In my previous article, I opened by stating that one of the finest experiences in combat is undoubtedly conducting joint operations with partner nations. I stated how there is something both ancient and instinctually primitive behind the notion of kinspeople joining forces to battle a common enemy. I also claimed that fighting side by side with coalition forces adds to the already electric and unmistakable dynamic of war. It does so through a mutual respect and reciprocal admiration of each other’s willingness to sacrifice for the same cause.
I was exposed to this firsthand throughout my military career, as I had the pleasure of working with a number of foreign militaries in both training and operational environments. I initially enlisted in the Australian Army as an electronic warfare linguist, and my first posting was to the Australian Signals Directorate (formerly known as the Defence Signals Directorate). The ASD provides foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) to the Australian Defence Force and Australian government to support military and strategic decision-making.
The Australian government and the ASD are integral to the UKUSA Agreement, which was initially the post-war arrangement for intelligence sharing between the United States and the UK. It formed the basis for the cooperation between the U.S. and UK throughout the Cold War period, and was subsequently expanded to include Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. The signals intelligence counterparts for each of these nations include the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the U.S.’s National Security Agency (NSA), Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
The signals intelligence community has always engaged in a large number of international exchanges, engagements, and specialist courses. This sees members from each of the “Five Eyes” countries spending time abroad in order to learn new skills or develop a deeper understanding of how one or more of our counterparts operates. During my time at ASD, I worked with a number of individuals from a variety of UKUSA nations who were on two-year work exchanges. I was also privileged enough to attend a specialist course at the NSA in Maryland, as I was chosen to spearhead a SIGINT capability that was being introduced into Australia’s Special Operations Command. The course lasted for three weeks, but had students and instructors from the United States Army, the United States Navy, the United States Air Force, and two of us from Australia’s SOCOMD.
The global special operations community is also exceptionally good at developing and maintaining its international engagement (IE) programs. We have members every year take part in two-year exchanges, short-term engagements, and specialist courses in different countries all over the world. One of my closest friends just finished a two-year exchange with the 1SFG(A), who are based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Another friend arrived in the U.S. last year at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. The CSC educates and trains multinational and inter-agency professionals to produce skilled warfighting leaders capable of overcoming contemporary security challenges. He will almost certainly be paneled for the follow-on, graduate-level professional military education which is provided at the School of Advanced Warfighting, and will see his exchange increase from two to three years.
Other colleagues have also found themselves on trips to places such as Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and various other Southeast Asian nations, as well as the UK, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Pakistan, and Jordan, to name a few more. I also took part in a short-term engagement and spent a few weeks with the 1NZSAS in 2012. Our unit takes part in this exchange each year and either sends a team over to New Zealand or hosts our counterparts in Australia. The exchange will usually coincide with a major designated activity in order to provide as much exposure as possible to how we each conduct our planning and execution of special operations.
As fantastic as international exchanges, engagements, and specialist courses are, and as great as the opportunity and exposure that they provide is, nothing will compare to working real-time and operationally with coalition nations. Our unit has had the pleasure of working either as an entire force element (FE) or through individual exchanges with the Green Berets, SEALs, CSOR, JTF2, Viper, 1NZSAS, Rangers, DEVGRU, British SAS and SBS, USMC, USAF, United States Army, and a number of other SF and non-SF units from around the world in a variety of different contexts.
One of the most enduring and successful partnerships that I had the privilege of being a part of began during my third SOTG deployment to Afghanistan. It was when the 2nd Commando Regiment officially partnered with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Foreign-Deployed Advisory Support Team (DEA FAST) to conduct joint counter-narcotics operations throughout southern Afghanistan. This relationship was developed in 2011 and was sustained right until our unit’s last SOTG rotation at the end of 2013.
The exclusive relationship between the 2nd Commando Regiment and the DEA FAST was attributable to one senior officer from the 2nd Commando Regiment in particular, and for the purposes of this article, he will be referred to as “Rick.” Rick joined the Army in the late ’90s, graduated from the Royal Military College (RMC) in 2001, and became commando qualified shortly after. Rick has had postings to the 2nd Commando Regiment (formerly known as 4RAR [Cdo]) where he was a platoon commander for a number of years and also held senior officer roles during his tenure. He spent time at the Special Forces Training Centre (SFTC) as an instructor, at Special Operations Headquarters (SOHQ) as a staff officer, and finally at the 1st Commando Regiment as a senior commander.
Rick has been involved in counterterrorism (CT) operations, including APEC Australia, which was a series of political meetings held around Australia between the 21 member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation during 2007. He led a number of regional engagements within Southeast Asia and deployed to Afghanistan four times with the SOTG. Rick has planned and executed high-tempo, inter-agency, multi-national special operations within Southern Afghanistan during TF66’s commitment to the region. Rick has deployed to Afghanistan as a platoon commander, the Special Operations Liaison Officer (SOLO), as well as an SOTG plans officer.
Shortly into this trip, two very distinct and apparent limitations became obvious to him…
(Part two of this article is forthcoming.)