The role of U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan may expand considerably as part of the Obama administration’s plan to withdraw troops in the next two years, according to a U.S. admiral.
Adm. Bill McRaven, the special operations commander who led the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, confirmed that special operations forces would be the last to leave under the Obama administration’s current plan and may play a leading role in the Afghan war going forward.
In anticipation of a drawdown of U.S. troops in 2014, the Obama administration and the Pentagon are considering streamlining special operations in Afghanistan, combining overall village security with the elite Joint Special Operations Command’s kill/capture strategy that focuses on secret night raids.
The shift to special operations would be in keeping with President Obama’s overall strategy shift since taking office. Obama has significantly increased the use of JSOC, night raids, and kill/capture operations in Afghanistan which has been a vast and largely secret program.
Obama has more than tripled the incidence of night raids. “An estimated 12 to 20 night raids now occur per night,” according to a study published back in September, “resulting in thousands of detentions per year, many of whom are non-combatants.” And many of the associated tactics, like “mass detention operations, holding entire villages for questioning on site for prolonged periods of time,” may violate international law.
These tactics very often kill civilians and the vast majority of those detained during night raids and sent without a trial to the detention facility at Bagram Airbase have been civilians.
These forces have been known for their brutality. In one notable incident in February of 2010, U.S. Special Operations Forces surrounded a house in a village in the Paktia Province in Afghanistan and ended up killing two civilian men and three female relatives (a pregnant mother of ten, a pregnant mother of six, and a teenager). U.S. troops, realizing their mistake, lied and tampered with the evidence at the scene, attempting blame the murders on the Taliban.
According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, JSOC forces “reportedly conduct highly sensitive combat and supporting operations against terrorists on a world-wide basis.” “Without the knowledge of the American public,” writes historian Nick Turse, “a secret force within the U.S. military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world’s countries. This new Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has never been revealed.”
The potential shift to JSOC forces is probably an attempt by the White House to make it seem like the U.S. war in Afghanistan has ended, at least for the most part. Meanwhile, a JSOC-led war in Afghanistan is likely to have terrible consequences for transparency and accountability for what goes on there after the bulk of U.S. forces leave.