A View from the CT Foxhole: General Richard D. Clarke, Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command.

AuthorMorrow, Sean

General Richard D. Clarke is currently the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Prior to assuming command of USSOCOM, General Clarke served as Director for Strategic Plans and Policy (J5), Joint Staff, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C General Clarke's other assignments as a general officer include: the Deputy Commanding General for Operations, 10th Mountain Division from 2011 to 2013; the 74th Commandant of Cadets, United States Military Academy at West Point from 2013 to 2014; and the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division from 2014 to 2016. He was Director of Operations, Joint Special Operations Command from 2009 to 2011. General Clarke has led Soldiers at all levels in Airborne, Ranger, Mechanized and Light Infantry units in five different divisions, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 75th Ranger Regiment in the United States, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His deployments include Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Joint Guardian in Macedonia, three deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, four deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and one deployment as the Commander of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command--Operation Inherent Resolve. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and was commissioned into the Infantry in 1984.

Editor's Note: Nicholas S. Tallant is an alum of the Downing Scholars program at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point who serves on the Commander's Action Group at U.S. Special Operations Command.

CTC: Prior to assuming command of U.S. Special Operations Command, you served as the Director of Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff. How did that experience influence your approach to your current role, and did it impact how you view the role of SOF, CT, or other mission sets?

Clarke: It's interesting because no other SOCOM Commander has followed this path--coming from the Joint Staff, in particular as the J5, to come into SOCOM. Reflecting back on it, it's probably one of the best jobs you could have coming into this position, from the standpoint of understanding the larger strategic picture. You go to National Security Council meetings at deputy and principal level. You interact frequently with the Chairman, the Secretary of Defense, and all the associated folks from the Pentagon.

I'd never served in the Pentagon before and certainly at that level. It was highly instructive to start to see how strategy coming from the National Security Council has worked, and to understand the importance of the documents like the Unified Command Plan, National Security Strategy [NSS], National Defense Strategy [NDS], National Military Strategy, and being responsible on the Joint Staff to help the Chairman craft the National Military Strategy. The NSS and the NDS are the "What." The National Military Strategy and associated documents are the "How"--how do you execute this.

Serving there really helped me understand the role of the Department, how the geographic, and I'll just say it purposely, the global Combatant Commanders, how they interact with the Chairman, how the various coordinating authority roles operate in that process, and then where they all intersect. It was a really great learning opportunity from that perspective.

When you consider specifically the counterterrorism mission and the counter-violent extremist [mission]--for which SOCOM has a coordinating authority role--what I was able to observe is how that actually materialized and operationalized itself inside the building and how that was perceived. How does the SOCOM team present to get the optimal strategy, and how do the other Geographic Combatant Commanders and some of the other Combatant Commanders all contribute to that counterterrorism fight while also considering all of the interagency aspects to a global CT strategy.

CTC: You mentioned interagency. We know that the military is only one portion of the broader CT community. It brings in law enforcement, intelligence, diplomacy, and other functions. How have you seen interagency coordination improve or change over the last two decades, and do you have any suggestions on how we could continue to get better?

Clarke: Your question is really important. As I reflect back, the key finding from the 9/11 Commission Report is the lack of interagency coordination that existed prior to 9/11. I think the 9/11 Commission Report really called for some fundamental changes in the interagency, particularly as it applied to counterterrorism--with elements like NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center], with how the National Security Council was going to deal with this, and how this all came together.

My personal belief is [that] in the counterterrorism realm, we're significantly better than we were prior to 9/11. We had a failure, and from that failure, we've actually improved. I would argue that the counterterrorism enterprise writ large is better in interagency coordination than any other particular problem that exists today. The counterterrorism team comes together better than anyone and includes all elements of the IA [interagency], but it's really heavily invested in the IC [intelligence community]. I think that's an important part to this.

As I look at it from SOCOM's perspective, there is tremendous value in the amount of liaison officers that we have within the interagency--at almost every single agency. And the amount of interagency partners that exist here at SOCOM headquarters are vitally important. But also at echelon [i.e., each level], down even to Joint Special Operations Command, down to our Theater Special Operations Commands--some of the components that link this together are really important. [For example], I recently visited the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City. There with the FBI and the police, right inside that task force is a SOCOM LNO [liaison officer] because of the terrorism nexus and how important New York is in helping identify the terrorism threat. We have made tremendous strides working with the interagency.

Lastly, I want to tie this to the international aspect. Right here at SOCOM headquarters, almost 30 different countries are represented because many of our allies also understand the terrorism threat to their countries. And we've seen that particularly in Europe, but also in some places in Asia, where that terrorism threat is coming home to roost. So, the tie-in with our allies and our partners is crucial to have a shared understanding and awareness of the threat. We help tie in to help them with our government agencies.

CTC: That's good insight. How do you see both of those--the interagency and/or international coordination--over the next 10 years. What does the future look like?

Clarke: I think [the efforts will] continue into the future because I don't think the terrorism threat to us or our allies is gone. We decimated al-Qaida and ISIS. And ISIS [was] like an army that held ground in northern Syria and into Iraq. But after they were defeated, they metastasized, and that threat moved into places like North and West Africa. That honestly is a threat to...

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