News / Asia

    US Special Forces in Afghanistan Poised to Assume More Active Role

    FILE - Afghan special forces arrive at the airport as they launch a counteroffensive to retake the city from Taliban insurgents, in Kunduz, Sept. 29, 2015.
    FILE - Afghan special forces arrive at the airport as they launch a counteroffensive to retake the city from Taliban insurgents, in Kunduz, Sept. 29, 2015.

    U.S. military officials insist Afghan forces are carrying the burden when it comes to securing and stabilizing the country, but there are questions as to whether U.S. special forces could soon be playing an increasingly active role.

    "There hasn't been any signaling of that yet," a U.S. official told VOA. "The primary role there is to train, advise and assist."

    Still, the official said U.S. special forces have been highly engaged in Afghanistan and that the current approach could change if the Taliban finds a way to expand on gains from the past year, provided the Afghan government agrees.

    "It's best to leave that responsibility to the host nation itself," the official said.

    Questions about the role of U.S. special forces in Afghanistan have been simmering since a U.S. Green Beret, Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, was killed earlier this month in Marjah, in Helmand Province, when his unit came under fire from the Taliban.

    The mission for McClintock's team — training Afghan special forces — is "not unusual," the official said. Nor is the context, described as being part of a larger Afghan counteroffensive against the Taliban.

    An Army carry team, carries the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Q. McClintock upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Jan. 8, 2016.
    An Army carry team, carries the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Q. McClintock upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Jan. 8, 2016.

    "With the Afghan special forces, that's conducted down to the tactical level, and so that was what was going on in this case," Army Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner said during a briefing in Afghanistan.

    "The force that was there, the American special forces team, is designed to operate independently, which it was doing," Shoffner added. "Combined with the Afghans, they did have sufficient combat power on hand for the threat that they faced, and they had sufficient airpower available to them throughout the operation."

    Expanded role

    The U.S. has relied heavily on special forces for its train, advise and assist efforts in Iraq and Syria. The Defense Department expanded the role of special forces last month with the creation of a specialized expeditionary targeting force that would conduct raids, gather intelligence and target Islamic State commanders.

    "You don't know at night who's going to be coming through the window," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told lawmakers at the time. "That's the sensation we want all of ISIL's leadership and followers to have."

    ISIL is an acronym for the Islamic State.

    For now, though, U.S. officials say that type of presence is not needed in Afghanistan, where the Taliban control just nine of the country's more than 400 districts, while wielding influence in another 17.

    FILE - Afghans gather near a car damaged in Friday's suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack
    FILE - Afghans gather near a car damaged in Friday's suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack

    U.S. officials also say that, despite making some gains over the past year, the Taliban is having trouble holding onto those gains and is experiencing difficulty governing the areas it does control. They also say Afghanistan's forces are steadily improving, becoming more capable from one operation to the next.

    Optimism, setbacks

    U.S. officials admit that while there is reason for optimism, Afghan forces have had only mixed results as they have begun to shoulder more responsibility.

    "When they conducted deliberate, planned operations they actually did fairly well," said Army Brig. Gen. Shoffner. "Where they had trouble and where they didn't do so well was in response to crisis situations. That remains one of their weaknesses."

    U.S. officials also are concerned about the commanders of Afghanistan's armed forces, including the leadership of the country's 215th Corps, which operates in Helmand Province.

    The commander of Afghanistan's 215th Corps already has been switched out, and two brigade commanders have been replaced, as well as key staff members.

    "They've got some leaders that are corrupt and need to go," Shoffner said. "They need to make some tough leadership choices."

    Additionally, recruiting has been a problem. The Afghan National Army currently is facing a 25,000-soldier shortfall, although Afghan officials are hoping to fill those positions within the next six months.


    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora