Building Partner Capacity Serves U.S. Interests, Officials Say

Programs that help U.S. partners build their capabilities can be force multipliers in achieving U.S. interests, Defense Department officials told the House Armed Services Committee here today.

“The task of training, advising and partnering with foreign military and security forces has moved from the periphery of a defense strategy to become a critical skill set across our armed forces,” said Michael A. Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

Sheehan said the Defense Department’s wide range of authorities in developing defense capabilities include training and equipping counterterrorism units, funding for two theaters of action against al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen and East Africa, and the Global Security Contingency Fund.

The Global Security Contingency Fund, he explained, is a joint program between DOD and the State Department that authorizes a pooled fund of up to $250 million to meet emergency security issues.

“The fund has shown promise as an additional authority to pursue our defense needs,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan also noted other authorities that enable the United States to to ensure U.S.-equipped and trained troops are properly managed by the leadership of the host countries. In the counternarcotics arena, he added, there are authorities to build partner capacity to fight organized crime and drug trafficking groups.

“[They] provide training, equipment, base operations, intelligence-sharing and other support to our counternarcotics programs,” he said. “We appreciate the flexibility of these counternarcotics authorities that also enable us to support efforts to attack the nexus of counterterrorism.”

Throughout the world, Sheehan said, these authorities put the United States in a stronger position to manage the programs, often led by special operations forces, and align them with national security priorities.

“[Special operations forces’] training, regional orientation [and] language skills make their operators very well prepared to do this type of activity,” Sheehan said.

In regions such as Afghanistan, partnership capacity has been critical, the assistant secretary said, noting that the republic of Georgia is the largest per capita International Security Assistance Force contributor in the field. “They’re now able to occupy their own battle space and play a key role in our counterinsurgency strategy,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan also noted other counterterrorism and counter-narcotics successes in the Philippines against the Abu Sayyaf group, in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, in Colombia against the Revolution Armed Forces of Columbia and in East Africa against al-Shabaab.

“In the coming years, we can and must build on a record of success,” Sheehan said, adding that Congress should consider extended year-to-year authorities and perhaps make them permanent.

“These programs are proven winners -- not perfect by any measure, but worthy of continued support and refinement,” he said. “We expect combined operations with capable partners to continue to be an effective way to respond to emerging security challenges worldwide.”

Army Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, the Joint Staff’s director of strategic plans and policy, said that after a decade of war, the United States will remain committed to enduring strategic security interests in the Middle East to confront the growth of weapons of mass destruction while promoting peace and political reform.

“Across the globe, we seek to be the partner of choice,” Wolff said. In addition to partnerships in Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar and other nations, Wolff said, the United States will continue to build partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Our efforts in the Asia-Pacific region are part of a synchronized … approached aimed at refreshing and reinvigorating our military … with established allies as well as other key emerging partners,” Wolff said.

Over the past several years, U.S. Pacific Command continues to improve the quality of its engagements to achieve the best training value, he added.

“Pacom’s regional exercises help train not only the U.S., but partner forces, and they help reinforce our commitment to the Asia-Pacific region, improve interoperability and send a strong message to the nations across the region,” the general said.

Partnership capacity should remain steady, Wolff said, as the United States acknowledges the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region, its developing economies and its emergence of new security threats.

“We have allies and partners who share an intent in helping us advance this common security vision,” Wolff said. “We believe that building partner capacity is a prudent investment which deepens our strategic ties and helps defend our interests in an era of diminishing resources.”

Sheehan acknowledged that foreign assistance is not always popular with the American public, particularly in an era of fiscal constraint. But these programs, he emphasized, have brought real results to national security.

“These are not foreign aid giveaways,” he said. “These efforts take many months and years to get results, and the most important measure of effectiveness is on the battlefield.”

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