A combat-hardened Green Beret has unleashed a barrage of indictments against the command in Afghanistan and policymakers in Washington, saying the 14-year-old war effort suffers from a “profound lack of strategy” and that special operations overseers show “moral cowardice.”
“The enemy operates with impunity throughout the country due to our relentless commitment to avoid principled strategy and decision-making processes,” the Special Forces soldier says in a sworn statement he headed, “Profound Lack of Strategy.”
He bemoans the fact that the current battle plan calls for most American troops to stay in forward operating bases as fledgling Afghan troops fight the Taliban alone. It is not working, he said.
“There is a fine line between not conducting operations to keep people out of harm’s way and not conducting operations in such a fashion that it actually increases overall risk to force and risk to mission,” the Green Beret said.
He filed his statement in the fall investigation into the mistaken U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, north of Kabul. A relatively small invasion force of Taliban took control of the city. It was up to this soldier’s Operational Detachment Alpha to organize an Afghan force to infiltrate the city and take back buildings. All names and ranks are redacted in the investigative report.
A special operations AC-130U “Spooky” gunship opened a 30-minute volley of gun and cannon fire, killing 42 staff and patients. The crew received the order to fire from a Green Beret officer on the ground and his Joint Terminal Attack Controller.
The Green Beret who filed the critical statement was not that officer but was a member of the Operational Detachment Alpha holed up in a police station while the Afghan force moved on what was supposed to be the real target — a Taliban-held security building.
It is this specific Sept. 29-Oct. 3 operation for which the soldier delivers his most biting remarks. He said the special operations command centers basically abandoned the men in Kunduz as they fought for over 70 hours. He accused the center commanders of “moral cowardice.”
“When an ODA’s mission runs headlong into national strategy, and the detachment asks for guidance on the level of commitment and receives nothing back over a 96-hour period, that’s an abject failure of leadership,” the Green Beret says.”
He accuses the people running the command centers of playing it safe to prevent harm to their careers.
“Inaction or indecision does, however, enable convenient political expedience, where one can reap the rewards of success without facing the responsibility and consequence of failure,” the soldier said. “Without commitment to a particular course of action or strategy chosen by a subordinate, a leader can smile for the camera while handing out an award or sidestep the bailiff when the gavel drops on the judge’s bench.”
The Green Beret then lays out specifics.
He said an Operational Detachment Alpha member [redacted] called the operations center three times and asked for “a level of commitment from [special operations task force].” He said this center then called the joint operations center, which then called the overall command, known as Resolute Support.
“Sadly, the only sounds audible were the sounds of crickets in the [police building in Kunduz], though those were hard to hear over the gunfire,” he said.
He said the one reply the team received from headquarters was, “How far do you want to go?”
“It’s not a strategy, and in fact it’s a recipe for disaster in that kinetic of an environment. How have we, as a force, as a group of officers, become so lost from the good lessons that our mentors taught us? I will tell you how. It is a decrepit state that grows out of the expansion of moral cowardice, careerism and compromise devoid of principle, exchanged for cheap personal gain.
“We owe the man on the ground more than that, because for him, the decision that he makes hopefully lands him somewhere between the judge’s gavel and the enemy bullet.”
This soldier’s criticism of the special operations command centers was backed up by the final U.S. Central Command investigation released last week.
It said the various centers failed at the “art of command.” They did little to help the Green Berets or the inexperienced crew of the AC-130, with which it was in communication, to make sure they found the correct target.
The investigation listed a number of failures by these special operations centers:
“The Kunduz planning process was one-dimensional with minimal staff effort” from special operations headquarters.
They did not identify risks to the Americans. “Failure to follow proper procedures contributed to the lack of situational understanding and ultimately the strike on the trauma center.”
They exhibited an “ineffective, hands-off approach of leaders and staff throughout the operations process, as personnel did not properly assess the mission.”
They “permitted an inexperienced flight crew with marginal training performance to support a highly delicate ODA/Afghan partner force mission.”
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook was asked at a briefing Monday about the overall strategy in Afghanistan that has U.S. troops, like the Green Berets in Kunduz, in the train, advise and assist role.
“We’re in a different position today as compared to when our forces first arrived in Afghanistan,” he said. “They’re in a different role. They’re performing a challenging, difficult responsibility that oftentimes can put them in harm’s way. We are asking a lot of U.S. forces right now, but those rules of engagement.”
The Obama administration has said the combat mission is over for American troops. But the Kunduz operation showed otherwise. One soldier told investigators it was a miracle no one was killed given the amount of fire they took over four days.
The U.S. has 9,800 troops in Afghanistan and will keep about 5,000 there next year. Some Republicans want that number increased, saying the Afghan National Security Forces are not ready to go it alone and will succumb to the Taliban, which have launched the spring fighting season.