New joint special ops command won't assume control of Afghan commandos

The new group, known as Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan (SOJTF-A), will bring all elements of American, NATO and Afghan special operations under a single organization, SOCOM spokesman Lt. Col Todd Harrell told The Hill on Tuesday. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Clandestine U.S. "counterterrorism units" operating in Afghanistan will also be brought under the new command umbrella. It is the first time these highly-classified counterterrorism units will be under this type of command. 

That said, the new command will not fundamentally change the way American special forces conduct operations on the ground in Afghanistan, according to Harrell. 

More specifically, it will not shake up the chain of command that Afghan special forces and commando units, known as Kandaks, operate under, he said. 

Led by Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, the new command is essentially designed to improve coordination among U.S. NATO and Afghan special forces, allowing "units to share information, resources and enablers and ensures a more efficient use of these resources," according to Harrell. 

"As a unified command, SOJTF-A presents [U.S. and coalition] command with one collective voice" for special operations, he added. 

But that collective voice does not mean that Afghan special forces will now be under the command of American or coalition leaders. 

While the new command does unify the various special operations forces working in the country, Thomas or any other American special operations officer will "not have command authority over Afghan special operations forces" under the new organization, he said.

American military planners are over halfway through a four-phase plan to hand over all security operations to Afghan forces. That plan will lay the groundwork for the eventual departure of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014. 

U.S. and coalition commanders handed over control of dangerous night raid operations to Afghan forces earlier this year. Prior to that shift, the mission had been primarily the domain of American special operations forces. 

But tying American and NATO special forces closer together with their Afghan counterparts has raised concerns over potential insider attacks against U.S. and coalition operators. 

However, Harrell noted that American special forces in Afghanistan have been in close contact with Afghan forces since the earliest days of the war. 

One of the core missions of U.S. special operations units is to train and embed with local forces around the world for extended periods of time, in what are known as train and assist missions. 

Afghanistan, according to Harrell, has been no different. 

American special operations forces "have been partnering with Afghan forces for more than a decade. As such, cases of green-on-blue by our partners is relatively rare," according to Harrell

"While we will remain vigilant, we stay committed to our mission and our [Afghan] partners," he said. But that vigilance has been pushed to the breaking point in recent weeks. 

Roughly 10 U.S. soldiers have been killed by their counterparts in the Afghan military and national police over the past two weeks, in what the Department of Defense has dubbed "insider" attacks.

Nearly 30 American servicemembers have died at the hands of Afghan National Security Forces or militants posing as Afghan troops in the past year.

Two members of Marine Corps Special Operations Command were shot and killed on Friday by an Afghan police officer in Farah province in Western Afghanistan. 

Nearly a week before those slayings, three more Marine Corps special operators were killed by a local Afghan commander in the village of Musa Qala.

The troops were invited to a dinner by the Afghan commander and members of the local Afghan police force in Musa Qala. After the meal, the commander opened fire, killing three and wounding one.

President Obama expressed "deep concern" about the significant uptick in violence against U.S. and coalition troops by Afghan forces on Monday, saying he planned to discuss the matter personally with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey wrapped up "intensive consultations" in Afghanistan with Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in the country, and his Afghan counterparts in the Ministry of Defense, over such attacks, Obama said.