WASHINGTON — US Special Operations forces in Africa are preparing for one of their biggest exercises of the year, a multinational event that spans several West African countries and serves as one of the premiere partnership events for US forces in Africa.
US Marine Sgt. Bryan Ballard observes Senegalese soldiers as they point out a potential simulated improvised explosive device during training in Exercise Western Accord, sponsored by US Africa Command. The exercise is a joint training partnership between the United States, the Economic Community of West African States and partner nations.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. V. Michelle Woods/US Army
The 2014 Flintlock event had a slightly different cast, with 1,000 troops from Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, United Kingdom and Niger participating.
The operation is almost tailor made for the direction that the US Special Operations Command has set for the troops that it is training and equipping to operate in a post-Afghanistan and Iraq world.
When taking over the helm of SOCOM in 2011, McRaven introduced his plan to keep his forward-deployed operators supplied not only with the latest intelligence on their area of operations, but also to link them up with their SOF brethren around the globe.
Dubbed the Global SOF Network, the program connects SOF around the globe to one another as well as with US government interagency partners and regional allies, building on the decade-long relationship that American and NATO SOF had forged through combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It's been a long road, but the plan is moving along.
At the very start of the process in 2011, the first task thing that a small group of SOCOM planners had to do was to hash out the requirements for what exactly SOCOM would ask of the combatant commanders, and what those commanders could expect from SOCOM, said retired (ret.) Col. Stu Bradin, who was McRaven's hand-picked chief of the Expanding Global SOF Operational Planning Team from June 2011 until his retirement in May 2014.
"Each theater commander independently had to work though this, and we had to do the same thing," added Bradin, who now serves as president/CEO of the Global SOF Foundation. "There's always going to be a finite number of special operations forces available, and money is limited."
The Global SOF Foundation describes itself as a non-profit organization that advocates for all aspects of Special Operations Forces development.
The Green Monster was a massive map that took its nickname from the towering left field scoreboard in Boston's Fenway Park that laid out the physical geography of each combatant commander's area of operations, and McRaven asked each commander to would walk SOCOM planners through what and where his requirements were most critical.
With a limited number of SOF available at any given time, and the continued requirements pull from commanders around the globe, SOCOM leadership's task was to build a force deployment model that would try and meet as many regional requirements as possible.
"Our goal was to provide the theaters with a persistent level of force by building a matrix based on global force management" Bradin said. "We went to each theater [commander] and said, 'bring us your special ops requirements,' and they whittled it down to something we could afford and do. There was nothing hidden, everybody saw everyone else's requirements."
McRaven offered a similar assessment in May 2013 when he was pushing his initiative on Capitol Hill, arguing that "there is no such thing as a local problem anymore … the world is linked, and therefore we need to be linked," he said. "We have to build a network to defeat the enemy network."
"We must continue to develop our global SOF network. Investing in our network allows us to share the burden more appropriately."