Special Operations: Central Asian Hunting Permits Issued

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March 21, 2011:  The U.S. government has made arrangements to allow U.S. Army Special Forces troops to enter Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan when chasing or hunting down Islamic terrorists. Permission can be denied, for whatever reason, but the diplomatic agreements are in place to enable the Special Forces to quickly contact the right people in each country, if there is a looming need to cross the border, and then rapidly get a decision about access. These cross-border operations are never publicized and, as much as possible, kept secret. Any credit for Islamic terrorists killed or captured across the Afghan border is given to local forces. Often, the local troops have been trained by American Special Forces, which is one of the reasons the cross-border agreements were made. Each of the countries involved now have troops who can keep up with Special Forces operators, and understand how they operate. Another reason for the agreements is the benefit of having the Americans track down the terrorists before they become a problem in the area they were fleeing to. For example, Kyrgyzstan does not border Afghanistan, but it contains a chunk of the Fergana Valley, a fertile, densely populated area popular with Islamic terror groups. Islamic terrorists from Pakistan or Afghanistan pass through Tajikistan on their way to Kyrgyzstan and the Fergana, often with American Special Forces in pursuit.

These border crossing permits did not happen overnight. Over the last decade, the Special Forces have developed a number (over a thousand) operators (what Special Forces troops are called) who are familiar with Afghanistan and adjacent nations. Most belong to the 3rd and 5th Special Forces Groups. These operators are part detective and part commando, tracking down Islamic terrorists throughout Central Asia, and taking them down as well.

Each of the five active duty Special Forces Groups specializes in a region of the world, and the 5th originally had responsibility for the Middle East and Afghanistan. After September 11, 2001, the other four Groups helped out, even though they don't have the language and cultural awareness talents of the 5th Group. That said, the Russian speakers of the 10th Group (specializing in Europe) found lots of people in Afghanistan and Iraq who spoke Russian. The two National Guard (reserve) Groups (the 19th and 20th), have also been called up, as these groups are full of Special Forces veterans who retired or got out to get away from the frequent overseas duty (and make more money). These men have experience and skills, although they can now expect to see a lot more time overseas than the average reservists. Some Special Forces operators have spent 70 percent of their time overseas since September 11, 2001, and the average is close to fifty percent.

Originally, the 1st Special Forces Group specialized in East Asia and the Pacific (Southeast Asia, Korea, China and the Pacific in general). The 3rd Special Forces Group specialized in the Caribbean and West Africa. The 7th Special Forces Group specialized in Latin America. In the last few years, the 3rd and 7th Groups have been taking care of Afghanistan, swapping places regularly between home and Afghanistan. Under a recent reorganization, the 3rd Group will have Afghanistan to itself, with one or two battalions from the 7th Group as needed. In effect, the 3rd Group will be responsible for Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The 3rd Group will still maintain a battalion for use in its original area (the Caribbean and West Africa). The 7th Group will also keep a battalion in its original area (Latin America). The 10th Group will now devote some of its troops to Africa (the new AFRICOM).

The 5th Group will concentrate on the western half (Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt) of its original area of operations.

Each of the five active duty Special Forces groups has three battalions (about 1200 troops altogether), and each is getting another battalion. By 2013, the Special Forces will have 300 ODAs (Operational Detachment A, or “A" Teams), compared to the 180 they had on September 11, 2001. The army would like to add a battalion to the two reserve Special Forces Groups (the 19th and 20th), which would increase the number of A Teams to 420, but money has not yet been provided for that.

In the past two years, SOCOM has been shifting forces from Iraq (where it had 5,500 personnel three years ago) to Afghanistan (where it had 3,000 troops three years ago). The ratio is now being reversed, with 6,500 in Afghanistan and 3,500 in Iraq. Most American allies have moved all their commando forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, where they not only do what they were trained for, but also train Afghans for special operations tasks. This has already been done in Iraq, where it worked quite well. The SOCOM troops in Iraq and Afghanistan account for about 80 percent of American special operations forces overseas. The rest are in places like Colombia, the Philippines and Djibouti (adjacent to Somalia).

 


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