Army Green Berets planned for a wide range of actions in Iraq this year but bemoaned the sorry state of U.S. intelligence assets in the country to help the local security forces find and kill Islamic State terrorist targets, an internal Army memo says.
The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, states that when U.S. forces exited Iraq in December 2011, “all theater-level enterprise databases were terminated.”
This was forcing U.S. special operations forces in Iraq to track a wide range of intelligence reports “on individual service member laptops and share drives,” the memo says.
The memo was written in December by the commander of 1st Special Forces Group, a Tacoma, Washington-based command of about 1,400 Green Berets and support personnel, as it prepared to deploy some commandos to Iraq. The commander is now the top U.S. special operations officer in Iraq.
The commander asked Army headquarters to provide an intelligence architecture called Palantir. Its network specializes in storing and sorting all sorts of intelligence data that can be mined to create links between individuals and terrorist cells, such as the ones controlling parts of Iraq and Syria.
“This is proving to be a repeat of past mistakes from Iraq and Afghanistan where critical information at the early onset of a conflict is lost, and operational opportunities are missed throughout the remainder of the convict,” said the commander. “The lack of an enterprise-level intelligence infrastructure degrades [special operations forces’] ability to collaborate across formations and echelons, and reduces our ability to target ISIL.”
ISIL and ISIS are other names for the Islamic State.
The seven-page memo is, in a sense, an indictment of the ability to deploy U.S. war theater intelligence capabilities nearly 14 years after the declaration of the war on terrorism.
A military source said the Army has granted the commander’s request for Palantir and that other special operations units have the same pending requests.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has pressed Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command, to improve intelligence for commandos sent back to Iraq.
Mr. Hunter says the Army’s own intelligence network, the Distributed Common Ground System, is plagued with numerous flaws. He has pushed the Army to provide proven commercially available networks to the troops. SOCOM is operating its version of the common ground system.
In a letter sent to Gen. Votel on Monday, Mr. Hunter, a former Marine officer, took issue with the four-star general’s upbeat report to him on how well the common ground system is working.
He accused Gen. Votel’s staff of “discouraging commanders from requesting alternative solutions, and spending money duplicating capabilities that exist on the commercial market. In my oversight role, my objective is to help USSOCOM field tools that work right now.”
Mr. Hunter took issue with the general’s contention that requests for Palantir did not reflect a lack of capability by the common ground system. “The requested capability does not exist in the Army inventory and is not provided by the DCGS-SOF system,” he said.
The congressman said the Army plans to rush some common ground components to special operations forces who have told superiors that the system does not meet their needs.
In a March 26 letter to Gen. Votel, the congressman said SOCOM’s handling of the common ground system “appears to be following the failed path taken by the Army.”
The special operations version, Gen. Votel responded, “is USSOCOM’s overarching umbrella program to deliver world-class intelligence support to our deployed forces.”
He said “one of the strengths of the DCGS-SOF program” is “its open architecture and integration of commercial technology.”
Army Col. Thomas A. Davis, a SOCOM spokesman, told The Times, “Gen. Votel welcomes the opportunity to meet with Rep. Hunter to address any and all concerns he has regarding the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System — Special Operations Forces (DCGS-SOF) program. It would be premature to discuss any specifics related to this matter until after the two leaders have had the opportunity to meet.”
The 1st Special Group commander’s memo frequently used the word “no” to describe intelligence assets awaiting Green Berets in Iraq. They, like conventional U.S. troops, are there to perform the “advise and assist” role to organize Iraqi Security Forces into units that are capable of fighting the Islamic State.
“No common operating picture exists for USSOF partnered tactical operations centers,” the commander wrote. “No real time information collection capability exists for Iraqi soldier sensors. No capability exists for automated bilingual data sharing.”
The U.S. left the Iraqi army equipment to store ground intelligence data, but “No U.S. repository exists for this information and the information resides in Arabic only,” the memo says.
The commander then expressed effusive praise of Palantir and called it “the only solution that meets several” special operations goals and provides a network that lets analysts in the U.S. look at the same information.
“Palantir virtually synchronizes personnel and capabilities regardless of location,” the commander said. “It is the only platform that bridges the critical seams of SOF conventional and SOF interagency data sharing to effectively contribute to unified action.”
The plan, the commander said, is to install a Palantir mobile tactical command and collection center and then link it to Iraq’s commercial communications infrastructure.
Though Obama administration policy prohibits the Green Berets from taking part in combat, the memo shows they planned to operate throughout Iraq in “remote outstages” and “team houses.”
“In the current operational environment, USSOF is not permitted to provide direct side-by-side advise-and-assist support to Iraqi tactical informations,” the memo says. “This operational constraint inhibits the rapid and accurate sharing of tactical information with troops on mission.”
The 1st Special Forces Group is not the first combat unit to ask higher-ups to let it deploy with Palantir, a system built by Palantir Technologies Inc. in Palo Alto, California, and now used by law enforcement as well as the military.
A stream of memos obtained by The Washington Times in recent years shows Army and special operations forces clamoring for Palantir and knocking the Distributed Common Ground System as too slow and prone to crashes.
Some memos showed that Army headquarters tried to block emergency requests for Palantir, a move Mr. Hunter said was an attempt by the Army’s top brass to protect congressional funding for the Distributed Common Ground System.