe it's increased now to 10 or 11, that were involved. So it was an attempt to try to take a regional approach and not just a country-by-country approach. But I think there has been an inadequate analysis of what is the problem in this area which is now suddenly getting a lot more attention?
But it has been, I'd argue, kind of a backwater, and suddenly now people, I think, are saying, OK, what is going to take to understand, in the case of Mali, what's the Tuareg piece? You know, you've got a north-south division there within that country, and then you've got a threat that is now spreading across multiple countries.
You have Algeria that hasn't really been willing to be part of a regional effort. So I would say more, not less, is required in this case and starting with more thinking, do we really have a full diagnosis of the problem in that area. That was one of the things that really distinguished the Philippine case, where there was an exhaustive assessment made at the outset to try to understand all of the issues that were causing the problems in the southern Philippines. That, I think, has also been lacking in the case of Yemen because that's a very complex problem, so you can't just say, we're going in to take care of a couple of individuals or even one organization. It's got to be a broader approach.
SCHMEMANN: Interesting, thanks. Operator, we'll take another question.
OPERATOR: Our next questions comes from Elizabeth Pond with World Policy Journal.
QUESTIONER: Thanks. I'm calling from Berlin, Germany. And I don't cover these issues, but I'm very interested in them, let's say, as they have an impact on other things.
So I'd like to go on a different direction, which is that of accountability. And two asterisks, perhaps, CIA versus the military balance on special options, and second, civilian oversight. I think -- I think, Linda, that you have argued, if I -- if I remember correctly, that the balance should move away from the CIA and to the military on special options for various reasons, one of them being not to mix up the role of intelligence and Connecticut -- (chuckles) -- kinetic actions. And you certainly have argued the need for civilian oversight. How do you -- how do you get that? I mean, the CIA oversight, if we look at The New York Times Magazine article yesterday, sounds as if the civilian oversight didn't really operate to restrain or to disciplined the rambos who were out there, and why would it be better under the military?
ROBINSON: I -- yes, Elizabeth, great questions. And I would like -- I guess I'll start with the comment about my observations, which I've made in a previous I think conference call.
My observation is that the likely trajectory of the CIA under Brennan will be to divest itself of some of the paramilitary activities in favor of moving back to its core mission of national and strategic intelligence collection and analysis. And that, it seems to me, is an appropriate trajectory. But regardless of which entity for -- in terms of oversight, if it is a covert action by law, it has to go under the congressional intelligence committees for oversight if it's a Title 50 program. So whether it is a CIA entity or a DOD entity carrying out a covert action, it -- if it's under Title 50, it goes to the intel committees. So for DOD-run or military-run activities, the oversight mechanism there with regard to Congress is the HASC and the SASC, the two armed services committees. And that needs to be very robust oversight. And I would like to point out there are annual reporting requirements with regard to some of these funding authorities, like the 1208 funding. So reports are supplied to the Hill, but I think they need to be always be well-informed and dig in and demand that they get the full visibility.
The other point for oversight, of course, is -- soulick (ph) is the DOD civilian office that is charged by law with exercising supervisory oversight of special operations forces in both policy and resources. So I think that is one thing the report emphasizes. We've had all this growth of SOCOM over the last decade, but you have this small office at DOD, soulick (ph), which has been reorganized; every administration has had multiple nonsoft responsibilities given to it and often has been down in the weeds focused on operations instead of these key top-level issues. So I think there's a very important case to be made for some changes in the way soulick (ph) is run and is focused. Over.
SCHMEMANN: General Kearney, do you want to add to that or --
KEARNEY: I think Linda's hit that pretty well. I mean, one of the natural differentiations there is that Title 10, because it's not a covert action, has a little bit more open forums in which the execution decisions are debated and seen and become more visible and there is more apparent civilian oversight. What happens with Title 50, when you operate under a finding or you're doing something like that, is that is a much tighter group and the oversight committees get access to that when there's a requirement for them to have that, and then in the normal reporting piece.
So if you look at the counterterrorism security group, the IPC, the Interagency Policy Committee level apparatus that's supposed to help feed the national security process on this, it's whose sitting there and what level of discussion are they bringing, and then what's the next forum at the deputies level. I mean, when John Brennan was the national security adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security, he ran an organization called the Counterterrorism Board of Directors, where he took some of these very rapid tactical decisions about counterterrorism strikes and he made a forum that made it agile. And frankly, it was a reasonably good one and there was a lot of good oversight, pushed things back.
I don't think -- you have to look at the capabilities. What we want for the American people is to be able to mesh the capabilities of the Department of Defense and our intelligence community, in this case the CIA, to give the most efficient and effective results, because as in the bin Laden Abbottabad raid, I mean, that was a Title 50 operation run by the agency though it was executed by special operations forces.
This is a way forward to allow, should Mr. Brennan as the director now choose, to focus more on building national and strategic intelligence capability to see better so we've got better sensors out there, and he can reduce scale on paramilitary and partner with the Special Operations Command, who can augment, complement and actually operate under their authority, should that be required, with all of the oversight that the nation expects.
SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Operator, we'll take another question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Jim Lobe with Inter Press Service.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Can you hear me?
SCHMEMANN: Yes. Go ahead, Jim.
QUESTIONER: Oh, good. No, I just wanted to know how this all kind of compares with, kind of, the golden age of counterinsurgency in the 1960s. I mean, what lessons were taken from the '60s, particularly -- well, not just with respect to Vietnam, but in Latin America? I think this goes somewhat to the prior question about how you prevent coups, how you prevent forces from becoming essentially privileged and deciding that they know better than their civilian rulers.
I know some of it, the answers that you've given so far are about ensuring that the chief of mission is pretty much in control, but has there been any comparative analysis from what was going on 50 years ago to what is going on today and what's being recommended?
SCHMEMANN: Interesting question. Linda, you've been at these issues for a long time. What is your sense of the historical changes?
ROBINSON: Yes. Well, I have to say I wasn't studying them during Vietnam, but I am pretty old. (Chuckles.) I want to note a few things, though. It's a good question. And I would start -- I think my experience starting to look at these issues was really in the Central American wars period of the 1980s. And I think that in hindsight, the congressional conditions on the advisory footprint in El Salvador and some of the other conditionality was very important, in a way. It signalled to these countries that, yes, we're going to support the development of your security forces, but we are going to keep a watch on the overall behavior, and we're going to not let this become a slippery slope to a large-footprint mission.
But it also, I think importantly, was a case of a balanced development. There was an even larger USAID role. It was kind of the heyday, if you will, of that triad of USAID, Defense, and at that point in time, USIA still existed, so you had a multifaceted program. And I know in that era, people were very skeptical about the Salvadoran government on whether it merited such aid and whether it would have that effect. And I think the long-term approach applied there did produce good changes, but it wasn't without other things going on, like the diplomatic activity that led to probably one of the best-negotiated peace accords that I've ever seen. So I think to look at these as SOF-only solution prescription wouldn't be the right thing.
Finally, I'd like to make a quick note about Vietnam era and the way in which I see SOF is going back to some of those lessons. The experiment that's been underway in Afghanistan over the last couple of years to go to civilian population to raise civil defense groups out in the villages has been very controversial. I've spent a couple of years studying it. And there are a number of indications that it is producing security. The U.N. report, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan -- they'd issued a report in February and acknowledged it has improved security.
Again, highly controversial, but it's going back to what they did at a large scale in Vietnam with the rural hill tribes and the civilian regular defense groups. So it's one way in which I think they're dipping back into their past to see what may be useful in the current environment.
SCHMEMANN: General Kearney, in your long military career, what are the changes that you've seen? Obviously, there have been significant technological advances. But what are the other sort of more intellectual changes that you've seen?
KEARNEY: I think the first major change, again, ushered in by Congress was to create to create a Special Operations Command that could bring together and sustain the capabilities that we had. You know, Desert 1 Eagle Claw Operation was a huge embarrassment to the United States. And it was really based on an investment decision by the services. So we now invest in having some of this capability. And certainly, there's an argument that we're not there yet as far as balancing that on the Special Operations Force.
There has been a huge shift in the last 10 years in interagency cooperation and efforts. And frankly, it's a "Back to the Future" thing. When you look at what was extraordinarily successful at the tail end of the Vietnam War, the CORDS program, some of these Strategic Hamlet Programs -- the things that, as Linda said, took us back out to the villages, we worked cooperatively across the interagency to create and define better governance, to bring in food and well projects, to begin security projects.
And then for a 20-year period in the military, we didn't talk about these things. And as we moved into counterterrorism with it's -- the other side of the coin being counterinsurgency here and trying to help eliminate the conditions that are fertile for extremism and insurgencies development, we're finding ourselves going back and relearning from the past, because that wasn't a sustained portion of our professional military education. So we're growing and learning and coming back. Imagine if we built on that over 25 years, how good we could be as opposed to a cycle of relearning.
And that's the lesson of today. That's what I would compare today. As we draw down from Afghanistan and some of the fully immersed operations, where the entire interagency was present, we were all participating, we have -- interagency campaign-planning occurring is that we not retrench from that. We don't go back from that. We look at that as we go forward and say, we really did do something smart; that was Joint Service things and interagency things. So we need to figure out how to make this even better.
We haven't begun to leverage the capability we can get out of this for the taxpayers and the American people. And we need to begin to work cooperatively from engineering our organizations to be able to do that.
SCHMEMANN: Thank you.
Well, I think that thoughtful long view is a terrific way to finish this conversation. And so I just want to thank again all of our participants on the phone, the questioners and our guests today, Linda Robinson and Lieutenant General Frank Kearney for this very interesting conversation.
And once again, this was a CFR on-the-record media phone call. Linda Robinson's special report on the future of U.S. Special Operations Forces is on cfr.org, along with some other resources there.
And I thank you all and I thank our two guests. And with that, we will finish this phone call.
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