5 years ago
From The Tennessean:
They were the first Americans into Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks and will probably be the last U.S. forces to leave.
As most American troops prepare to withdraw in 2014, the CIA and military special operations forces to be left behind are girding for the next great pivot of the campaign, one that could stretch their war up to another decade.
The war’s 10th anniversary Friday recalled the beginnings of a conflict that drove the Taliban from power and lasted far longer than was imagined.
“We put a CIA guy in first,” scant weeks after the twin towers in New York fell, said Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, then a colonel with U.S. special operations forces, in charge of the military side of the operation. U.S. Special Forces Green Berets, together with CIA officers, helped coordinate anti-Taliban forces on the ground with U.S. firepower from the air, to topple the Taliban and close in on al-Qaida.
Recent remarks from the White House suggest the CIA and special operations forces will be hunting al-Qaida and working with local forces long after most U.S. troops have left.
When Afghan troops take the lead in 2014, “the U.S. remaining force will be basically an enduring presence force focused on counterterrorism,” said National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, in remarks in Washington in mid-September. That will be augmented by teams that will continue to train Afghan forces, added White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.
The White House insists this does not mean abandoning the strategy of counterinsurgency, in which large numbers of troops are needed to keep the population safe. It simply means replacing the surge of 33,000 U.S. troops, as it withdraws over the next year, with newly trained Afghan ones, according to senior White House Afghan war adviser Doug Lute.
It also means U.S. special operators and CIA officers will be there for the next turn in the campaign. That’s the moment when Afghans will either prove themselves able to withstand a promised Taliban resurgence, or find themselves overwhelmed by seasoned Taliban fighters.
“We’re moving toward an increased special operations role,” together with U.S. intelligence, Mulholland said, “whether it’s counterterrorism-centric, or counterterrorism blended with counterinsurgency.”
[ … ]
Senior U.S. officials have spoken of keeping a mix of 10,000 of both raiding and training special operations forces in Afghanistan, and drawing down to between 20,000 and 30,000 conventional forces to provide logistics and support. But at this point, the figures are as fuzzy as the future strategy.
Whatever happens with U.S. troops, intelligence officers know they will be a key component.
“If the CIA built an intelligence network that could provide special operations forces with targets, we could do the job,” said Maj. Gen. Bennet S. Sacolick, who runs the U.S. Army’s Special Warfare Center and School.
This is a glowing report about the progress in Afghanistan coupled with a report card on what the SOF and SF are able to do – right up until Sacolick mentions those pesky little issues of logistics and intelligence networks.
20,000 – 30,000 troops won’t even be able to provide force protection for the SOF troopers, much less protection for the lines of logistics, protection for intelligence assets, or presence on the ground in the RC South or RC East to prevent virtually the entirety of Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for the Taliban again. The Taliban haven’t retreated far beyond the outskirts the urban areas anyway.
But take careful note of what Sacolick says about his directions for high value target hits: “If the CIA built an intelligence network that could provide special operations forces with targets, we could do the job.” What job? The job of HVT raids. First off, there is no discussion as to the [in]effectiveness of said program. But just as important, as to the intelligence that under-girds the existence of the program, Sacolick says “it’s not my shop!”
We just do raids. The CIA has to provide the intelligence, and they must do it without the troops necessary to squeeze the information out of the population, or protect the ones who do give up information. The most incredible thing about this report is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pentagon are even contemplating this as a viable option. It shows the desperation of the campaign that this idea has even been floated.
One final note. How is that plan going for turnover to ANA forces?
Late one evening, soon after a bomb planted in the road was blown up by the vigilant engineers, another large explosion rocked the Afghan patrol based called Hamid where the troops were camped for the night.
Insurgents had accidentally triggered a large IED placed where we had patrolled just an hour before.
“An own goal,” gloated the Diggers as they settled in for a night.
The Mirabad Valley clearance had been billed as an “ANA planned and led” operation.
In reality following two fatalities and seven destroyed vehicles, the ANA commander said, “Let’s clear the Mirabad Valley before winter sets in.” He then left the planning and details to Alpha Company led by Major Tony Bennett whose men are mentoring the 3rd Kandak of the ANA’s 4th Brigade working with local police and their American mentors.
“They are picking some of it up, but they will not be able to do this (clearance) without us,” Major Bennett said.
“They will sit in the patrol bases and be a deterrent and hopefully the police in the valleys will be enough to stop the insurgents.”
“Sit in patrol bases and be a deterrent.” Such is the state of the plan.