Photo: Adrian Cadiz US Air Force
For more than a decade U.S. tactics in Afghanistan have relied upon large conventional Army units working alongside Afghan military and police forces, sweeping hot-spots, and installing local governments.It’s proven successful, but unsustainable as the U.S. looks to bring home 22,000 troops by September and aims for a full withdrawal by 2014.
In a drastic tactical shift Greg Jaffe at The Washington Post reports the Pentagon is now planning to send more Special Forces soldiers to Afghanistan, placing an emphasis on training Afghans and killing senior insurgent leaders.
In support of the new strategy defence Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to assign a new two-star general to oversee Afghanistan Special Forces who will report to Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, the deputy commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) which oversees all the military’s special forces, including SEAL 6.
This shift is part of a larger change that has brought JSOC from the shadows, where it has celebrated its secrecy and victories for years, into the spotlight that shifted to the unit following the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
JSOC has long been a deep-reaching arm of the government, used to gather intelligence and remove leaders in countries with which the U.S. is not at war.
One JSOC operator told Dana Priest and William M. Arkin at the Post that “The CIA doesn’t have the size or the authority to do some of the things we can do.”
One thing the team does share with the CIA, however, is a kill list.
The president has empowered JSOC to send out man-hunting missions on the ground and kill individuals of its choosing. While opponents of the practice call it assassination, it’s not stopped, and with more Special Forces soldiers on the ground now in Afghanistan, there’s little doubt the kill list will grow.
Priest and Arkin highlight JSOC’s deadly efficiency in an Army history report of the Dec 13 and 14 fight at Tora Bora where JSOC killed so many insurgents that “dead bodies of al-Qaeda fighters were carted off the field the next day” by the truckload.
That deadly efficiency swings both ways. In 2008, a JSOC team called in air support from an A-130 gunship and directed pilots to strike six sites in the village of Kakarak. One missile went off course and killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children as they traveled to a local wedding.
According to James Strucke at The Guardian the U.S. military denied that any civilians had been killed.
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