AFGHANISTAN: International Special Operations Forces play an important but largely unheralded role in Afghanistan. American Army Rangers, Green Berets and Delta Force, along with Navy SEALs and Air Force specialists work with the best from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other allied nations to kill and capture insurgents and terrorists. They also train Afghan militia, police and soldiers.
Combined Special Operations Task Force 10, part of ISAF Special Operations Forces (one of several Special Forces commands in Afghanistan) includes troops from Romania, Hungary and Slovakia — among others — and trains Provincial Response Companies, little-known, high-end police units belonging to the Afghan Ministry of Interior.
The company-size PRCs, each trained by a 12-man Special Forces team, specialize in delivering warrants from Afghan authorities to support prosecutions and expand the rule of law in the provinces.
Lt. Col. Isaac Peltier commands Task Force 10 from an ISAF facility near Kabul. In a rare exception to Special Forces’ traditional secrecy, Peltier sat down with Breaking Defense to talk about the PRCs and the challenges his troops face, including Afghan corruption, Taliban attacks and allowing trainees to fail in the interest of instructing them.
It’s dangerous work. Task Force 10 soldiers have earned five Silver Stars, 20 Bronze Stars for valor and several Purple Hearts in four years in Afghanistan. Three task force soldiers have been killed in combat. “I’m in awe of the incredibly talented and incredibly brave soldiers that I have,” Peltier says.
Breaking Defense: What’s unique about your task force?
Peltier: CJTF-10 has very much an international flavor. We have Romanians with us; we have Hungarians with us; Slovaks with us. These are guys we work with in Europe routinely. The relationships we build with these guys … we’ve known them for years and years. They’re part of our extended family, if you think about it. That makes us unique in that regard. They’re trying to build Special Forces capability within their own nations. Working with us, they’re able to get better and learn from us. Of course, together we’re building Afghan capacity. … We call it “three-dimensional FID” [Foreign Internal Defense]. We’re down here building Afghan capacity while our NATO SOF partners are building capability by seeing how we do business.
ISAF SOF is a Special Operations Forces component under the NATO mission here. Their charter is to partner with and develop the capabilities of special police units. There are some high-end Counter-Terrorism police like the Crisis Response Units, but the bulk of specal police units are PRCs.
Breaking Defense: Tell us a little about the PRCs.
Peltier: I believe there are a total of 20 ISAF SOF response companies developing across Afghanistan. This is a high-end police force for Afghan provinces. [Each has] 125 guys in three platoons or Special Response Teams … they’re there to take on all those crises or situations that exceeds the capacity of normal Afghan Uniform Policeman.
The idea is, they’re smaller but have got more capability to go reinforce other Afghan Uniform Police if the security situation exceeds [the AUPs’] ability to handle it.
We also train these guys to do high-risk arrests. If they need to arrest a particularly bad actor, they have more capability with their weapons training and the gear they have — [for example,] night-vision devices — which are more than regular beat cops would have. Vehicle interdiction, for example; intercepting somebody smuggling weapons, for instance — that’s one of the capabilities they have. They’re more like SWAT. …
They take direction and guidance from the provincial chief of police. Honestly that’s a mixed bag. Some [chiefs] are better than others. Some are very corrupt and use the PRCs as body guards. We work through that, report on that. Senior leaders at ISAF are engaged to try to get them [the chiefs] to operate properly. In some cases they can be removed if it comes to an impasse. They’re replaced with guys who do the job properly.
We train, advise and mentor. Everything from putting them [the PRC recruits] through a basic course and giving them basic skills all the way through an advanced course where they get more advanced skills. We help them plan missions and advise during missions. We bring the enablers to bear that we have to have to make missions more successful. We can tap into [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets such as drones] and other capabilities. The goal is them doing it all on their own — just a handful of our guys with all of them, enabling where can, but [ensuring] they’re on their own solving problems.
They’re not there yet. They’ve only been around a couple years. Some PRCs are better than others. We’re continuing to work to get to them to a level where they can operate with only minimal assistance from us. It’ll take more time — a couple years, I imagine.
One of the things I’m excited about is, this is a police force under the MOI, not commandos or an army force. Rather than getting intel and doing raids to capture or kill somebody, these guys’ goal is to make arrests. Having done their homework, with them or an Afghan investigative unit having gathered evidence, they bring it all together in Afghan court to get a successful conviction.
It’s different province to province. Different provinces are at different states, operating within the framework of the rule of law. Kabul, clearly [abides by the law], but the farther you get out, the more provinces do their own thing. [A good PRC] brings it all together, facilitating, being connected, getting the provincial chief of police and the government talking, getting the prosecutor and the judge talking, having this capability to go out and make arrests, getting a warrant before making an arrest. The expectation that if you make an arrest it will go to trial … that’s a model of what will be good for the whole country.
Breaking Defense: What kinds of corruption affect the PRCs?
Peltier: There’s corruption at every turn, which is frustrating …
The most obvious forms of corruption are two things:
Misuse of the PRCs for personal reasons, rather than what they’re intended to be used for. That’s a problem we’re constantly having to engage the provincial chief of police on. These guys are not supposed to be doing checkpoints or being body guards. They’re supposed to do high-risk missions or reinforce the other police.
The guys need to be equipped. A lot of equipment comes to the province and is supposed to make its way to the PRC, but stuff gets siphoned off. The end result, at the lowest level, is PRCs not getting their stuff. We find ourselves getting involved at higher levels than one would expect to ensure that stuff that’s supposed to be going to the unit gets there.
We’re still getting our heads around it. In some places the PRC has everything it needs. In some provinces they only have half the trucks they need. So what happened to those trucks? The story is they went from the warehouse in Kabul to the province and somebody in the province gave them to somebody else instead of our guys. It’s like, what the Hell? We need that. If you want us to build capability, we need that stuff.
Breaking Defense: Tell us about the warranting process.
Peltier: The whole idea of warrant-based, or evidence-based, operations is still emerging. It’s not a mature system or process right now. It’s better in some areas than it is in others. At the province level, the idea is that the provincial chief of police and the prosecutors come together and, if there’s evidence a crime was committed, they will generate a warrant, which the PRC will go and execute.
Also, ISAF SOF can generate warrants at the national level, but the goal is to produce them at the lowest possible level, so that the security apparatus is maintaining law and order at the lowest possible level. In some provinces we’re not doing it at all — we’re just not there. So we focus on making sure the forces are trained and equipped. …
I’ve observed that we’ve had to shepherd the [warrant] process along. I’m not sure it is largely happening on its own without our assistance. There are task forces with generals here [in Kabul] working rule-of-law for the country. They have platoons of lawyers trying to help Afghans produce rule-of-law systems. We recognize in most societies: where you have a bad guy, you should have evidence before taking him out and there should be due process. So we’re trying to facilitate that at the grassroots level.
Breaking Defense: What’s your relationship with conventional forces?
Peltier: Although we’re capable of going off on most missions and providing for ourselves, we’d spend a lot of our time day to day trying to stay alive and maintaining camp. If you pick a [Forward Operating Base] or a [Combat Outpost], you may have a battalion there and that battalion commander will oftentimes be the person that has engagements with the Afghan government at a high level, trying to build consensus and understand their needs and desires to maintain security. That is something conventional forces have taken a huge responsibility for.
When SOF teams are out there, in this case focused on a very specialized unit to do a specific task, it’s important we have good a relationship with the big, conventional Army force because they provide resources we need, from a Quick-Reaction Force to medevac to the dining facility we eat in.
Breaking Defense: With the drawdown of conventional forces, is Task Force 10 going to remain?
Peltier: For the time being, absolutely. We’ve seen in the media that Special Operations Forces are taking the lead in partnering. I think what we will see is we will continue to have small elements enabling and mentoring as many forces as we can. That’s SOF’s bread and butter, anyways. As we bring big forces out, SOF are going to be asked to continue partnering and mentoring Afghan forces.
I’m not sure about standing up more [Afghan forces] as much as trying to mentor and develop the ones we have. For example, with the 20 PRCs, we’ve only been touching them for two years. Trying to get to a certain capability is going to take more time. I envision us staying a little longer to make that happen.
It’s a force-multiplier — a small SOF force out there partnering with Afghan forces to help enforce rule of law. It’s a powerful thing. These [PRCs] are not just a force that static, standing guard. It’s a dynamic, highly-trained force that can reinforce Afghan police across the province so they can maintain rule of law.
You can get a whole lot out of very few highly-trained [SOF] guys touching many different forces, or one force that has broad-reaching effects. [I envision] lots of little SOF teams all over the place, touching as many things as they can, being connectors and enablers so that Afghan forces can be successful without huge combat forces on ground.
That goes over better with population, I imagine. I don’t want to get philosophical here, but [counter-insurgency] — it’s all about the people, and the Afghans certainly don’t want people occupying their nation and having military formations all over the country. A lower signature, which SOF does, that can enable a nation trying to help itself. I think that goes over much better with the population.
Breaking Defense: How has the Taliban affected your mission?
Peltier: I like to say we’re not so much threat-based. We’re encouraging Afghans — at least, the police force we work with — to focus on the criminal aspects and enforce rule of law.
The Taliban … I don’t know. There’ve been lots of reports and articles written about the different kinds of Taliban: the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban. There’s a lot of reconciliation going on. If they can moderate their stance, we can reach some agreement. These are guys who have a particular philosophy. This is their home. They have a certain worldview. Prior to us coming here, it was inconsistent with — we had some issues with it, obviously. …
Rather than focusing on that, let’s focus on the population and the rule of law and what it’s going to take to establish meaningful institutions in the form of a police force that can enforce the rule of law. There are lots of bad things happening. People smuggling weapons and homemade explosives that can injure lots of people. You have people trying to kill Afghan and coalition forces. Those are people, when you have evidence, should be brought to justice.
We’re not out there doing hyper-disruptive night raids, attacking the Taliban deep in their sanctuaries. There are other forces unilaterally targeting [the Taliban] and they’re very threat-focused, whereas we’re working with the communities’ existing systems and infrastructure and the rule of law and trying to enforce that.
Breaking Defense: What have you learned personally in your time here?
Peltier: One of the things I’ve learned and had constantly reinforced is that you cannot do it for them. You’ve got to hold the Afghan forces we’re working with accountable. They need to provide leadership and maintain accountability of their stuff we’ve invested in with our treasure. They can’t be corrupt and sell the equipment we gave them on the black market. We can’t do too much for them. We have to allow them to fail, then help pick them up.
Our tendency is, we’ll just do it all. Or we’ll go out to do a mission and grab a few of our Afghan partners. It’s inverse. But no, it’s their police force, it’s their legal system. We’re here to help. They’ve got to take ownership of this.
The lesson I’ve learned is you’ve got to resist going down that road. These are Special Forces. They’re aggressive, Type-A guys who want to go out there than take charge. They have got to want to help them [the Afghans] help themselves. It’s their country and their force.
Initially, when we first stand up a unit, there’s a lot of direct involvement on part as the partnering unit — a lot more direct involvement. But as time marches on, we should fade into the backdrop. Less of us and more of them.
Breaking Defense: From your point of view, what does success look like?
Peltier: I won’t get into the politics of it all. In our lane, with our force — and I’ve asked myself this — what’s our legacy with the PRC? To me, it’s a highly-trained, but very capable, very disciplined force that is respected by the people in the province they serve. We don’t need a bunch of thugs who damage property or are unnecessarily heavy-handed with people. It’s the same expectation we have in the United States.
We need folks who are professional, who know how to do a job and do it very well. That’s the expectation we have of the PRCs. They’re more capable than the average beat cop. …
The Afghan people need to know they have this force working very hard with their American and NATO allies to get to a capability here that can bring security and have a meaningful impact on their piece of Afghanistan. That’s the legacy.
We’ve got to continue to mentor the guys and get to a place where, when we leave, they’re not going to turn into some criminal element or rogue band. We have to show them the value of being a highly disciplined force that’s there to serve the population. That’s our goal — my goal.