AMMAN, Jordan — For nearly two decades, warriors, commanders and dignitaries have gathered here in the Jordanian capital every two years for the region's sole conference devoted to special operations forces.
Monday's conference was no different, with Gen. Mashaal al-Zaben, chairman of the Jordanian Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Raymond Thomas, the new commander of US Special Operations Command, calling for sharing lessons and developing best practices in the collective counterterrorism mission.
Invariably, presentations and side discussions at the Middle East Special Operations Commander's Conference — the kickoff event to the biennial Special Operations Forces Exhibition (SOFEX) — highlight cooperation, interoperability and the need to coordinate against the common threat.
"It takes a network to defeat a network," al-Zaben said. "It takes a trans-regional network to defeat this foe."
Thomas, in his first overseas trip as USSOC SOCOM commander, noted: "There’s different ways to share information and the synergy of operations on a global scale." He conceded, however, "We’re not configured to be as active on a trans-regional or a global basis in our current configuration."
Perhaps that is for the better.
Just four years ago, Syrian commanders and ministers loyal to the war crimes-tainted regime of President Bashar al-Assad were mingling here with US operators and their hosts of the Jordanian government. This year, they are persona non grata here and throughout much of the moderate Sunni world.
Gen. Mashaal al-Zaben, chairman of the Jordanian Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at the kickoff event for the Special Operations Forces Exhibition on Monday.
Photo Credit: Staff
Same holds true for the representatives of former Libyan strongman Muammar Moammar Ghadhafi Gaddafi or delegations from war-torn Sudan who once wore the SOFEX VIP badge.Ditto the Iraqi Baathist officers of the former dictator Saddam Hussein. Many of those who once paraded through this SOFEX event are now deemed enemy number one No. 1; the professional core of the Daesh fighting force.
With radicalism threatening nation states throughout the region, North Africa and beyond, threats are fluid and constantly mutating. Today's friends may be tomorrow's foes.
And vice versa.
Today, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are hailed as important partners in the war against radicalism, while Saudi Arabia — whose SOF operators and commanders were amply represented here — are taking an active role in the financial and operational aspects of the war against Daesh.
But who's to assure that partners of today won't morph into future enemies?
When queried by Defense News, Thomas acknowledged the mutating threat of Daesh, which seeks to export its Ccaliphate in Libya, in a province of Bangladesh and elsewhere. "You have to give them credit as an adversary that they’re not sitting idly by… Certainly there is a migration. They will go where there is unguarded spaces ... So we need to be ahead of them and try to work together to make sure they don’t have sanctuary in those locations."
Riad Kahwaji, conference master of ceremonies, ruminated about difficulty reconciling the theoretical and philosophical need for intelligence–sharing with the caution of what he called "realpolitik." When asked why countries are not sharing as much as they should or could, Kahwaji replied:
"This is a question I've heard asked for many years as an organizer of security conferences, as a security analyst and as a student of warfare. The answer is: 'Yes, intelligence sharing is important. Yes, we must do it. But it is the realpolitik of life that is difficult and we have to live with it.' "
Mohammed Farghal, a retired Jordanian three-star who now directs the Center for Strategic Studies at the King Abdullah II Academy for Defence Studies, said he has a problem with the notion of global special operations.
"It's very sexy, but what does it mean? Yes, there is no alternative for partnering. There is no country, regardless of how strong and how much capacity it has, that can deal with these threats on its own. That's a given.
"But we need to understand that some of the firewalls guarding intelligence sharing or interoperability will not be stripped down entirely. The issue is more one of human interoperability. That's more important than interoperable systems, equipment and weapons."