Fighting the War on Terror in the Caribbean and Central America
Here's an odd news story that puts meat on the bones of the phrase "global war on terror": The United States is fighting that war in the Caribbean and Central America.
My assumption was that "Operation Enduring Freedom -- Caribbean and Central America," a formal military operation I'd never heard of before yesterday, is oriented toward Cuba and Venezuela. But it is not. The U.S. military is indeed engaged in a global war, and the terrorist threat, at least in the eyes of the counter-terror warriors, extends to our backyard.
I don't know whether the actual threat necessitates such an "operation," but its bureaucratic existence says a lot about our overreliance on the military and the belief of many in government that the GWOT is a real war, equivalent to the Cold War, and is one that the United States should and will be fighting for decades.
The Rhode Island media this week was filled with the news that a unit of the state's National Guard, an organization called Special Operations Detachment -- Global (SOD-G), is deploying this week in support of something called Operation Enduring Freedom -- Caribbean and Central America.
Working for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), SOD-G is moving to an airbase in Homestead, Fla., where it will take up contingency counter-terrorism planning responsibilities for the region, seeking to characterize how al Qaeda and other terrorists might exploit drug trafficking routes and patterns or other gaps in American defense to infiltrate into the United States.
Since 2005, SOCOM has had responsibility for "planning, directing and executing" global operations against terrorist networks, and SOD-G is the only globally oriented planning detachment of its type. In 2004, the detachment deployed to Africa to form the nucleus of the Joint Special Operations Task Force - Horn of Africa, a counter-terror organization active in Somalia and Kenya and now a part of the burgeoning Africa Command.
Now, Operation Enduring Freedom-Caribbean and Central America is seeking to address "potential" terrorist threats in the region and the SOD-G is at the core. The 36-man detachment, according to a senior military officer, who asked for anonymity based upon the sensitive nature of special operations, is deploying to help prepare the plan for Southern Command to fight al Qaeda, Hezbollah and other international organizations that are thought to be present in small numbers.
Is this for real? Or is this just a bureaucratic invention to extend the GWOT to every nook and cranny of the globe?
There is no easy answer. But at least in terms of the hierarchy of priorities, such a threat seems overhyped. Just after 9/11 there was much talk of al Qaeda activity in the "tri-border" area of South America, but since then there has been very little new information and certainly little to indicate a threat in the region. The danger, of course, is that under the guise of the GWOT, this reserve unit is preparing contingency plans for Venezuela and Cuba, in which case one wonders why the "GWOT" label is being used.
By William M. Arkin March 28, 2008; 6:45 AM ET