Balancing Counterterrorism Mission and Great Power Competition

Balancing Counterterrorism Mission and Great Power Competition

Balancing Counterterrorism Mission and Great Power Competition

Milancy Harris, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combatting Terrorism (DASD SOCT), joined INSA EVP John Doyon for a Tuesday Coffee & Conversation on May 25. Ms. Harris opened the conversation by outlining her various responsibilities. She oversees a diverse portfolio that revolve around three main focus areas: counterterrorism, special operations, and the Information Operations Directorate.

The conversation addressed the current threat landscape. Ms. Harris explained that violent extremist organizations around the world continue to present serious threats. While threats to the homeland have been reduced, these groups are becoming more savvy and threaten American embassies and interests overseas. Ms. Harris’s biggest concern is less about a particular threat and more about how the severity of the threat will change due to the DoD’s divided attention. As the United States' focus shifts towards great power competition, she and her colleagues continue to consider how the United States can best conduct counterterrorism operations in a resource-sustainable way while paying more attention to adversarial nations. The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan is a specific case that has prompted the DoD to redefine what counterterrorism looks like.

Ms. Harris commented on CIA Director Bill Burns’s statement that great power competition has eclipsed terrorism as the greatest threat to the United States. She agreed and noted that the terrorist threat is enduring, but not existential. The shift in focus and resources to great power competition is justified and presents a great opportunity for the special forces community to merge its counterterrorism capabilities with other functions and missions. Collaborating with the State Department and foreign partners will be critical in operating in the information space to undermine disinformation campaigns and propaganda from terrorist organizations and adversarial countries.

To close, Ms. Harris shared her top priorities, which include piecing together SOF’s counterterrorism mission with its responsibilities in great power competition. More work needs to be done to ensure that SOF is able to balance these responsibilities and pursue different missions at once.

News Coverage 

Pentagon Studying How Counterterrorism Fits Into Great Power Competition (DefenseOne)

US Completes up to 25% of Afghan Withdrawal  (VOA)

Britany Dowd

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