This diary will, in the words of Emptywheel, go very far into the "weeds", but it should help to bring together several themes that have been percolating through recent diaries I have written on US handling of prisoners and night raids in Afghanistan. Please bear with me, as my weed-whacker blades tend to dull a lot faster than Marcy’s.
In this diary on Friday, I noted an AFP report (which I inadvertently failed to link) which explained that General Stanley McChrystal has been given expanded powers in Afghanistan. Here is the sentence of that report on which I now wish to focus:
As the NATO commander, the only forces not under McChrystal’s control will be a special US task force that handles detainees, the small number of special operations forces and some support troops from other nations, the official said.
Note the key exceptions of US forces that McChrystal will not command: the US task force in charge of detainees and special operations forces. Both of those groups were addressed in this diary, where I quoted extensively from a piece by Spencer Ackerman. That diary was addressing the question of whether the US still maintains secret prisons in Afghanistan and the appointment of former McChrystal associate Vice Admiral Robert Harward to head Joint Task Force 435, which is in charge of prisoner operations in Afghanistan. The diary also addressed the activities of Joint Task Force 714, now under the command of another McChrystal former associate, Vice Admiral William McRaven, who now heads the Joint Special Operations Command, as did McChrystal.
In that diary, I speculated that because Harward had been adamant about no secret prisons under his command and with the known history of McChrystal’s hiding of prisons when he headed JTF-714, that it was likely that JTF-435 handled only the publicly known prisons and JTF-714 still was in charge of the secret sites. There is now more information to support this hypothesis, and it comes from looking at the command structure of US forces in light of the exceptions to McChrystal’s command noted above.
The current org chart for the Department of Defense, at its highest levels, looks like this:
Note that operations occur under the direct command of the President’s Secretary of Defense through the Unified Commands. The Unified Commands can be found here, where there is a map (click on it to expand it) that shows the geographic areas covered by five of the commands. As can be seen on the map, Afghanistan falls under US Central Command (CENTCOM). The other two commands that will be of interest for discussion here are US Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), two of the four non-geographic commands.
McChrystal’s current appointment is as the Commander of ISAF (Interantional Security Assistance Force), a "NATO" operation that falls under CENTCOM. That means McChrystal reports directly to General David Petraeus, who heads CENTCOM. Keeping in mind the exceptions to McChrystal’s command noted above for prison operations and special operations, it is very interesting to discover just where JTF-435, Harward’s prisoner operation, is housed. From this news release dated Friday, it is clear that JTF-435 falls under JFCOM. As a part of JFCOM, then, JTF-435, and the prisoner operations under Harward, are well outside McChrystal’s official sphere of command within CENTCOM. Note also that the Ackerman article linked above clearly places JTF-714 within SOCOM, which is the Unified Command to which McRaven, as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, reports. This accounts for the "special operations" exception to McChrystal’s command within Afghanistan.
But note how this sets up yet another shell game with what the US is doing in Afghanistan. My diary on secret prisons noted how it was most likely that Harward was placed in charge of the prisons we acknowledge, while keeping the secret prisons under the control of special operations, most likely under JTF-714. Now, with Friday’s announcement that McChrystal was clamping down on night raids, the same shell game is playing out. Also from my diary Friday is this quote from Reuters:
U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan will be permitted to carry out raids at night only when there are Afghan security forces present, their commander, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, ordered on Friday.
But, since we know that the worst of the night raids are special operations (also almost certainly by JTF-714, following the playbook McChrsytal wrote when he ran it), McChrystal’s order would not apply to special operations forces answering to SOCOM.
Oh, and lest you get the impression that Harward is somehow in a better place by being in JFCOM rather than SOCOM, I took a look to see who is now commander of JFCOM. It is General James Mattis, who was in the news in 2005, when he uttered these amazing words:
Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marine expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday during a panel discussion in San Diego, California.
"Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot," Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. "It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil," Mattis said. "You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
What a poor choice of leaders.
It is also interesting to note in passing that JFCOM is home to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which houses the old SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) unit, where trainees were waterboarded as training to resist torture if captured. Note that the crafting of the torture memos relied heavily on claims that practices we used on our own troops in training them could not amount to torture. Is JFCOM using input from JPRA in crafting its prisoner treatment policies in Afghanistan?
In summary, then, McChrystal can "order" that Afghan personnel be present for night raids, but the night raids that cause the most damage are not under his command. Harward can claim no secret prisons exist under his command, but there is a separate command where they are very likely to exist. JTF-714, following the plans McChrystal developed when he ran it, still seems free to operate in its known free-wheeling way, breaking into homes in the dead of night, striking terror into families, and removing citizens who are held secretly and without access to hearings on whether there is sufficient cause to imprison them.
At a later date, it is probably worth some digging to look into that third category not commanded by McChrystal, the "some support troops from other nations". What do they do?
UPDATE: Please see this diary for an explanation from CENTCOM that McChrystal does in fact have command authority over JTF-435.