This is an interesting but in the end understandable step, although the long term implications may be troubling.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has brought most American Special Operations forces under his direct control for the first time, out of concern over continued civilian casualties and disorganization among units in the field.
“What happens is, sometimes at cross-purposes, you got one hand doing one thing and one hand doing the other, both trying to do the right thing but working without a good outcome,” General McChrystal said in an interview.
As former commander of JSOC, McChrystal has deep experience with the intricacies of running these types of operations. This multiple chains of command was a source of friction between he and current Ambassador Eikenberry when McChrystal sought then Gen. Eikenberry's approval for operations to be conducted there. It also seems that some units are exempted from this.
Only detainee operations and “very small numbers of U.S. S.O.F.,” or Special Operations forces, are exempted from the directive, Admiral Smith said. That is believed to include elite groups like the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s Seals.
There is a lot of commentary that this was in response to particular incidents where there were civilian casualties. While politics and host nation concerns always play a role, Gen. McChrystal stood up for our forces.
He depicted General McChrystal’s new policy as a natural outgrowth of the general’s plans all along to unify his command; when he first took charge, he brought together under his control what had been separate NATO and American command structures in Afghanistan.....
General McChrystal addressed that concern in the interview. “There are no operators in this country that I am not absolutely comfortable do exactly what I want them to do,” he said. “So I don’t have any complaints about that, particularly after the latest change.”
There are many other reasons to want operational control and coordination. I have heard of multiple instances where a conventional unit was operating and building rapport with civilians in their area and a raid would be conducted by a Special Ops unit. Sometimes this would remove a tribal member the conventional unit believed they had turned to our side, or it could simply damage relations with the locals. The changes being made will help avoid those situations.
The concern I have is that my comfort level with this rests largely on the fact that it is Gen. McChrystal exercising this control. Due to his background I feel he understands and will allow the leeway the SOF troops need to do their missions. But what happens when he moves on and a conventional officer takes over. There is always tension between these groups and as happened with McChrystal and Eikenberry differences of opinion as to how much freedom of maneuver and how active a role they should play. Once this precedent is established, it could be an issue down the road.