U.S. Northern Command is standing up its own special operations command to help build better relationships with and capacity for its partners in Mexico, Canada and the Bahamas. (Army)
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U.S. Northern Command is standing up its own special operations command to help build better relationships with and capacity for its partners in Mexico, Canada and the Bahamas.
Special Operations Command-North will be fully operational in 2014, Northern Command spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said.
"The idea was to create a special operations component for the Northern Command consistent with what every other geographic combatant command has," he said.
Davis downplayed the notion that this new command, which would report to NORTHCOM commander Army Gen. Charles Jacoby, marks an increased emphasis in helping the Mexican military combat drug cartels that have terrorized Mexico's northern states and threatened the U.S.-Mexico border, as reported by The Associated Press.
According to the AP, SOC-North would build on a program that has brought Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officials to study U.S. counterterrorist operations, to show them how special operations troops built an interagency network to target al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden and his followers.
NORTHCOM has a special operations division within the headquarters staff, Davis said. Standing up SOC-North is "really just an organizational change," he said.
"This isn't driven by any particular country, nor is it driven by any change in mission," Davis said. "The idea is to establish clear command and control for any missions we have. It doesn't mean there's going to be an expansion or change in any of the operations or missions we do."
The special operations division is led by an Army colonel and has 11 military and 12 civilian personnel, Davis said.
SOC-North, which will be based in Colorado Springs, Colo., alongside NORTHCOM, is expected to be led by a one-star, like the other theater special operations commands at the other geographic combatant commands, and have about 140 personnel, he said.
Working with Mexico
There are six existing theater special operations commands — Africa, Central, Europe, Korea, Pacific and South.
"Ours will be the smallest of all the theater special operations commands," Davis said.
NORTHCOM is primarily focused on homeland defense, but it also has expanded its relationship with Mexico in recent years, long a sensitive topic in Mexico, through military-to-military engagements, mobile training team visits and student exchanges.
"It's brought our two armies closer together than it's ever been before," retired Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, who commanded Army North until December 2011, said during an interview before he relinquished command. "At the request of the Mexicans, we're sharing what we've learned about fighting networked terrorist organizations. We've learned how to go after these groups, with military, government agencies, and getting the best of all players to fight these groups.
"You can't kill every drug cartel guy," Swan said. "You can't arrest all of them. You have to find other ways to get at them, [and] we're trying to show them different techniques."
Davis emphasized that special operations troops who go to Mexico are involved only in training.
"We don't do actual operations there," he said. "Certainly over the last decade, there's been a steady increase across the spectrum in mil-to-mil engagements with the Mexicans. Everything we do there is at their request and in support of them."