Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Cat is Out of the Bag....

Unless you have been living under a rock or don’t have cable TV then you have probably heard about the leaked documentation regarding Afghanistan…and specifically the hunter/killer team Task Force 373, whose work the Pentagon has sought to keep under tight wraps throughout the war in Afghanistan.

The unit of elite soldiers, which includes members of the special operations community and the Delta Force get their orders directly from the Pentagon in Washington and operate outside of the chain of command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) or as the staff of General McChrystal once called it…the ”I Suck at Fighting” Command.

The existence of this special force is by no means a secret, but top military officials have refused to discuss its controversial mission: the deactivation of top Taliban and terrorists by either killing or capturing them. The TF 373 unit works according to classified lists of enemies compiled by the coalition troops that are called "Joint Prioritized Effects Lists" (JPEL) in military jargon. In the close to 92,000 logs leaked, 84 pertain to JPEL-related actions, and together they provide a bounty of information about a force whose work has at times resulted in civilian deaths. This organization has worked under other various names in Bosnia, Iraq and now Afghanistan with amazing success. All of the major captures of terrorists in Afghanistan have been attributed to this organization.

Even though the revelations in the leaked war logs involve the American component of the fight, the new information about its operations could also prove embarrassing for others such as the German government. Roughly 300 men with TF 373 have been stationed on the grounds of Camp Marmal, the German field base in Mazar-e-Sharif, since the summer of 2009. The special unit has chosen a strategically advantageous and shielded location on the airfield, where it operates from the Regional Command North, which is under the command of Germany's armed forces.

The elite soldiers, together with a few Afghan units they had trained, had just returned from a five-day air and ground offensive against the Taliban stronghold Gul Tepa northwest of Kunduz. According to the US Army there were 130 dead, all of them insurgents. The German government refused to take part in the attack. The secret military documents contain only two references to the five-day operation with the geographic coordinates of Gul Tepa. The operation became a model for similar operations in the coming months. While the US units were hunting down the Taliban, the only evidence the Germans had of the nightly missions were the closed areas of operation and the detonations, which could be heard clearly at the Kunduz base.

When the commanders of the German ISAF contingent were offered the targeted killing of the German enemies, as a service of sorts, it was done so almost officially. After seven German soldiers had died within a short period of time in the spring, a senior US officer at headquarters in Kabul promised the highest-ranking German ISAF officer, General Bruno Kasdorf, that the Americans would hunt down and kill the people behind the attacks on the Germans. And indeed, several Taliban fighters were eliminated in the ensuing weeks.

It’s a shame that all the work of these fine special operations personnel will be questioned as well as ridiculed if only out of ignorance. I just watched the MSNBC piece with the Director of WikiLeaks speaking about this incident…typical…no remorse at bringing this to light or for putting personnel at risk. As far as I am concerned he just became public enemy number one!


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