Fighting (or pretending to fight) al-Qaeda on behalf of the U.S.? Congress is your private Santa.
The big winner is Pakistan. The $400 million Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund, which provides helicopters, night-vision equipment and training to the Pakistan’s Army and Frontier Corps, gets another re-up. There’s also $1.6 billion to reimburse Pakistan (and some other nations, but really Pakistan) for “cooperating in contingency operations in Afghanistan,” which must come as a surprise to U.S., Afghan and Pakistani troops.
This cash appears to be yet another U.S. down payment for the Pakistanis to invade North Waziristan, something they’re currently pledging to do the week after never.
Don’t forget Yemen, the New Pakistan. Yemen’s counterterrorism force in the Ministry of Interior alone will get $75 million “in equipment, supplies and training.” Last year, the entire U.S. aid package to Yemen’s military was $155 million; it goes to show what an offer to look the other way while U.S. cruise missiles fly can buy a regime.
U.S. Special Operations Command, the principle on-the-ground liaison to these nations’ counterterrorism forces, wins out as well. Not only does the command get the full $9.8 billion it asked for, but Congress raised the special forces’ line item from $40 million to $45 million “to provide support to foreign forces, groups, and individuals assisting in ongoing operations.” That’s going to come into play in Yemen, where new teams of CIA operatives and elite troops from the Joint Special Operations Command are expanding the U.S.’ reach against al-Qaeda’s local affiliate.
And all that’s just in the open budget. The so-called “black budget” — that is, the intelligence budget, which included $27 billion in military intelligence last year — undoubtedly has even more for the shadow wars.
As this collection of conflicts mutates far beyond what began in Afghanistan a decade ago, a different provision in the new budget is especially noteworthy: The Defense Science Board must “conduct a review and evaluation of DOD’s strategy to counter violent extremism.” With all the cash being thrown around in these clandestine battles, you’d hope that was a strategy that was already in place.
Pentagon’s Clandestine Killers Get New Chief
That’s Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Votel on the left.
Do not expect to see his face again any time soon. An elite — and controversial — team of worldwide terrorist hunters just wouldn’t be the same if its leader were in the spotlight.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday afternoon that Votel will be the next commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, taking over from Adm. William McRaven and earning his third star. It’s a job that Votel has a lot of familiarity with: he used to be the command’s deputy leader before taking his current job as chief of staff for the U.S. Special Operations Command.
President George W. Bush famously called JSOC, as it’s known, “awesome.” No surprises why: Its secretive operations include capturing and killing high-value terrorists and insurgents.
Under its most famous leader, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, it got its highest-profile kill in June 2006, when it iced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It also ran the notorious detention center near the Baghdad airport, Camp Nama, where there were repeated allegations of torture.
The sign on the entrance? “NO BLOOD, NO FOUL,” according to The New York Times.
JSOC has increasingly been the tip of the military’s spear. In Afghanistan, its commandos are the ones who kick in doors for the “night raids” on Afghan homes, especially in the South and East, that have angered Hamid Karzai but form a critical part of Gen. David Petraeus’ war plan.
Sometimes its operations go awry, as when an October 2010 rescue mission to free British aid worker Linda Norgrove from Taliban captivity ended up killing the hostage. The man U.S. Central Command tapped to investigate what went wrong? Joseph Votel.
Votel also has a lot of familiarity with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions that consume a lot of JSOC’s time. Back in 2007, he was the deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force 82, which operated along the border. That means unlike many commanders of the high-powered raiding unit, Votel has experience being a “landowner” — that is, a soldier who has to deal with an angered population after the raid team has packed up and moved out.
He’ll have to deal as well with a very tired Special Operations community — a problem Votel’s current boss, Adm. Eric Olson, identified last week in a speech. But JSOC doesn’t get breathers: It’s likely to expand operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and other parts of the world where the military wants terrorists dead without any fingerprints.
And don’t expect Votel to give any press conferences about his work.
via Pentagon’s Clandestine Killers Get New Chief | Danger Room | Wired.com.
Mercenaries to Watch Commandos’ Backs in Afghanistan
On Wednesday, U.S. Special Operations Command announced that it was looking for Afghan security contractors to guard commando encampments, from the tiniest of outposts to the biggest of the superbases. And those private guards need to be ready to work ASAP. The command is planning on issuing contracts next Friday, April 15th.
Using guns for hire to patrol Afghan bases is nothing new. For years, the U.S. military has employed the contractors, to free up American troops for frontline fighting and nation-building.
This case is unusual, for several reasons. Not only has SOCOM issued these calls for contractors just as Afghan president Hamid Karzai is threatening to tax the private security forces out of existence. But, at least in one instance, the special operators want these guards to watch the backs of a small handful of American troops. And that involvement could undermine the special operators’ mission.
One of the two requests for proposals, issued Wednesday, ask for private guards at Village Security Platform Darvishan, a micro-outpost in the Khakrzez district of Kandahar province. Typically, these “VSPs” are where a 12-man “A-Team” of special operations forces train local townspeople to keep an eye on their community. These are tiny, temporary positions, meant for troops who are used to living off of the land. Often, they’re no bigger than a single house or two.
An American “statement of work” calls for private forces who can man “perimeter towers” and “entry control points,” while conducting “surveillance and counter-surveillance of the installation perimeter, avenues of approach, likely indirect-fire locations and vicinity from designated Perimeter Defensive Positions.”
More likely, it’ll just be a couple of guys watching the U.S. forces’ gear while they’re out training the locals. As a “fragmentary order” from U.S. Force-Afghanistan notes, “the intent of these contracted services is to ‘free’ joint forces to conduct military operations.”
But add too many guns for hire to one of the commandos’ nanoscale outposts, and it undermines the very point of their existence. A light footprint becomes heavy with private security logistics.
“Ideally, they would contract for local security guards, train them and employ them,” one Special Operations Forces officer tells Danger Room. “If they are going to contract with the larger PMCs [private military contractors], then that can become problematic. Those kind of contracts take on a life of their own.”
That’s why these contractual terms — used in every private security proposal request — are better suited for guards at bigger bases. For instance: the ones SOCOM wants at the sprawling American facility at the Bagram Air Field. There, guards armed with M-16s or AK-47s are authorized to “employ appropriate force to neutralize any threat from unauthorized individuals illegally attempting to enter the installation.”
Which sounds straightforward enough. In practice, however, the contractors’ behavior has made things more… complex, shall we say. Afghan civilians have been killed, thousands of rifles intended for the Afghan police have been stolen. And let’s not even get into the hookers, booze, and exposed nether-regions.
“Contractors must understand,” the request for proposal adds, “that the Afghan Security Guards SHALL NOT aim or point their weapons at U.S., Coalition, or Afghanistan National Security Forces.”
You’d hope that this was the kind of thing that went without saying. But let me add: it’d be especially unwise to point your gun at one of these special operators.