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Ron Synovitz, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFL/RL), reports on “how one commando team is contributing to the overall strategy” Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) employs in Afghanistan.
Report Relies upon Department of Defense Sources - Synovitz appears to base his observations of the “one commando team” solely on audio clips provided by a US Department of Defense (DoD) video; an undocumented description of same; the fact that an unidentified RFE/RFL correspondent “saw the team leave the Kandahar Air Field in camouflaged humvees,” bearing the DoD video cameramen; unnamed “US officials;” and a press conference in Kabul with the US military’s chief spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty. It is unclear if the eyewitness to the team’s departure is Synovitz himself or some other RFE/RFL reporter. What the article does clearly imply is 1) this OMS-participant team is representative of an overall well-coordinated and carefully planned strategy 2) the strategy, using “unconventional warfare” tactics, has the potential to prevail against any remaining “terrorist” threat in a wide-sweeping area 3) the strategy underlies a “new” operation, OMS, but continues the US Department of Defense’s military success, a success rooted in the effective strategy.
Article Highlights OMS Break with Tradition - Reporting on Hilferty’s description of the “counter-terrorism tactics designed to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” the article points out that, as distinguished from the use of “methods of conventional warfare,” in which units by the thousands amass “on the ground”—OMS combat forces—at times consisting of US Special Forces and Afghan National Army soldiers; at others, of US, Marines, Navy SEAL commandos, and CIA paramilitary officers—carry out “search and destroy” missions in small “commando teams,” operating along a large swath of Afghanistan’s interior as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, to seek out enemy fighters and their weapons hidden in the mountains. For OMS, “there are no Bradley armored personnel carriers or Abrams tanks,” as used in the Iraq war, but rather, armored humvees and “fast-moving military trucks,” Special Forces employ all-terrain vehicles in desert regions.
Hilferty Touts Conventional Support for New Strategy - Still, Hilferty claims these departures from tradition are supported with the continuation of “patrols and vehicle checkpoints.” He also notes the “close air support” by “fighter jets, AC-130 Spectre gunships, and A-10 Warthog attack planes,” at the ready to intervene if OMS commandos run into problems. Hilferty touts this air support as available “24 hours a day circling overhead, ready to assist coalition forces.” In smaller airborne operations that military planners refer to as “heliborne insertion,” Chinook helicopters transport commando teams into the heart of the mountain posts guerrilla fighters claim. All of these tactics are custom-fitted to Afghanistan’s battlefield, primarily a mountainous terrain not well-served by a “heavy, mechanized force,” and are conducted simultaneously, so that the sum of the parts is what, mission by mission, adds up.
Article Echoes US Central Command's Focus on Quantity - Synovitz’s approach to reporting on the new offensive echoes that of US Central Command’s in its focus on discrete incidents, itemizing specific weapons recovered or enemy combatants killed. Synovitz contends that the unconventional nature of the conduct of warfare in Afghanistan calls for reporting “a stream of isolated incidents—like the announcement today by Hilferty that US-led soldiers had killed three suspected Taliban members this weekend while searching a cave in Qalat, in Zabul province.” (Synovitz 3/15/2004)
Pat Tillman Death Investigations Will Bolster Critics' View of OMS Strategy - Critics of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s reliance on what former solider and journalist Stan Goff will call “the metrics of quantification,” exemplified by OMS in its design and in reporting on it, will argue that, as with the “body counts” former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara boasted to claim success in Vietnam, much publicized hauls from “search and destroy” missions amount to little in terms of valid results. Further, promised support from conventional combat operations often does not materialize. For instance, Goff will point to a mission botched on several fronts as causing Pat Tillman’s death near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (seeApril 23, 2004 and April 22, 2004). Regimental chain of command denied Tillman’s Ranger platoon the use of a helicopter to airlift a disabled humvee that became a link in a series of foul-ups leading to the “friendly fire” killing of Tillman and an Afghan Militia soldier while on patrol in OMS. In adddition, command denied the beleaguered Rangers air support in the “search and destroy” mission Tillman’s platoon was forced to conduct as night fell. Command’s urgency that there be “boots on the ground by dusk” stemmed from a need to fulfill the very sort of “checklist” Rumsfeld offered to document military progress. (Goff 6/23/2006; Lindlaw and Mendoza 11/9/2006; Goff 8/9/2007)
After a tour of duty in Iraq, the Army Ranger platoon containing Pat and Kevin Tillman, the Black Sheep—officially, 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment—ship out from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Afghanistan. It is to participate in a new offensive codenamed Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and Early 2003).
Tillman 'Battled Steadfastly' - The year before, the Tillman brothers’ platoon had been sent to Iraq (see March 2003). There, in place of his fallen lead gunner, Pat Tillman stepped up to his first firefight and “battled steadfastly.” Although Tillman voices opposition to the war in Iraq, he originally joined the military because he wanted to fight in Afghanistan (see Early 2004).
Redeployed for Operation Mountain Storm - Assigned to the newly-minted OMS campaign, the infantrymen in the Tillmans’ platoon are to act as “special operators,” tasked to “flush out and entrap enemy guerrillas,” sweeping zones “grid by grid,” and traveling in “small, mobile, lethal units.” As Rangers, the soldiers are trained in the use of unconventional, commando-style tactics in which small units conduct search-and-destroy missions rather than larger combat operations. The US Department of Defense has developed a strategy designed to eliminate insurgents along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border relying on searching for weapons and guerrilla fighters by “sweeping and clearing” villages. It is while on such a search and destroy mission during OMS that Pat Tillman will meet his death under circumstances triggering a military criminal probe (see April 23, 2004). (Coll 12/5/2004)
En route to its last “sweep and clear” operation on the 10th day of a combat patrol mission in southeastern Afghanistan, the Black Sheep, Pat and Kevin Tillman’s Ranger platoon, is forced to lay over in Magarah, a small town in “the heart of Taliban country,” because of a vehicle breakdown (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 20-22,2004). (Coll 12/5/2004) Their young platoon leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, relays the situation to a tactical operations center (TOC) at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, near Khost, 65 miles away. There, the “Cross Functional Team” (CFT) works out platoon movements stationed in “a 20-by-30 tent with a projection screen and a satellite radio.” Already running late as a result of trying to repair and then tow the Humvee, the soldiers are low on supplies, “down to the water in their CamelBak drinking pouches, and forced to buy a goat from a local vendor.” (Lindlaw and Mendoza 11/9/2006)
Warning in Magarah Ignored - Later, several soldiers will report that an ominous incident occurs in Magarah during their “down time.” They testify that a village doctor passes a note that the chain of command on the ground ignores. Although they will not all agree on the exact contents of the note, they concur that it warns of impending enemy action against them. (US Department of the Army 3/19/2007 )
Soldiers Want to Get Rid of the Humvee - Some of the men, among them Kevin Tillman, think they should dispose of the $50,000 Humvee and “blow the b_tch up.” (ESPN 10/12/2006; Tillman and Zacchino 2008) Army regulations won’t allow it. And if they abandon the gun-mounted vehicle, base command is worried that guerrilla fighters could take propagandist pictures of themselves in possession of it. (Tillman and Zacchino 2008, pp. 51)
Uthlaut Goes over Options with Command: They Leave Him Only One - Uthlaut offers an option: as previously, tow the disabled Humvee using another Humvee, but this time “on two wheels instead of four.” This would mean the platoon as a whole would bring the Humvee up to paved road for a wrecker to haul it back to the base. Command at TOC nixes this solution as it is concerned that additional stress to the Humvee’s rear suspension could further damage it. Uthlaut asks for a helicopter sling load for the Humvee. His request is denied. An officer at TOC tries to arrange for airborne support for the platoon. This request is also denied. (Lindlaw and Mendoza 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army 3/19/2007 ) As Uthlaut messages the cross-functional team at TOC, locals are “coming out of the village” to ascertain what is going on. An Afghani “Jinga” (flatbed tow truck) driver offers to haul the vehicle out of the valley and up to a hard-topped road for a price. Uthlaut helps to negotiate the deal. Now, reporting in to base command again, he enumerates three possible options to save both the vehicle and the mission. Uthlaut will later testify: “The first option was to split the platoon and send one element to deal with getting the broken HMMWV to the hardtop and the other element would move to the village and begin clearing operations. The second option was to keep the whole platoon together, move with the HMMWV up to the hardball [sic] road, drop the broken HMMWV off with the escort platoon and the wrecker, then move as a platoon to start clearing Manah. The third option was not to worry about meeting a wrecker or escort platoon and move as a platoon with the ‘Jinga’ truck towing the broken [redacted] and then take further orders from there.” Uthlaut continues, “From there, the response I got back from [REDACTED] was to go with option one, which was to split the platoon.”
Uthlaut "Pushes the Envelope" - Uthlaut questions the order. He messages CFT the following: “I strongly recommend not splitting the platoon… for several reasons.” Mainly, Uthlaut is concerned for the safety of the platoon. He feels its security will be undermined by the split. Part of the platoon will be without a satellite radio. In addition, half of the soldiers will be without his immediate command. He brings up these concerns and also asks if it is not a problem that one of the two “serial” convoys will have less firepower in that there is only one heavy weapon—a .50 caliber machine gun—between the entire platoon. This fact does not persuade command to alter its order. In addition, Uthlaut will testify that he is aware that standard operating procedure had changed since two Rangers were killed in ambush recently—“our clearing procedures were to clear the villages in the day time”—so as to be a less visible target. He asks if the platoon element that is to go ahead to Manah will begin a night operation. Even as he makes plans to re-configure his men into separate convoys, he is still “disagreeing with… the course of action.” His concerns about communication are met with the information that there is another satellite radio on one of the vehicles in addition to his own, as the company commander’s vehicle is being used. Then he learns that “the clearing was not to start at night.” Instead, serial one proceeding in advance of serial two is to “set up an assembly area,” outside of the village, wait for two, and clear the next morning in daylight.
Command Wants Boots on the Ground before Nightfall - Uthlaut presses for clarification. He asks if the whole purpose of sending one element ahead of the other is “to get boots on the ground before nightfall.” He will say that he is told “yes, that was the intent.” (US Department of the Army 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ) Although exactly who gives the order to split the platoon will remain in contention across several future investigations, the record will show that soldiers on the ground and even some back at TOC do not think it wise. (US Department of the Army 3/19/2007 ) But Uthlaut will later testify that he “figured I had pushed the envelope far enough and [I] accepted the mission.” It will be dark soon. After a six hour stop over, Ulthaut must hurry his men to their respective destinations. Sergeant Trevor Alders, later identified as one of the shooters in that day’s friendly fire incident (see April 23, 2004) will tell Army investigators that his convoy, serial two, escorting the Afghani tow truck driver, does not even have a chance to glance at a map before “we were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws… which in the end would prove to be fatal.” (Lindlaw and Mendoza 11/9/2006)
Ordered by command to split up into two convoys, Kevin and Pat Tillman’s platoon leaves Magarah (see April 22, 2004 and May 23-June 1, 2002) en route to clear the village of Manah near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Both convoys must move through a narrow canyon, presided over by steep cliffs where they are easy targets for enemy fighters.
Brothers in Separate Convoys - The brothers ride in separate convoys, Pat in designated Serial One, advancing to the village; Kevin, in designated Serial Two, escorting a local tow truck with the platoon’s disabled Humvee (see April 20-22,2004).
Platoon Leader Did Not Want Split - The platoon’s leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, who has strongly resisted the split-up—believing it compromises security in terms of weapons, communications, personnel, and command—leads Serial One. Sergeant Greg Baker commands “the heaviest armed vehicle” in Serial Two. Subsequent investigations will determine that two of Baker’s men have never been under fire before. (Goff 8/9/2007; Krakauer 2009, pp. 250-276)
Serial One is the first to go through a dangerous canyon en route to complete a combat patrol mission (see 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004). Military writer Stan Goff will describe the extremely narrow canyon as acting “like a funnel, a megaphone.” In a later book, Where Men Win Glory, author Jon Krakauer will write that Pat Tillman’s convoy must “move at an excruciatingly slow pace,” taking 20 minutes to do so because “the slot [is] so tight that the Humvees’ fenders scraped against its sheer walls.” (Goff 8/9/2007; Krakauer 2009, pp. 250-276)
Serial Two of the Tillman brothers’ Rangers’ platoon, the Black Sheep, heads in a different direction from Serial One to deliver a disabled Humvee to a wrecker on the Khost highway (see April 20-22,2004). However, the tow truck driver refuses to continue when the road becomes impassable. He suggests taking the same route as Serial One, passing Manah to “circle around to the designated highway.” Sergeant Eric Godec must make the call. Although he finds his serial, Two, has lost radio communication with One, he agrees. Two must now make it through the same narrow passage as One (see 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004) with about 17 men and six vehicles, including the tow. (Coll 12/5/2004; Goff 8/9/2007; Krakauer 2009, pp. 250-276)
Soldiers Have Eerie Feeling - Men in both convoys will recall having “an eerie feeling” as they pass through the canyon. Kevin Tillman will say, “I knew damn well we were going to get hit.” According to author Jon Krakauer, “the cliffs rose so precipitously [on either side of the canyon],” Private Bryan O’Neal, in Serial Two, has to “lie on his back in order to scan the canyon’s ledges for Taliban through the scope of his M4 carbine.” Sergeant Trevor Alders, manning the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) for Serial Two, and later named one of the “friendlies” shooting at Pat Tillman’s position, will recall that the men speak of this “mutual feeling” of “eeriness” among themselves. As he remembers it, “the canyon closed in on us as we went further into it.” (Lindlaw and Mendoza 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army 3/19/2007 ; Krakauer 2009, pp. 250-276)
Pat Tillman’s part of the Black Sheep Platoon, known as Serial One, gets through a perilous canyon passage without incident. But just as it emerges—after missing a turn—at the far mouth of the canyon, to an open area on the edge of a nearby village, it receives what will be described as “a highly-amplified, and highly-alarming acoustics-and-light show.” This is the effect of the other part of the platoon, known as Serial Two, engaging apparent guerrilla fighters from within the depths of the canyon (see April 22, 2004, 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004, 6:18 pm April 22, 2004, and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). In his book on Pat Tillman, author Jon Krakauer will write that “from behind them, gunfire erupted inside the canyon. The Rangers in Serial One [look] back to see red tracer bullets blasting out of the passage, and [scramble] to provide cover for their embattled fellow soldiers.” (Lindlaw and Mendoza 11/9/2006; Goff 8/9/2007; Krakauer 2009, pp. 250-276)
The Tillman brothers (see May 23-June 1, 2002) ride in separate convoys to complete a mission, Pat Tillman in designated Serial One and Kevin Tillman in Serial Two; while One moves safely through a dangerous canyon, Two, following shortly behind, runs into an ambush ( see April 22, 2004 and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Trapped in 'Kill Zone' - Serial Two—in the canyon only a minute—hears an explosion. Thinking they have hit a land mine or that an IED has been detonated, Sergeant Greg Baker and his men follow Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and dismount their “machine gun-laden” vehicle. Baker, in command of that vehicle, will later testify that he “noticed rocks falling,” and “then… saw the second and third mortar rounds hit.” He also will say that he could hear the “rattle of enemy small arms fire.” Now, realizing they are in an ambush, Two tries to get out of the “kill zone,” but the tow truck, which has been at the head of the convoy, blocks the way, its driver “cowering behind rocks.” Baker grabs the driver, throws him back in the truck, and gets him to move out, while he unloads his weapon “up the canyon walls” until it is out of ammunition. He dismounts the tow truck, racing back to his own vehicle—a roofless Humvee open on all sides—reloads, and continues firing. (Coll 12/5/2004; Krakauer 2009, pp. 264)
Serial Two 'Trigger-Happy' - Ranger Corporal Jason Parsons, a Serial Two member, will describe a scene of “tunnel vision” and “panic,” as his “trigger-happy crew”—men in the convoy’s last vehicle—fire at dark shapes they perceive above, to their north. Both Black Sheep soldiers, Pedro Arreola and Kyle Jones, shoot multiple rounds at this area, the northern ridge line. Kevin Tillman, riding atop Parson’s Humvee, holds his fire, fearing a ricochet effect will land his ordinance on a fellow Ranger’s head, but when he does finally see an opportunity to get off a shot, he finds his Mark 19 machine gun jammed, perhaps due to all the jostling, and he cannot get off a grenade during the entire incident. (Krakauer 2009, pp. 250-276)
A soldier posted close to Pat Tillman on a ridge-line fired upon by “friendlies” (see 6:34 p.m. - 6:44 p.m. April 22, 2004) will later testify that he, Tillman, and an Allied Forces soldier fighting with them, are fired upon in two incidents involving two different vehicles.
Account of Eyewitness in Nearest Proximity to Tillman - In Private Bryan O’Neal’s account, provided in the Army’s third investigation prior to its criminal probe, he recalls two encounters with friendly fire from two different vehicles, each of which he refers to as a “GMV.” He will testify that the first GMV fires an M-4 at the location where the AMF soldier, Tillman, and he are positioned on the spur, and that the AMF soldier is not hit until the “second encounter of friendly fire,” from a different vehicle. In an official inquiry conducted by Brigadier Gary Jones, O’Neal will detail the two encounters: “[M]y belief was that the first GMV that shot at us was like a cargo GMV, sir. It wasn’t—I didn’t, at that time, see any heavy—heavy weaponry on that sir. It was pretty much—you know there was nothing on it. And then the next one that came on us had a mounted fifty-cal and 240 and they were the ones that opened up on us, sir.” O’Neal will relate that in the initial confrontation with the first vehicle, the one he identifies as being a cargo transport, he and Tillman recognize friendlies, but not considering the situation serious, try to signal that they are friendlies by “a lot of waving.” O’Neal believes the shooters in the first vehicle realize they have made a “mistake,” and, as a result, “stop shooting… pretty instantaneously.” He will say the cargo GMV moves past them. Then the second vehicle “came and they pretty much stopped in the exact same spot… not too far forward of that spot.” But, according to O’Neal, “that one [the second, heavily armed vehicle] had a better angle on us.”
"I Guess They Figured We Were All Dead" - O’Neal will say that the second GMV “stopped and fired for a good 45 seconds to a minute,” but that “it felt like forever.” He will remember that “when they initially opened up… we were waving back and forth, back and forth,” but after GMV-2 hits them with “the fifty-cal and 240,” they stop moving, “and then they carried on after, I guess they figured we were all dead.” Asked about the distance of the second vehicle from his and Tillman’s position, he gauges it to be “no more than 30 meters,” possibly as far as 35. Although he will say he cannot see individual faces, the light is still good enough that he can see that “they were my friends.”
Tillman: "I Have Something that Can Help Us" - O’Neal will describe Tillman’s attempt to save their lives: “Pat was behind some pretty good cover, to where he wasn’t really too much in danger, and I was completely open for getting shot. I was watching them as they were shooting at me, and I was watching the rounds where they were—and Pat could look around—and I was noticing that most of their fire seemed to be directed towards me. The AMF guy, he was dead at that time. He was lying down. I could see him lying down and I realized that they were predominantly shooting at me and I guess he [Tillman] did too. And he moved out from behind his cover to throw some smoke.… All I remember him telling me, ‘Hey, don’t worry, I’ve got something that can help us.’ And he popped a smoke, I guess, and that’s when he got shot—one of the few times he got shot, sir.” Questioned as to when GMV-2 stops firing, O’Neal will reply, “Not too long after Pat threw the smoke, because I just remember him throwing the smoke and then he started having a cry in his call, you know, and he started screaming, ‘My name is Pat Tillman,’ and he said that probably five to 10 times, and then he went silent completely.” O’Neal will confirm that the shooters continue firing all through Tillman’s repeated “cry.”
Shooters Stopped - Towards the end of his testimony, O’Neal will be asked several times about whether or not GMV-2 was stopped when “they were firing.” He will answer that “they pulled up, stopped, looked at our position directly… it was like, stop, acquire, okay that’s our targets, now we can start firing.” In subsequent investigations, O’Neal will not be questioned about his account of receiving fire from two different GMVs, and he will not reiterate it. (Fish 7/19/2006)
Serial Two Leader Only Sees 'a Figure Holding an AK-47' - Sergeant Gary Baker, leader of the convoy later established to have fired at Pat Tillman’s position, will state that when he sees “a figure holding an AK-47, his muzzle flashing,” who is not wearing a helmet that might identify him as a coalition force soldier, he “[gets] tunnel vision.” He will claim that he does not notice O’Neal, Tillman, or any other Serial Two soldiers on the ridge-line. He will recall that the bearded Afghan is lying on his stomach. Others in his convoy will say the Afghan is shooting standing up, which they know to be the traditional fighting stance of “the enemy.” Although men under Baker’s command will say they can see that the Afghan is not dressed in what they call “man-dresses” (traditional garb) worn by guerrilla fighters, and in fact the CIA-trained Afghans traveling with the Black Sheep are all in standard battle dress uniforms (BDUs), none of the soldiers have combat trained with the allied Afghan fighters, and “shifting alliances” in the province have previously led to fatal mistakes in identifying friend from foe. Baker will say he sees a man with a dark complexion firing “a rifle typically carried by the enemy.” He believes the Afghan is firing directly at him. Only later does he realize that fading light, distance, and angle compromised his vision. In fact, the AMF soldier is attempting to provide cover for Baker and his men.
First Investigation Reports Tillman Was Charged - Baker opens up on the AMF, who is standing about 10 feet to the right of Tillman. His men follow his fire. Baker will refute the first investigative report, which notes that he dismounted his vehicle and “charged 15 meters toward Tillman” before firing. Staff Sergeant Kellett Sayre, Baker’s driver, will say he is also initially wary of the AK-47, but he spots Ranger vehicles parked in the area and Rangers along the ridge. He sees hands thrown up in the air—O’Neal and Tillman frantically trying to signal they are friendlies. He hears shouts of “cease fire.” He yells cease fire and even pulls on Specialist Stephen Ashpole’s leg, while driving with one hand on the wheel, racing away hoping to deprive the squad of a stationary shooting platform. But Ashpole is busy unloading every round in the .50-caliber machine gun up in the turret. And the men will say that by the time their platoon mates are trying to stop the barrage of fire, they themselves have been deafened by it. (Coll 12/5/2004; Lindlaw and Mendoza 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army 3/19/2007 )
"They Just Wouldn't Stop Shooting" - According to Krakauer, “as Baker’s Humvee kept driving across the wadi [dry riverbed valley], the shooters continued to spew bullets with reckless disregard, raking the entire hillside.” Many of the Serial One Rangers under Weeks’s command are arrayed up on a slope above Tillman’s position. Private Will Aker sees Specialist Steve Elliott “shooting [his 240 machine gun] everywhere,” over the slope and into village buildings. Aker recalls one of the bullets as landing within 12 inches of his foot. Specialist Russell Baer will reflect on a moment during which he contemplates shooting at his own men to put an end to the deadly chaos: “You could see rounds impacting all around us… they just wouldn’t stop shooting. I came so close to shooting back at those guys. I knew I would be able to kill everyone of them with my SAW.” Although he does not act on his impulse, and is glad not to have, he will say “it didn’t seem like anything else was gonna stop them.” (Krakauer 2009, pp. 250-276)
The Toll - When the shooters’ Humvee finally comes to a stop, the toll amounts to two dead—Tillman and the AMF soldier—and two seriously wounded—platoon leader Lieutenant Uthlaut and his radio operator, Specialist Jade Lane, who had been attempting to communicate with Regimental Command in Kabul from 100 yards up the road. Tillman is killed by three shots to the forehead. The AMF soldier dies of chest wounds. Uthlaut is shot in the mouth, Lane in the knee. (Fish 7/19/2006; US Department of the Army 3/19/2007 )
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) sends 1,000 more Special Operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan, military sources tell Fox News contributor and conservative author Rowan Scarborough. A spokesman at SOCOM confirms this will bring the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to about 5,000. The movement of forces comes as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is awaiting Senate confirmation to take command in Afghanistan. McChrystal is expected to put more emphasis on using Special Forces and black operations for counterinsurgency, man hunting, capture, and assassination operations.
Revamping Special Operations Afghanistan - SOCOM has also been revamping the command structure and the way commandos operate in Afghanistan. Military sources say Brigadier General Ed Reeder, who heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, has changed the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force, and other special operators conduct counterinsurgency. Reeder’s new secret command combines the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos with secret Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that conduct manhunts. The covert side works in task forces identified by a secret three-digit number, and is aided by Army Rangers and a Joint Interagency Task Force made up of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and other intelligence units. (Scarborough 6/5/2009)
The Taliban’s capabilities and attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated according to US military officials who say it appears as if they have received training from elite forces. Several officials interviewed by the Washington Post say that it appears as if the insurgents attended something akin to the US Army Ranger School. “In some cases… we started to see that enhanced form of attack,” says a US Army general who previously oversaw forces in Afghanistan. He tells the Post that the insurgents have “developed the ability to do some of the things that make up what you call a disciplined force.” Another officer stationed at the Pentagon suggests that the Taliban are improving with experience by studying US forces in remote areas such as the Korengal Valley near the border with Pakistan. According to the officer, battles in this region “are a perfect lab to vet fighters and study US tactics.” Some officers conjecture that fighters are receiving professional instruction from Arab and Central Asian countries though the use of embedded trainers, a mentoring technique used by the US military. (DeYoung 9/2/2009) Last year, Al Jazeera reported that former members of the Afghan National Police who had received training from US forces including Blackwater were defecting to the Taliban (see (August) - October 15, 2008).
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