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Some fighters opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan begin training in the US. According to journalist John Cooley, the training is done by Navy Seals and Green Beret officers who have taken draconian secrecy oaths. Key Pakistani officers are trained, as well as some senior Afghan mujaheddin. Much of the training takes place in Camp Peary, near Williamsburg, Virginia, which is said to be the CIA’s main location for training spies and assets. Other training takes place at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Harvey Point, North Carolina, and Fort A. P. Hill, Virginia. Subjects are trained in how to detect explosives, surveillance, how to recruit new agents, how to run paramilitary operations, and more. They are taught to use many different weapons as well, including remote-controlled mines and bombs, and sophisticated timers and explosives. Cooley claims that “apparently [no] Arab or other foreign volunteers” are trained in the US. (Cooley 2002, pp. 70-72) However, in the late 1980s, US consular official Michael Springmann will notice fighters from many Middle Eastern nations are getting US visas, apparently to train in the US for the Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989). Additionally, more training takes place in other countries. For instance, Cooley will note, “By the end of 1980, US military trainers were sent to Egypt to impart the skills of the US Special Forces to those Egyptians who would, in turn, pass on the training to the Egyptian volunteers flying to the aid of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan.” Cooley will further note, “Time and time again, these same techniques reappear among the Islamist insurgents in Upper Egypt and Algeria, since the ‘Afghani’ Arab veterans began returning there in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” (Cooley 2002, pp. 70-72) It is not known how long these training programs continue.
The US military never uses its elite units to hunt Osama bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda leaders before 9/11. US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is said to have less than 1000 operatives, mainly Navy Seals and Army Delta Force, which are the most trained and qualified personnel in the US for hunting fugitives. Professor Richard Shultz at Tufts University’s Fletcher School will be commissioned by the Pentagon shortly after 9/11 to research why such special forces were not used before 9/11 to hunt bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders. He will find that US military leaders always said they needed better intelligence. They did a lot of planning but took no action. Shultz will say, “It’s your strike force, and yet it was never used once for its primary mission before Sept. 11.” JSOC forces will have more successes after 9/11, including playing roles in the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 (see June 8, 2006). (San Francisco Examiner 3/2/2007)
Members of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)—the nation’s “top counterterrorism unit”—are away from America when it comes under terrorist attack, participating in a training exercise in Hungary. (Naylor 2015, pp. ix-x; Stein 9/11/2015) The highly classified exercise, called Jackal Cave, is one of several joint readiness exercises that JSOC conducts each year. It is part of a larger exercise, called Ellipse Bravo, run by the US military’s European Command (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Arkin 2005, pp. 358-359; Naylor 2015, pp. ix) Jackal Cave involves participants tracking down a hypothetical hybrid force made up of terrorists and elements of international organized crime who are trafficking in weapons of mass destruction. “We were tracking ‘terrorists,’” a JSOC staff officer will later comment. “[A]nd then [we’d] bring an assault element in to take the target down.” Details of the mock terrorists in the exercise are unclear, but they are not Islamists, according to journalist and author Sean Naylor. (Naylor 2015, pp. x, 441)
JSOC and Delta Force Are Participating in the Exercise - Jackal Cave involves over 500 personnel, 62 aircraft, and 420 tons of cargo. (Arkin 2005, pp. 404) Hundreds of JSOC personnel are taking part. (Naylor 2015, pp. 85) JSOC, based at Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, is responsible for conducting the US military’s most sensitive counterterrorism missions. (Risen and Schmitt 9/3/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org) 6/24/2013) Its headquarters for the exercise is divided between Taszár Air Base, about 120 miles southwest of Budapest, Hungary, and Tuzla, Bosnia. A squadron from the US Army’s Delta Force is also participating in the exercise. (Fury 2008, pp. 56; Post 9/10/2011; Naylor 2015, pp. x) Delta Force is designed to be an overseas counterterrorist unit and specializes in hostage rescue, barricade operations, and reconnaissance. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 6/24/2013) Its personnel are trained in dealing with terrorist situations in buildings and hijacked aircraft, among other things. (Trinidad 12/1/2001; Haney 2002, pp. 213; Schading and Schading 2006, pp. 156)
Mock Terrorists Are Played by US Military Personnel - Others taking part in Jackal Cave include members of the US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group, members of the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Emergency Search Team (see (September 10-15, 2001)), and some Hungarian military elements. (Richelson 2009, pp. 178; Jeffrey T. Richelson 1/23/2009; Naylor 2015, pp. x) The terrorists in the exercise are being played by operatives from the Defense HUMINT Service—the US Defense Department’s clandestine spy network. Members of the US Navy’s SEAL Team Six are also taking part and are in the port of Dubrovnik, Croatia, from where the hypothetical enemy is trying to ship nuclear material out on a boat. The SEALs are going to be flown by helicopter to assault the boat in the Mediterranean Ocean.
JSOC Commander Learns of the Attacks in the US and Cancels the Exercise - At the time the attacks on the World Trade Center take place, Jackal Cave has barely started. One or two Delta Force staffers and some operatives with the Operational Support Troop—Delta Force’s in-house intelligence arm—are out tracking the mock terrorists through downtown Budapest. Meanwhile, Major General Dell Dailey, head of JSOC, is at the US embassy in Budapest, where he has been briefing senior officials on the exercise. He learns about the attacks on the WTC after leaving the briefing with his senior enlisted adviser, Army Command Sergeant Major Mike Hall. Major Jim Reese, a Delta Force officer, sees the coverage of the burning Twin Towers on television and then runs after the two men. He tells Dailey, “Hey sir, you need to see this.” Dailey quickly walks to his operations center at the embassy and sees the coverage of the attacks on TV. He then answers a phone call from his boss, Air Force General Charles Holland, head of US Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Holland tells him to abandon the exercise and return to the US as quickly as possible. After hanging up, Dailey turns to Reese and Lieutenant Colonel Scott Miller, another Delta Force officer, and says he is canceling the exercise immediately and returning to the US, and they should get back to the US too. However, as America’s airspace is closed to international commercial flights for several days following today’s attacks, it will take almost a week for the JSOC personnel who are in Europe for the exercise to return to America. (Naylor 2015, pp. ix-xiii, 85)
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, and then promoted to head of the Iraq Issues Group, will later say that in late 2002 to early 2003, “the best experienced, most qualified people who we had been using in Afghanistan shifted over to Iraq.” The CIA’s most skilled counterterrorism specialists and Middle East and paramilitary operatives move to Iraq and are replaced in Afghanistan by younger agents. Grenier will say, “I think we could have done a lot more on the Afghan side if we had more experienced folks.” A former senior official of the Pentagon’s Central Command involved with both wars later says that as war with Iraq draws closer, more special operative units like Delta Force and Navy SEALs Team Six shift to Iraq from Afghanistan. “If we were not in Iraq… we’d have the ‘black’ Special Forces you most need to conduct precision operations. We’d have more CIA. We’re simply in a world of limited resources, and those resources are in Iraq. Anyone who tells you differently is blowing smoke.” (Rohde and Sanger 8/12/2007) Other special forces and CIA were moved from Afghanistan to Iraq in early 2002 (see Early 2002).
US intelligence learns through communications intercepts about a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in Bajaur, in the remote border regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan (one account says the meeting is in nearby North Waziristan instead). Intelligence officials have an “80 percent confidence” that al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri and/or other top al-Qaeda leaders are attending the meeting. One intelligence official involved in the operation says, “This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen” about a high-value target. (Mazzetti 7/8/2007; Thomas 8/28/2007; Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
Size of US Force Grows - The original plan calls for cargo planes to carry 30 Navy Seals near the target, then they will use motorized hang gliders to come closer and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. The plan is enthusiastically endorsed by CIA Director Porter Goss and Joint Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Stephen Cambone are uncertain. They increase the size of the force to 150 to take care of contingencies. (Thomas 8/28/2007) One senior intelligence official involved later says for effect, “The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan.” (Mazzetti 7/8/2007)
"Frenzied" Debate - But even as US special forces are boarding C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan, there are “frenzied exchanges between officials at the Pentagon, Central Command, and the CIA about whether the mission was too risky.” Some CIA officials in Washington even try to give orders to execute the raid without informing US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, who apparently is often opposed to such missions. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
Rumsfeld Gives Up Without Asking - Having decided to increase the force, Rumsfeld then decides he couldn’t carry out such a large mission without Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s permission. But with the cargo planes circling and the team waiting for a green light, Rumsfeld decides that Musharraf would not approve. He cancels the mission without actually asking Musharraf about it. It is unclear whether President Bush is informed about the mission. The New York Times will later report that “some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units” are frustrated at the decision to cancel the operation, saying the US “missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of al-Qaeda.” (Mazzetti 7/8/2007) It is not clear why the US does not hit the meeting with a missile fired from a Predator drone instead, as they will do to kill an al-Qaeda leader inside Pakistan a couple of months later (see May 8, 2005).
For “much of 2006,” US intelligence has been tracking high-ranking al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (a.k.a. Sheik Saiid al-Masri) in the mountains of Pakistan. US commanders have been pressing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for an operation to capture al-Yazid. However, Rumsfeld is reluctant to approve the mission. He is reportedly worried about US military casualties and a popular backlash in Pakistan. Finally, in early November 2006, Rumsfeld approves a plan for Navy Seals and Delta Force commandos to capture al-Yazid in Pakistan. But several days later, on November 8, Rumsfeld resigns one day after Republican losses in the US congressional mid-term elections (see November 6-December 18, 2006). The operation is put on hold again. The New York Times will reveal this in 2008 but will not explain why the operation was not tried later, or why the US did not at least attempt to fire a missile from a Predator drone at al-Yazid. It is also not explained if, when, and/or how US intelligence ever loses track of him. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008) Al-Yazid has been a member of al-Qaeda’s shura (ruling council) since the group was formed in 1988. In May 2007, al-Qaeda will release a video naming him as the group’s commander of operations in Afghanistan. He allegedly has played a major role in managing al-Qaeda’s finances since at least the early 1990s, and continues to do so. (Whitlock and Ladaa 9/9/2007)
A US Special Operations unit, possibly together with an Afghan unit, raids a remote Pakistani village near the border with Afghanistan and kills at least 15 people including women and children, according to sources, eyewitnesses, and officials in Pakistan. One eyewitness to the attack, area resident Habib Khan Wazir, will tell the Associated Press that the assault happens before dawn, after an American helicopter lands in the village of Musa Nikow in South Waziristan. He says “American and Afghan soldiers starting firing” at the owner of a home who had stepped outside with his wife. Khan says the troops then enter the house and kill seven other people, including women and children. (Mahsud 9/3/2008) (Geo TV reports that the owner of the house is local tribesman Taj Muhammad, and that “coalition forces” kill nine members of his family, with five women and four children among the dead.) (Geo TV 9/3/2008) Khan says the troops also kill six other residents. Two local intelligence officials will confirm the account on condition of anonymity. Another official says that 19 people die in total. Major Murad Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Army, will confirm that an attack did occur on a house near the Pakistan-Afghan border, but does not specify if Americans are involved. “We are collecting details,” he says. The US embassy in Islamabad declines to comment, and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan says it has not received any report on such an operation. (Mahsud 9/3/2008) Long War Journal reporter Bill Roggio suggests that the Special Operations unit alleged to be involved in the assault may be the secretive “hunter-killer” team known as Task Force 88. He suggests that such units can operate freely outside of any regular command in Afghanistan, giving the US military the option of plausibly denying that its forces are involved in such raids. Roggio writes that a raid of this nature—the insertion of a US Special Operations team inside Pakistani territory—is rare, and if confirmed, the assault would be the fourth cross-border attack since August 20, and the 10th confirmed attack this year, marking an overall increase in such raids. He notes that 10 such raids were recorded in 2006 and 2007 combined. (Roggio 9/3/2008) Journalists Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann will later refer to this incident, writing that US Navy SEALS are involved and that 20 people are killed. (Bergen and Tiedemann 6/3/2009)
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) sends 1,000 more Special Operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan, military sources tell Fox News contributor and conservative author Rowan Scarborough. A spokesman at SOCOM confirms this will bring the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to about 5,000. The movement of forces comes as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is awaiting Senate confirmation to take command in Afghanistan. McChrystal is expected to put more emphasis on using Special Forces and black operations for counterinsurgency, man hunting, capture, and assassination operations.
Revamping Special Operations Afghanistan - SOCOM has also been revamping the command structure and the way commandos operate in Afghanistan. Military sources say Brigadier General Ed Reeder, who heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, has changed the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force, and other special operators conduct counterinsurgency. Reeder’s new secret command combines the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos with secret Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that conduct manhunts. The covert side works in task forces identified by a secret three-digit number, and is aided by Army Rangers and a Joint Interagency Task Force made up of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and other intelligence units. (Scarborough 6/5/2009)
Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, meets with intelligence officials at CIA headquarters and is shown photographs and maps of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. McRaven is one of the first military officers to be told the highly classified intelligence. He begins planning options on how the US could kill or capture bin Laden (if bin Laden is in the compound). McRaven assigns an unnamed Navy captain from SEAL Team 6 to work on the options. The captain will work daily with CIA officials on the plans. McRaven and his associates will come up with three main options on how to raid the compound (see March 14, 2011). (Gorman and Barnes 5/23/2011; Tapper 6/9/2011)
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