Last week, Beth Cole, Director of USAID’s Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation, presented on how USAID and U.S. Special Operations work together at the 40th annual Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and Fletcher School national security conference. The conference brought together top U.S. and partner country officials, senior military commanders, Congressional leaders, academic-policy specialists and other non-governmental experts for a two-day exchange on the growing role of special operations forces (SOF) in twenty-first-century security. SOF currently operates in more than 75 countries, including a growing number where there are USAID programs.

Beth Cole, (left) Director of USAID's Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation speaks on the role of interagency coordination at the IFPA-Fletcher Conference on National Security Strategy and Policy, June 5, 2013. Photo credit: Tony Rinaldo

USAID coordinates with U.S. Special Operations to address complex challenges in fragile states, particularly in conflict situations, to ensure that diplomatic, development and defense efforts are mutually reinforcing. Fundamental to the relationship is communications and transparency. The two organizations have established a robust liaison capacity: two military representatives from U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) currently serve at USAID in Washington, D.C., and a USAID Foreign Service Officer represents the agency as the Senior Development Advisor at USSOCOM in Tampa, FL. This highly experienced team keeps channels of communication open between USAID and our SOF colleagues, assisting in the interaction of literally hundreds of Special Operations and USAID professionals, and arranging meetings, workshops and key leader engagements in Washington, D.C., Tampa, and in the field.

USAID and USSOCOM work together on special projects when there is a mutual need, tapping into the expertise, resources and innovations of both organizations to solve challenges. An example of this is the USAID-USSOCOM Joint Sahel project—a recently completed seven-month collaborative analysis of risk and resilience factors in the Sahel region of Africa. Initiated by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and USSOCOM Commander Admiral William McRaven in fall 2012, the project consisted of a desk study and regional Conflict Assessment Framework analysis that included the participation of more than 100 interagency participants and external partners. Geospatial mapping also helped to depict some of the analytical data. This project was the first major collaborative assessment coordinated by USAID and USSOCOM, and is an example of USAID’s commitment to integrating the technical expertise of our partner agencies into development and planning.

Training and education are key elements of the USAID and USSOCOM relationship. Throughout the year, USAID provides training to several hundred Army, Navy, and Marine Special Operations personnel deploying to Afghanistan in support of the Afghan Local Police/Village Stability Operations program. Agency personnel also teach in Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) courses, including its “Combating Terrorism Networks Interagency Seminar,” which analyzes the overarching social, political, and strategic currents that influence terrorist networks and assess the challenges posed to national security. To reciprocate, SOCOM allows USAID staff to take part in its educational programs and solicits USAID input in JSOU research projects in areas of mutual interest.

U.S. Special Operations Command also lends technical experts to help support USAID country and contingency planning. Recently, at the request of USAID’s Joint Planning Cell in Dakar, Senegal and through the support of the USAID-USSOCOM, an experienced SOCOM planner was sent out to train USAID staff on how the military conducts contingency planning. This experience furthered learning outcomes for both partners and is a good example of how strategic partnerships magnify results.

Achieving sustainable solutions to global challenges requires us to work in close collaboration with countries, partners of all sizes, citizens and the wider development community. “You can’t surge trust,” is a key phrase of USSOCOM and the Commander’s SOF 2020 Vision Strategic Plan, and building strategic partnerships and leveraging “solution holders” is a tenet of USAID’s Policy Framework. This relationship allows the unique capabilities of USAID and U.S. Special Operations Command to be aligned to achieve better development and security outcomes in pursuit of U.S. national security goals and national values.