One of the outcomes of the current US-Afghan summit in Washington reported by Afghan media is the apparent emergence of a new Afghan special operations force, the “Foundation Force for Afghanistan”. Still there is no official confirmation of this. Our guest blogger Gary Owen(*) writes, however, that this would be very much in line with the US emphasis on Afghan SOF training and partnership and, when involving private military contractors, would enable the US to maintain direct influence over Afghan SOF while still withdrawing troops.
One of the primary concerns facing Afghanistan following the planned termination of US combat operations in 2014 is the presence of US troops on Afghan soil. There has been a great deal of speculation around this issue, with some saying the US should leave as many as possible, and others advocating for what is being referred to as the ‘zero option’. In trying to read the tea leaves, my own supposition is that the US will lean toward that ‘zero option’ due to political considerations ahead of the 2016 US presidential elections.
Further complicating the questions surrounding future US Afghan involvement is the apparent emergence of a new force, the “Foundation Force for Afghanistan,” (niru-ye bonyadi-ye Afghanistan) as reported by Pajhwok News Agency (the report in the English translation here and in Dari here):
The Obama administration has agreed to help Afghanistan build an exclusive special operations force to deal with internal and external security threats (our emphasis).
An agreement was reached on creating the Foundation Force for Afghanistan during President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington, officials familiar with the three-day deliberations told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Notably, there was no mention of it either in the joint statement or the public statements made by the leaders of the two countries.
According to the agency the official added that the force would be shaped along the lines of the US Marines.
While it is possible that this is the sort of speculative rumour that arises out of any bilateral talks, the formation of a new special operations force (SOF) is very much in line with the US emphasis on Afghan SOF training and partnership. US SOF have been actively engaged in mentoring their Afghan counterparts, and have made it clear that they intend to partner actively on a long-term basis with the Afghans. This is evident in the establishment of the Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan (SOJTF-A) that I had written about here. While the Afghans (per ISAF’s official statements) retain operational control over their own SOF, bringing them into a command with an American Major General in charge brings the issue of Afghan SOF autonomy strongly into question.
What is important to note as well is the recent involvement in Afghanistan of Academi, the new name of the company once known as “Blackwater.” Kate Clark, in her recent piece on the future of US troops in Afghanistan, referenced Spencer Ackerman’s reporting for Wired on the fact that the SOJTF-A will (at least temporarily) be housed at Camp Integrity, outside Kabul.
According to Lt. Col. Tom Bryant, the spokesman for Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, it’s only supposed to be temporary, as the command plans to move to Bagram Air Field by summer 2013. But Camp Integrity is already shaping up to be a crucial location for an Afghanistan war that’s rapidly changing.
Camp Integrity’s ‘landlord’? Academi, which is a logical (if troubling) choice, as company leadership has a long history with US special operations, reaching back to the earliest days of the war in Iraq. It is apparent that, despite Blackwater personnel stealing guns from US weapons depots and killing Afghan civilians, that relationship remains unchanged. On a more anecdotal note, a recent interviewee for Vanity Fair, also mentioned in Clark’s article, stated that Blackwater/Academi was still moving in, despite the flow of expats out of the so called ‘poppy palaces’ in the Sherpur neighborhood of Kabul:
With so many people leaving, who might be moving in? ‘Blackwater’s coming; that’s about it,’ said my guide, referring to the security firm now called Academi.
The active (and apparently growing) presence of Academi is vital to the understanding of future US intentions for Afghanistan. Academi employees are often retired US SOF operators, and it is highly possible that those same employees are not only running Camp Integrity, but could be the beginnings of the future US advisory and support effort for Afghan SOF and this new Foundation Force for Afghanistan (FFA).
The US can honestly point to a reduction in troops, while still maintaining direct US influence over Afghan SOF, which they see as a key component of efforts in the region, prosecuting the war on terror. The same SOF who, still in uniform, mentored Afghans could very easily be the same individuals who, after leaving the US military, could then be hired by Academi to stand up the FFA and continue their support for other Afghan SOF organisations. In that case, the Obama administration is still able to dramatically reduce troop presence, while still maintaining what they view as vital counterterrorism efforts here in Afghanistan.
Whether the FFA is indeed a future reality, or the product of overly active imaginations following the bilateral talks in Washington, remains to be seen. What is evident is that US commitment to Afghan SOF by the US is not going away anytime soon. Karzai appears willing to grant US troop immunity in exchange for Afghan sovereignty but in the case of Afghan SOF, sovereignty is at best poorly defined, and at worst is being leveraged in order to prolong the direct involvement of US SOF in the region.
(*) Gary Owen is a civilian development worker who has spent the last three years in Afghanistan, working in Ghazni, Gardez, Khost and Kabul provinces. Previously, he spent 21 months in Iraq on two different deployments: in 2004, as an infantry officer in Taji, and, in 2008, as a civil affairs officer in Tikrit.
Photo: ASG doing weapons training blindfolded (source: dvidshub.net).
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020