SPECIAL OPERATIONS: A New Take on “Teach a Man to Fish…”

October 24, 2013 at 11:57 pm 1 comment

Foreign Internal Defense

WASHINGTON – Michael Sheehan, the former top special operations adviser to the Secretary of Defense,  says he doesn’t like to use the word “COIN” – as in COunter INsurgency – anymore.

Michael Sheehan (Defense Dept. photo)

Michael Sheehan (Defense Dept. photo)

“Because it’s so overused now,” Sheehan – former Assistant Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) – told the International Stability Operations Association’s annual summit recently. “For me, counter insurgency is done by local forces and the U.S. helps them do it,” he told the conference of companies that provide services ranging from construction to air transport for humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and development organizations.

And for direct action – when U.S. advisers are doers, as well as teachers – Sheehan says he’s advocated for a long time “that we train the locals to go through the door – not the U.S.” In other words, train and advise foreign armies or rebels – depending on their politics – how to defend themselves, but then taking a step back and let the locals doing the shooting or “kinetic action.”

Sheehan has had a little experience in this field. A former Special Forces (Green Beret) officer, counter insurgency adviser in Latin America, adviser to U.N. Peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Haiti, National Security Council staffer at the White House, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for counter terrorism, a high-ranking official in the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner for Counter Terrorism – retired from the Pentagon this past summer. One of the key assignments of Army Special Forces and other special operators is Foreign Internal Defense: teaching the local population how to defend itself against terrorism by insurgents or a repressive regime.

Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan 2007. (U.S. Army photo)

Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan 2007.
(U.S. Army photo)

“I believe this is the future, where we train, advise and assist from behind, both in counter insurgency and direct action strategy,” Sheehan said. That belief is held by other SO/LIC leaders, like Adm. William McRaven, the head of Special Operations Command, which oversees the commandos and unconventional warfare specialists in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

To see a video of McRaven and Sheehan both speaking about these issues at a counter terrorism panel at the Aspen Institute last summer, click here.

Explanation of “Give a man a fish…”

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Entry filed under: Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, National Security and Defense, News Developments, Peacekeeping, Skills and Training, Special Operations, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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