Special Operations: Commandos In Chains


May 1, 2009: Once again, Special Operations troops in Afghanistan have run into problems with ROE (Rules of Engagement). This time around, Czech commandos were recently sent home because their ROE prevented them from doing what commandos do. In at least one case, Czech commandos were held back from an operation because it was considered too dangerous. In other situations, the Czechs opted out of an operation because they believed they did not have sufficient manpower.

This sort of thing influences the use of most foreign troops in Afghanistan. NATO commanders in Afghanistan are not happy with all the strings attached to their authority by politicians back home. The ROE for NATO troops contain over seventy restrictions on how the NATO commander may use troops assigned to him. Most of these have to do with where national contingents can be moved, and how much they can be exposed to danger.

Last year, Germany is pulled its commandos out of Afghanistan. The KSK commandos have been there for most of the last seven years. Many Germans, especially leftist politicians and journalists, have not been happy with that. This has resulted in several unflattering, and largely inaccurate, articles about the KSK in the German media. There was also an investigation of several KSK men, accused of kicking an Afghan prisoner. While the KSK were allowed to fight, they also operated under an increasing number of restrictions. They generally could not fire at the enemy unless first fired upon. This led to at least one senior Taliban leader getting away from the KSK. The fleeing Taliban honcho was not firing at the pursuing KSK, so the commandos could not take him down.

Germany sent 120 KSK commandos to Afghanistan in late 2001. They were not given their own area of operation, but worked with American special forces and commandos as needed. The KSK commandos were the first German troops to engage in combat since 1945 (not counting some communist East German military advisers who may have had to defend themselves in places like Africa. German peacekeepers in the 1990s Balkans did not have to fight.) KSK's achievement was celebrated in late 2001, when a supply of quality German beer was flown in for the troops. This celebration became a scandal, at least according to indignant media reports,  back in Germany.

The KSK were respected by their fellow special operations soldiers, and particularly liked because the Germans were sent beer rations (two cans a day per man). The KSK troops would often share the brew with their fellow commandos, which sometimes resulted in favors in the form of special equipment or intel data. Even with the restrictions, the KSK saw lots of action, but little of it was publicized, lest it generate more criticism back home. But the growing list of restrictions on the KSK led to them becoming useless for commando operations, and they were withdrawn.

There were also Arab commandos in Afghanistan, who eventually got pulled because of a growing list of restrictions, and fear that the presence of these elite troops be widely known. "Moslems fighting Moslems" is a hot button issue in the Islamic world, even though the Arab commandos were eager to go after al Qaeda, and other Arab terrorists known to be operating in Afghanistan.

All this was a major disappointment to the commandos involved. Afghanistan has become something of an Olympics for foreign commandos, a place where they could operate under fire against a dangerous (and thus worthy) foe. Most commandos have trained to deal with Islamic terrorists (especially commandos in Islamic countries) and Afghanistan was an opportunity to do what they have trained so hard for.

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