Special Operations: Surviving Change In Afghanistan


September 8, 2015: Although most American combat troops left Afghanistan at the end of 2014 there are still several thousand SOCOM (Special Operations Command) troops there and even more regular army personnel (mainly for support). There are still enough warplanes and helicopter gunships available to carry out about 30 percent of the ground attack missions undertaken in 2014. These, however, take longer to arrive as each one requires approval by more lawyers and politicians back in the United States. The SOCOM troops rarely fire their weapons but do accompany their Afghan counterparts on missions about forty times a month. Occasionally the American SOCOM teams carry out a combat mission but these are kept quiet and need lots of permissions from lawyers and politicians back in the United States.

Despite this Afghanistan has survived, for the moment, the loss of all those foreign troops in 2014. The most serious problem is that the foreign troops and contractors helped keep complex equipment going for the Afghan military left and the Afghan troops are on their own. Things soon began breaking down and there was often no one available to fix them until deals could be made to hire new contractors to replace the departed American and NATO specialists. The Afghan police and army are not missing the Western combat troops as much as they are the Western tech support. By the end of 2014 all combat operations against the Taliban were being handled by Afghan police and soldiers. But most of the support functions long handled by the Western forces were not being taken care because nearly all those foreign logistical, medical, communications and intelligence troops and civilian contractors had gone. This hurts the Afghans particularly hard because they have not got enough Afghans with technical skills to replace all those techs. Medical support is particularly missed, as is the once abundant and timely air support (using smart bombs). This loss is already hurting the morale of Afghan security forces, many of them veterans who had gotten used to the availability of Western levels of medical care for those wounded in combat and smart bombs to get them out of hopeless situations. The missing Western air support resulted in more Afghan casualties but the Afghans adapted. One or two smart bombs is often decisive when fighting the Taliban, warlords or bandits and the United States quietly moved some more warplanes back to Afghanistan to increase the air support. The air surveillance capabilities of the Westerners was also a great help in defeating the enemy and limiting friendly casualties. This was also quietly increased in 2015. All the other Western support services had a similar impact and most are now gone. There is still some air and medical support but much less than before and intended mainly to support the 20,000 foreign troops and contractors who remain as military advisors and trainers. In practice more of these resources have been allocated to the Afghans, rather than have them stand idle.

The remaining foreigners were well aware of these shortage and advised their bosses to see about keeping some more of those services in Afghanistan or helping the Afghans to replace them using Afghan or foreign contractors.  Afghan leaders also asked for this, as they get reports of the growing problems created by the withdrawal of all those foreign technicians. Many of those appeals are being quietly answered. After all, these needs are being provided by civilian contractors who are never deliberately sent into combat.

The Afghan security forces, despite corruption and occasional poor leadership, have outfought the Taliban since they began taking control of all security functions in 2012. Considering the internal problems the Taliban have, the Afghan security forces might actually win this war. One critical function the remaining American SOCOM operators provide is an up close and personal assessment of the performance of Afghan combat forces. The American SOCOM forces are doing more advising than teaching and those evaluations are constantly passed back to the Pentagon, the White House and Congress. So far the Afghan special operations troops are doing well, the army is OK and the police in many areas need some work.



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