Vice President's Remarks at Closing Ceremonies of SOCOM's International Special Forces Week
Tampa Convention Center
2:51 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, very much, General Brown, and thank you for the introduction, the warm welcome. I'm delighted to be here today as you conclude the first International Special Operations Forces Week here in Tampa. I've been looking forward to the visit because I'm a great admirer of special ops professionals, and I'm pleased to bring thanks and good wishes to all of you from our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush.
I had my first dealings with special ops while serving in the House of Representatives, when many years ago I visited Fort Bragg and saw a demonstration by Delta. Later, as Secretary of Defense, I saw the skills of our special operations forces in action from Panama to the Persian Gulf. And in my current role, serving with President Bush, I see regular evidence of your unparalleled skill, your ingenuity, and your daring. Every single day SOCOM confirms its reputation as a small command that produces big results for the United States of America.
Our country is proud to work in partnership with nations from every region of the globe, so I want to welcome the special operators and military representatives who have made the journey from other countries to attend this forum. I especially want to recognize the special operations officers who are here from Afghanistan and Iraq -- newly free nations that are standing up superb forces for the defense of their freedom. The United States has the greatest respect for the contributions you have made to our common security interests, and we're very pleased to have us with you this afternoon.
Today I've received a series of briefings from CENTCOM and SOCOM commanders on the status of many operations abroad. As always, I am thoroughly impressed by the focus and the professionalism of our fighting forces in all branches of the service, and the strong relationship they have built with host nations. Wartime conditions are a test of national resolve and military skill, and the biggest challenges come to the men and women who take the oath to serve. The people on duty for America in this war are reflecting tremendous credit on our nation, and they have earned the gratitude of us all.
Also this afternoon, I presented the Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a Distinguished Service Cross to special operators from the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. I consider it a great honor to award these medals -- but even more of an honor to have met the men who have earned them. To hear the citations is to be reminded of the absolute centrality of special operations for the global war on terror, and of the leadership, quick reactions, precision, and steadfastness that characterizes these elite, carefully selected warriors.
It was during the 1980s that the American government moved to create a separate Special Operations Command, and that decision has served us very well in the war on terror. When this conflict began nearly four years ago, President Bush told Congress and the country that, we should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may, he said, "include dramatic strikes, visible on television, and covert operations, secret even when successful." Special ops have been vital to answering some of the fundamental challenges of this war -- fighting the enemy on its own turf; supplying a model for transformation, not only for our military, but also for coalition partners. In addition, special ops are showing the global perspective and the vigilance that will lead us to victory for the cause of freedom.
The terrorist enemy in this war includes small groups of highly motivated extremists, operating in the shadows, and determined to carry out missions of murder of increasing size and audacity. The terrorists are constantly attempting to evade our strengths and to search for our weaknesses, in order to find ways to strike once again. And the greatest danger to civilization is the prospect of a terror network, on its own or with the help of an outlaw government, acquiring weapons of mass destruction -- and thereby gaining the power to kill hundreds of thousands, and to blackmail entire nations. In the face of such a danger, free nations must act decisively to defend ourselves against attack. Yet we also understand that this war cannot be won on the defensive. In this new era, all civilized nations have a duty: We must defeat the terrorists, and we must not allow them to obtain weapons of mass murder.
Defeating the terrorists and their ambitions requires that we deny them sanctuary and support, and the United States is leading a global coalition in that effort. We are dealing with a network that has cells in countries all over the world. Yet bit by bit, by diplomacy, through intelligence cooperation, police work, and the spread of democratic institutions, we are acting to shrink the area in which the terrorists can operate freely. We have also enforced a doctrine that is understood by all: Governments that support or harbor terrorists are complicit in the murder of the innocent, and equally guilty of terrorist crimes. We gave ultimatums to the brutal regimes led by the Taliban and Saddam Hussein -- and when those regimes defied the demands of the civilized world, we acted to remove them from power and to liberate their people.
At every stage of this conflict, we have looked to the Special Operations Forces to carry out the most perilous, most technical, most time-sensitive, and least visible missions. When you have enemies that are hidden, diffuse, secret in their movements, asymmetrical in their tactics, the only alternative is to find out exactly where they are, and then to go in and get them -- one at a time, if necessary.
In the Cold War, national security required massing large forces at borders, and a year-after-year stand-off. Today's security environment often requires small teams of men searching caves, going over mountain peaks, and walking along narrow ledges in the pitch-black night. And for that kind of work, we turn to the silent professionals.
In Operation Enduring Freedom, the first boots on the ground were special operations forces. As that campaign got underway in late 2001, we heard warnings that the obstacles would be extreme -- and indeed they were. Afghanistan, after all, is a landlocked country with a forbidding, mountainous terrain, and winter was setting in. The enemy force was widely scattered -- but well armed, protected in deep caves, and skilled in guerilla tactics. Added to that was the sheer mileage between our forces and out objective. Into that environment we sent the special operations, and in short order they figured out how to do it all.
Operating by their wits, their intelligence, and their cultural knowledge, they went to the far corners of Afghanistan, built relationships with anti-Taliban forces, engaged enemy holdouts, and designated high-value targets for the bombing campaign. They also linked the technology of the 21st century with the transportation modes of the ancient world -- riding horseback on wooden saddles, painting targets with lasers, and calling in precision air strikes from hundreds of miles away. In the space of about seven weeks, despite all the obstacles we understood going in, the regime was destroyed and the Afghan people were set free.
When our coalition moved to liberate the people of Iraq, special ops teams worked with Kurdish opposition forces to secure the northern front of the war, while in the west they took out scud launchers. Other coalition teams secured oil fields, dams, and bridges, converted roads into airstrips, called in air strikes against regime targets, and helped prepare the way for one of the largest combat parachute drops since the Second World War. Once again, the contributions of special ops were critical to the swift downfall of a regime -- and a strutting dictator went from a palace to a bunker to a spider hole to a prison cell.
We are still using special ops teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, as those nations continue on the road of security and self-rule. People in both countries have turned out in overwhelming numbers to elect their own leaders, and we are keeping our commitment to help these rising democracies achieve success. Terrorists will continue to wage their war against free institutions, and we will stand with Afghans and Iraqis in fighting them.
Today, special ops are working with Iraqi forces to determine where the insurgents are -- and then to carry out quick, decisive strikes against terror targets, as we have seen in Ramadi, Mosul, Baghdad, and on the Syrian border.
There has been hard fighting in Afghanistan as well, against Taliban remnants holed up in rugged parts of the country. Special ops teams are conducting search missions with the Afghan National Army. In the continuing hunt for al Qaeda, we have men working at high altitudes in the mountain range above Kandahar and Jalalabad -- often operating at the upper limits of human endurance -- moving calmly and patiently to deliver justice to the terrorists. And in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we are helping to train local security forces, so that those nations can eventually take on the responsibility for their own security.
In Iraq and Afghanistan -- and in other places where the fight against terror is less talked about, but still critical -- such as the Philippines, the Balkans, Colombia, and the Pan Sahel region of Africa -- special ops units have provided a glimpse of the kind of force we want to build for the future. A military that was designed for the mid-to-late 20th century needs to be a force that is lighter, more adaptable, more agile, and more lethal in action. Our country's military is going to build upon traditional advantages such as technological superiority, our ability to project force across great distances, and our precision strike capabilities. Our transformed military will stress rapid reaction and reward new thinking, breaking down old information stovepipes, and placing greater emphasis on jointness of operations.
The core of any military transformation is the competence, the creativity, and the flexibility of the men and women who serve. And there is no better model for how to proceed than special ops -- because you have always zeroed in on the practical questions of how to figure out a problem, move in quickly, get the job right -- done right, and then go on to the next mission.
Special ops also remind us of the global focus we need to win the battle against terror and weapons proliferation. SOCOM units have joined with special ops from almost every country represented here today, on a broad range of missions -- from counter-insurgency, to counter-narcotics, to interdiction of illicit materials, to having a ready response for the Olympic Games.
At this forum you've also discussed some of the ways terrorists and weapons or drug traffickers try to exploit the seams between governments, and how we can close up those seams through better communication and joint operations. This is going to be a critical challenge going forward, as we move against shadowy enemies in many countries and a variety of environments, from urban areas to jungle to desert.
Above all, in your patience, and endurance, and devotion to your missions, special ops remind us of the importance of vigilance. We have a long war ahead of us, and our enemies are waiting for us to let our guard down. But we will not relent in this effort, because we have the clearest possible understanding of what is at stake. Looking across this room, I see the diversity of our planet, but an identity of interests. None of us wants to turn over the future of mankind to tiny groups of fanatics committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale horror. And so we must direct every resource necessary to defending the peace and freedom of our world, and the safety of the people we serve. That's the commitment of the United States that we've made to ourselves and to other nations. And with good allies at our side, we will see this cause through to victory.
The writer Tom Clancy once said of special ops forces, "Real toughness is between the ears, not in the biceps. You've got to see them to believe them." That really captures the idea. It is difficult to put into words the intensity of your training, the hazards of your hardest assignments, and the speed of thought and action that are needed at the tip of the spear. You are the ones who can go into unfamiliar territory and become part of the environment -- preparing battle spaces, learning languages and cultures, building relationships, and picking up intelligence. Special ops are the ones who hunt down, engage, kill and capture enemies, yet also set up hospitals, call in humanitarian aid, and help villages to become self-sufficient -- leaving behind you men, women, and children who feel gratitude for your kindness and good will for our country.
Special ops, it's been said play every role from warrior to physician to diplomat to engineer. And at times you have to switch from one role to other in the blink of an eye.
In this time of testing for our world, many in the military have faced long deployments -- and because special ops go so far forward, you very often go without regular contact with home or family. It's also in the nature of your business that the best work goes unrecognized until years after the fact, if ever. And we may never know all the grief that has been spared because of you. I can only say, with complete certainty, that your efforts are paying off -- and today all of us live in a world made safer by your actions.
Once again, I thank you for the opportunity to be with you this afternoon. Each one of you has taken up the noblest of callings -- the profession of arms -- and in that calling, you are force multipliers. President Bush and I know how hard you're working, and I promise you that this nation will never take your efforts for granted. And we are tremendously proud of each and every one of you. And on behalf of the entire nation, I want thank you all.
END 3:08 P.M. EDT
Richard B. Cheney, Vice President's Remarks at Closing Ceremonies of SOCOM's International Special Forces Week Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/282779