SOFREP Readers- This article was written by a former Ranger NCO (Task Force Ranger, Mogadishu), Long Range Surveillance Platoon Leader (Counter Drug operations, JTF-6, Los Padres National Forres, California), Airborne Brigade during the airborne assault into Northern Iraq in 2003. He is currently writing a fictional book that addresses U.S./Mexico Border security, with a very strong Christian theme and implementation of Special Operations Forces capabilities. The book is called “Praetorian of the Southern Cross” to be released in late 2016.
What if there was an intelligence capability along the U.S./Mexico Border, originating from Special Operations Forces (SOF), to provide 24/7 coverage along the International Boundary Fence (IBF)? The mission: to degrade and disrupt the world’s largest illicit surveillance network, currently operating within the U.S. today. With eyes out front they operate in an overt/covert capacity; as they plan, rehearse, and launch their operations far from the U.S./Mexico Border. Once inserted, they feed law enforcement (LE) critical data from extremely remote locations. Would this approach serve our nation well in addressing illicit cross border smuggling networks? Would this capability assist already strained LE resources along the IBF? This is a counter-surveillance fight; and SOF capabilities can in fact assist to remove smuggling surveillance assets embedded within the U.S. This illicit network exists to facilitate the movement of their products across the American Southwest, on to larger metropolitan cities where their illegal markets exist. This threat to national security exists today; with this asymmetric threat comes the need for an asymmetric approach to defeating Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO).
Law enforcement typically work an 8-10 hour work shift with possible over-time, if funding allows for extended efforts. The reality down along the U.S./Border is that it takes several hours, even days to approach these TCO surveillance assets that reside very high in the mountains along the IBF. Traditionally, LE are accustomed to operating under open lighting conditions, whether driving about or dismounted. This provides the smugglers the opportunity to track LE once they’ve entered an area. What the smugglers also have on their side is time; once LE are observed, all illegal activity stops until LE depart the area. With so much at stake monetarily, smugglers will not make a move until the conditions are favorable for them. Unfortunately, the poverty which exists on both sides of the border sets the conditions for an endless supply of cheap labor. Youth make up the majority of TCO scout smugglers; there are no labor restrictions, child labor laws, or minimum wage requirements. This unfettered labor force sets the conditions for an extremely fluid adversary. They simply wait out unfavorable conditions to move their product, and remain vigilant of when and where to exploit gaps in LE coverage.
SOF units bring very unique capabilities that LE can only wish for; from airborne operations, fast rope insertions, to covert land infiltration capitalizing on zero lighting in very remote settings. SOF capabilities are ideal to assist in degrading and defeating TCO smuggling operations, by removing their eyes out front; causing TCOs to operate in the blind, and evening out the playing field. The ability to stay on site for days, blending in to observe events day or night in remote settings, is the only way to defeat such well integrated illegal surveillance networks. When LE is called in to interdict, the conditions are set in their favor to surgically remove this illicit operational center of gravity here in the American Southwest. As it was stated in the Middle East; “the Americans have the watch, but we have the time.” But the American Southwest is different; it’s the U.S. and our home, the reality is that TCOs thrive in remote settings along the U.S./Mexico Border. At the end of the day, observing illegal surveillance operatives moving their goods, replacing their personnel and sustainment gear, and evading capture, are key elements to defeating this threat within the United States. There is no doubt, this is a labor intensive effort; it requires personnel with the right skill sets, vast experience in operating independently in remote settings, while enduring 24/7 operations. The question to ask ourselves as Americans; is it worth it, are we willing to defeat this adversary? Or are we simply willing to deal with this foreign threat, as they operate freely within the U.S.? We assist South Korea in securing their border between the free Democratic South and communist North; we conduct military campaigns throughout the world, but when it comes to the U.S./Mexico Border, we as a nation find ourselves in a legal and bureaucratic quagmire, as to why we cannot secure our Southern border here at home.
SOF units have the right skills to set the conditions for LE success. When I started supporting LE as a volunteer Intelligence Analyst in a rural county bordering the IBF, I was informed by a friend in LE that “Law Enforcement is all about egos; for LE, it’s all about the drug seizure and the credit that later comes with additional funding. It’s also about the easy bust; the low hanging fruit, most LE personnel are just not hard wired to work for days in remote settings, only to apprehend a 16-year-old for conducting surveillance.” The SOF community has always championed “The Quiet Professional;” incredible skill sets possessed by operators, regardless of branch. Personnel with the ability to fall from the sky at night, undetected, and transition before sunrise to a hiker moving about in plain sight. SOF personnel possess a level of discipline that far exceeds their LE counterparts; we are accustomed to moving all night, sleeping when we can, and eating when time permits. It’s this level of conviction that is desperately needed down here along the U.S./Mexico Border. SOF personnel are conditioned to operate around the clock; with operational experience from “the other side of the world,” to apply only the necessary effort to minimize operational footprint. Joint Task Force-North (formerly JTF-6) was structured to facilitate such efforts. In my humble opinion; as a former Ranger NCO and Long Range Surveillance Platoon Leader, the time has come for JTF-North to be greatly expanded.
U.S. Special Operations Forces capabilities need to be increased along the U.S./Mexico Border. Criminal networks are outmaneuvering current U.S. LE efforts throughout the American Southwest; LE is outgunned, outmaneuvered, and out-funded. Criminal networks, terrorist organizations, and adversaries to the U.S. are watching this. With such a volatile world, terrorist acts occurring throughout the globe, and many states struggling to maintain the rule of law, can we afford to hold back and not apply our nation’s finest personnel with unique skills to combat these illicit organizations? Having observed firsthand the synergy that illicit networks enjoy along the U.S./Mexico Border, I believe it’s only a matter of time before a threat organization chooses to exploit the many gaps throughout the American Southwest. We deserve better as a nation; we deserve the best down here, and SOF is the best we have to address these threats. My final comment; may God Bless our law enforcement personnel that currently work to protect us here along the U.S./Mexico Border. They too, deserve the full backing of our nation, as they go into harm’s way every day and night.