"We have a long war ahead of us, and our enemies are waiting for us to let our guard down," Cheney said, speaking Friday to more than 300 people at the closing of the International Special Operations Forces Week (search) conference. "But we will not relent in this effort because we have the clearest possible understanding of what is at stake."
Cheney also visited MacDill Air Force Base for a medals ceremony at the U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees the nation's elite military units, including the Navy's SEALs, the Air Force's Special Operations Command and the Army's Rangers and Green Berets.
His speech at the conference culminated a week that brought together U.S. special operations leaders and their counterparts from 59 countries. The event also included businesses and civilian defense contractors to talk about weapons systems specially created for special operations forces.
Cheney said U.S. Special Operations soldiers — "silent professionals" he called them — were "the first boots on the ground" when the war on terror began in Afghanistan nearly four years ago and played a key role in bringing down Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
"At every stage of this conflict, we have looked to the Special Operations forces to carry out the most perilous, the most technical, the most time-sensitive and least visible missions," he said. "When you have enemies that are hidden, secret in their movements ... the only alternative is to find out exactly where they are and go in and get them."
Cheney warned that the biggest danger is that a terror group, perhaps in concert with an outlaw government, will get hold of weapons of mass destruction. Preventing that, he said, must be a primary goal in the war on terror.
"In the face of such danger, free nations must move decisively to defend ourselves against attack, yet we also understand that this war cannot be won on the defensive," he said. "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."