Remember when Barack Obama used the magic of semantics in 2010 to turn our boots on the ground in Iraq into non-combat soldiers? Those “non-combat” troops remained for another year or so, with the last troops leaving in December of 2011. But now that Obama wants to return to fighting in Iraq, he has been forced to resort to a much larger array of deceptions than simple semantics to get his boots on the ground for the battle against ISIS. [And we have to fight ISIS because our wonderfully “trained” Iraqi security forces dissolved against them].
Among others, one of the voices for “boots on the grounds” is Max Boot:
Lift the prohibition on U.S. “boots on the ground.” President Obama has not allowed U.S. Special Forces and forward air controllers to embed themselves in the Free Syrian Army, Iraqi security forces, Kurdish peshmerga, or in Sunni tribes when they go into combat as he did with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. This lack of eyes on the ground makes it harder to call in air strikes and to improve the combat capacity of U.S. proxies. Experience shows that “combat advisors” fighting alongside indigenous troops are far more effective than trainers confined to large bases.
And Max loves him some Special Forces, as they return on his to-do list for Obama:
Send in the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Between 2003 and 2010, JSOC—composed of units such as SEAL Team Six and Delta Force—became skilled at targeting the networks of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Its success was largely due to its ability to gather intelligence by interrogating prisoners and scooping up computers and documents—something that bombing alone cannot accomplish. JSOC squadrons should once again be moved to the region (they could be stationed in Iraq proper, the Kurdistan Regional Government, Turkey, and/or Jordan) to target high-level ISIS organizers.
So Boot pines for the return of Special Forces to Iraq, not just for embedding to target air strikes, but for a full-fledged return to Petraeus’ death squads in Iraq. But stealthy Obama very likely is already there, according to this Marc Ambinder piece back in September. After first stating his distaste for the “boots on the ground” meme, Ambinder tells us that covert operators are almost certainly already there, citing a Daily Beast report by Ford Sypher: Continue reading
It is difficult to imagine how the situation could be any worse for the US ahead of Thursday’s opening of the loya jirga that was meant to give a stamp of approval to the Bilateral Security Agreement that would govern US troops remaining in Afghanistan after 2014. Both the New York Times and Reuters are reporting a sticking point (the issue is not a new one) in the negotiations that threatens to prevent an agreement being reached. Furthermore, a suicide bomber struck on Saturday at the site where the jirga is planned. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. Finally, the UN is reporting that despite as many as 12,000 Taliban fighters being killed, wounded or captured in the last year, violence in Afghanistan is at its highest point since the US surge.
The latest sticking point in the Bilateral Security Agreement (immunity for US troops also is a sticking point that is just as likely to derail approval by the jirga) addresses US troops entering Afghan homes without permission. This is at the heart of the operations of US death squads as Special Operations forces carry out night raids. From the Times:
Offstage, however, American raids continued to be a point of deadlock, according to the Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations were continuing. In recent days, the talks have been led on the Afghan side by Mr. Karzai, and on the American side by Ambassador James B. Cunningham and the military coalition commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
The Afghan officials said Mr. Karzai would not change his position before Thursday’s loya jirga, to which 3,000 officials, elders and notables from around the country have been invited to ratify or reject the security agreement.
So even though these negotiations are being carried out at the highest level, it appears that a serious disagreement persists, just a few days short of the critical jirga. The article notes that some on the US side feel that this is a last-minute ploy by the Afghans, but considering that Karzai has opposed the raids from the beginning, it is hard to see how that argument has any merit. The article continues to show how this disagreement could scuttle the entire deal: Continue reading
With Hamid Karzai’s loya jirga only about one week away, Reuters has published information that adds fuel to one of the major objections to the new Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the US that the jirga is meant to bless. Despite clear evidence provided recently in full by Matthieu Aikins that US special forces were involved in the murders of a number of civilians in the Nerkh district of Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan’s security directorate has had to close their investigation into those deaths because the US will not provide access to the troops who were involved. The current status of forces agreement provides full criminal immunity to US troops and it is widely believed that criminal immunity going forward after 2014 will be the key decision point at the jirga and for Karzai signing the agreement.
For their article, Reuters came into possession of a report from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security that was written in September:
Afghanistan’s intelligence service has abandoned its investigation into the murder of a group of civilians after being refused access to U.S. special forces soldiers suspected of involvement, according to a document obtained by Reuters.
In the report authored by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency, investigators said they had asked the United States for access to three U.S. Green Berets and four Afghan translators working with them but were rebuffed.
“Despite many requests by NDS they have not cooperated. Without their cooperation this process cannot be completed,” said the report, which was originally published on September 23.
U.S. military officials were not immediately available for comment but they have long said the Green Berets did not take part in, or turn a blind eye to, illegal killings in Wardak.
Yeah, right. How can the US claim they didn’t turn a “blind eye” when, among the many things Aikins documented, it was clear that Zakariah Kandahari was in Facebook contact with the special forces unit in question while he was officially “missing”?
There has been much posturing over the jirga in recent days, with assemblies of politicians and other leaders being called to both support and oppose any approval of the bilateral security agreement. The Taliban also has weighed in, warning that any tribal leaders voting for the US to retain a presence in Afghanistan will be targets of future attacks.
Of course, the US claims that even though US forces are immune from being charged by Afghan authorities, US troops are subject to the military justice system and that crimes are investigated and prosecuted. However, given the rush to prosecute only Robert Bales on the Panjwai massacre even though it seems quite possible he had help with at least some of those killings, by blocking Afghan access to the remainder of the death squad involved prompts speculation that Kandahari will be the scapegoat for the Nerkh killings, especially since the US continues to maintain that Kandahari wasn’t even officially working for the US.
Will the blocking of Afghanistan’s investigation into these brutal murders be the final straw that blocks approval of immunity and the BSA?
The US has set the end of this month as its artificial deadline for signing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA, also Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA) with Afghanistan to govern the presence of US troops inside Afghanistan after the scheduled end of NATO operations at the end of 2014. The driving force behind this push to have the SOFA in place so far ahead of the end of next year was to prevent a repeat of the embarrassment that the US suffered when it was unable to get the terms it wanted–specifically, full criminal immunity for US troops–in Iraq and wound up withdrawing all troops instead of leaving a force behind after the stated end of military operations.
The news today out of Afghanistan does not bode well for the US to meet its deadline. Although the issue of criminal immunity still seems likely to me to be just as big a barrier in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has raised a different concern that the US seems quite unlikely to address in the way he wants. From Reuters:
But two issues have emerged as potential “deal breakers”, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters late on Tuesday.
One is a U.S. desire to run independent counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan after 2014, Faizi said. The other was a U.S. refusal to agree to a wide-reaching promise to protect Afghanistan from foreign aggression.
Karzai has long opposed operations in Afghanistan by U.S. special operations forces and the CIA, particularly when they run the risk of causing civilian casualties.
“These things are strongly related to our sovereignty,” Faizi said. “We find it to be something that will definitely undermine our sovereignty, if we allow the U.S. forces to have the right to conduct unilateral military operations.”
Recall that back in February of this year, Karzai grew frustrated with the death squad activities in Wardak province and called for the expulsion of US special forces there. As usual, the reference to “special operations forces and the CIA” means the death squads that the US organizes in Afghanistan (sometimes under the guise of Afghan Local Police) that carry out brutal night raids described as “counter-terrorism” operations.
Faizi is quoted on this issue further in an AFP piece picked up by Dawn:
“The US wants the freedom to conduct military operations, night raids and house searches,” Faizi told reporters late Tuesday.
“According to them, there are 75 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, which is very strange as this agreement will be for 10 years to have the right to conduct military operations anywhere in the country.
“Unilaterally having the right to conduct military operations is in no way acceptable for Afghans.”
It appears that negotiations on this issue are now being carried out in direct phone conversations between Karzai and Obama. It’s hard to imagine that either will give up any portion of their position, so look for an announcement near the end of this month that the “deadline” has been extended. There already is discussion that the new Afghan president taking office after the April elections will be tasked with finalizing the agreement since Karzai and Obama seem unable to come to agreement.
The second sticking point is also fairly interesting. It appears that in this case, the US is actually showing restraint of a sort, since they don’t want to give Afghanistan wide latitude in determining what constitutes an attack on Afghanistan that would trigger the US responding in defense of Afghanistan. From the Dawn article:
Faizi also said the two sides could not agree on how the bilateral security agreement (BSA) should define an attack on Afghanistan that would trigger US protection.
“We believe that when terrorists are sent to commit suicide attacks here, that is also aggression,” Faizi said.
“We are a strategic partner of the US and we must be protected against foreign aggression. For us and for the US, that’s the conflicting point. We are not of the same opinion and we need clarity from the US side,” he said.
Cross-border skirmishes between various factions in Afghanistan in Pakistan are an ongoing process. In fact, there was a suicide bombing today at the Chaman border crossing that killed at least eight people. Today’s attacker appeared to have come from the Afghan side of the border, but it appears that the US wishes to avoid being forced to carry out attacks inside Pakistan under the guise of the SOFA when a suicide attack originates from inside Pakistan.
Of course, even a government shutdown hasn’t stopped the US carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistan, but that is a different issue entirely and seems to relate more to who has pissed off John Brennan lately rather than who organized a suicide attack.
As evidence from investigations carried out by Afghan officials continues to mount that a figure now named (although it seems quite likely to me that this is not a real name) Zakaria Kandahari is at the heart of the cases of torture and murder of Afghan civilians that prompted Hamid Karzai to ban US Special Forces from Maidan Wardak province in February, the US found it necessary to provide an anonymous official to the New York Times as they published the Afghan revelations. Here is the heart of the dispute as outlined in the Times article:
The accusations against the man, Zakaria Kandahari, and the assertion that he and much of his unit are American are a new turn in a dispute over counterinsurgency tactics in Wardak that has strained relations between Kabul and Washington. American officials say their forces are being wrongly blamed for atrocities carried out by a rogue Afghan unit. But the Afghan officials say they have substantial evidence of American involvement.
They say they have testimony and documents implicating Mr. Kandahari and his unit in the killings or disappearances of 15 Afghans in Wardak. Mr. Kandahari is of Afghan descent but was born and raised in the United States, they say. Included in the evidence, the Afghan officials say, is a videotape of Mr. Kandahari torturing one of the 15 Afghans, a man they identified as Sayid Mohammad.
As the discussion moves to the videotape, the anonymous official is trotted out:
Afghan officials who have seen the videotape say a person speaking English with an American accent can be heard supervising the torture session, which Mr. Kandahari is seen conducting.
An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with official policy, confirmed the existence of the video showing Mr. Kandahari but denied that he was an American citizen. “Everybody in that video is Afghan; there are no American voices,” the official said.
What appears not to be in dispute, then, is that Kandahari is torturing the victim in the tape. The US claims no Americans are present and even that the voice identified by the Afghans as having an American accent is not American. But how can the anonymous US official know whose voice is the one in dispute? If the person is not seen on the tape, then the only way the American official’s claim could be true is if they carried out voice analysis on a computer and got a positive match with a person known not to be American.
But the next denial from the anonymous official is even less believable. The US Special Forces group at the center of this controversy is now known to have been based in the Nerkh district of the province and to be an “A Team”, “who work with extra resources that the military calls “enablers””. Remarkably, the article doesn’t make the tiny leap that is needed to deduce that at least some of these “enablers” working with the A Team must be CIA, even though near the end of the article, it is noted that this group came to Nerkh from Camp Gecko in Kandahar and there is a definite CIA connection there: Continue reading
Because I follow the issue of training Afghan forces very closely, I clicked on an article today from TOLONews on graduation of a new group of Afghan Special Forces soldiers. One tidbit in the article caught my eye (emphasis added):
About 200 soldiers on Thursday graduated to the special operations forces of the Afghan National Army, ready to be deployed to the frontlines of the war against insurgents, army official said.
Deputy Chief of Army Staff Gen Azal Aman said at a graduation ceremony for the new commandos that the soldiers had been professionally trained and people should trust them as they are now responsible for the security of major parts of the country.
The ANA soldiers received 12 weeks of intense training to graduate to do special operations.
Hmmm. To be in Afghan Special Forces, it only takes 12 weeks of training? Here is what it takes to be labelled Special Forces for the US:
Like all soldiers, SF candidates begin their career with nine weeks of Boot Camp. Upon completion of Basic Combat Training you will attend Advanced Individual Training. For Special Forces, you will go to Infantry School to learn to use small arms, anti-armor, and weapons like howitzers and heavy mortars. Basic Combat Training lasts 9 weeks, AIT lasts four weeks, and Airborne last 3 weeks. All take place at Fort Benning, Georgia.
After graduating AIT your training will continue with the following schools:
- Army Airborne School – 3 weeks in Ft Benning GA
- Special Operations Preparation Course (SOPC) – 4 weeks in Ft Bragg NC
- Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) – 3 weeks in Ft Bragg NC
- Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) – 34 -76 weeks depending upon MOS Specialty
- Live Environment Training (LET) – Immersion Training in foreign countries – varies in time.
Depending upon your MOS within Special Forces Training, the process of completing these schools can take 14-18 months.
Okay then. Afghan Special Forces are so special that they can get the name after only 12 weeks of training but US soldiers need up to 18 months of training to be Special Forces. And yet, as we saw above, “people should trust them as they are now responsible for the security of major parts of the country”. That should work out just swell.
In the most significant move yet that suggests the NATO plan for Afghan security forces to take over as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 has failed, the US has halted most joint activities between US and Afghan forces below the battalion level. Any joint action at the lower force level will require approval from a General before it is permitted. Because the bulk of the training and joint patrol work of US and Afghan forces occurs at these lower force size levels, this order effectively brings training to a close until the order is reversed.
Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News first reported this development last night:
Most joint U.S.-Afghan military operations have been suspended following what authorities believe was an insider attack Sunday that left four American soldiers dead, officials told NBC News.
“We’re to the point now where we can’t trust these people,” a senior military official said. So far this year, 51 NATO troops have been killed in these so-called blue-on-green attacks. Sunday’s attack came a day after two British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman, Reuters reported.
“It’s had a major impact on our ability to conduct combat operations with them, and we’re going to have to back off to a certain degree,” the official said.
The suspensions of the joint operations are indefinite – according to one official, they “could last three days or three months.”
ISAF took issue with some of the early reporting and issued this “clarification” this morning:
Recent media coverage regarding a change in ISAF’s model of Security Force Assistance (SFA) to the Afghan National Security Forces is not accurate. ISAF remains absolutely committed to partnering with, training, advising and assisting our ANSF counterparts. The ISAF SFA model is focused at the battalion level and above, with exceptions approved by senior commanders. Partnering occurs at all levels, from Platoon to Corps. This has not changed.
In response to elevated threat levels resulting from the “Innocence of Muslims” video, ISAF has taken some prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks. This means that in some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased. These actions balance the tension of the recent video with force protection, while maintaining the momentum of the campaign.
We’ve done this before in other high tension periods, and it has worked well. Under this guidance, and as conditions change, we will continue to adapt the force posture and force protection. The SFA model is integral to the success of the ANSF, and ISAF will return to normal operations as soon as conditions warrant.
It seems to me that just as the “Innocence of the Muslims” video and its associated protests was used as cover for the sophisticated attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, ISAF now is using the film and protests as cover for suspending training even though this suspension was a development that was easily predicted when Special Forces halted training of the Afghan Local Police on September 2. As I said at the time: Continue reading
As I noted just under two weeks ago, NATO used the occasion of the Taliban attacks across Afghanistan on April 15 to enhance the image of Afghan troops and emphasize the role that they played in ending the attacks. This followed only a week after the US and Afghanistan signed an agreement on night raids, putting Afghan special forces in charge of night raids, with US forces playing a “support role”.
Although the agreement on night raids was one of the first times Afghan special forces entered the news, it appears that their training began about two years ago. Earlier this week, Joint Chiefs Chair General Martin Dempsey visited the training facility for Afghan special forces and posed for the photo above. He talked glowingly:
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told American Forces Press Service while en route here for a meeting of NATO defense chiefs that he was especially impressed by yesterday’s visit to NATO Training Mission Afghanistan’s Special Forces Training Center at Camp Morehead in Kabul.
“I spent the better part of the day with the [Afghan] commandos and special forces and my counterpart, General [Sher Mohammad] Karimi, just to get their sense of how they feel about themselves,” the chairman said, noting that he also talked with the U.S. service members who mentor them. “I was encouraged on a couple of fronts.
“Their self-esteem is increasing,” he continued. “They’re very proud. They’ve got not only a good equipping and training model, but they’re building in a sense of purpose and values to the force … That part of the force is part of it that I hadn’t really confronted before, and I found it to be very capable, and, I think, moving apace to become a very important part of their security apparatus.”
The visit by Dempsey and his glowing statement about Afghan special forces now appears to have been very ill-timed:
An elite Afghan soldier shot dead an American mentor and his translator at a U.S. base, Afghan officials said on Friday, in the first rogue shooting blamed on the country’s new and closely vetted special forces.
The soldier opened fire at an American military base on Wednesday in Shah Wali Kot district, in volatile Kandahar province, said General Abdul Hamid, the commander of Afghan army forces in the Taliban’s southern heartland.
“The shooting took place after a verbal conflict where the Afghan special forces soldier opened fire and killed an American special forces member and his translator,” Hamid told Reuters.
In discussing the increasing frequency of these green on blue killings, NATO until now has taken the attitude that they are “isolated incidents” while dong their best to ignore the study (pdf) released last May, and then retroactively classified, which detailed the cultural incompatibilities that lead to the killings. In response to this latest incident of fratricide, however, NATO’s response is changing. Returning to the Reuters article: Continue reading