With dramatis personae that include the CIA, Delta Force, DEVGRU, the Intelligence Support Activity, Pakistani Commandos, the Taliban, and spies from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), this story has the makings of a future Brad Thor bestseller. The only difference is, this story happened over the course of an eight-month period for a very small team of Army Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment.

It was early 2006. The place: Tarbela-Ghazi Airbase in Pakistan, headquarters for the Pakistani Commandos, officially identified as the Special Services Group—one of the premiere special-operations forces of the Pakistani military. Tarbela, a mere two-hour drive from the capital of Islamabad, also acts as the forward point of countless military offensive operations in Pakistan’s northwest frontier.

For the JSOC and CIA personnel who have been operating in this region for years, supporting both Operation Enduring Freedom and the war in northwest Pakistan, it was the war-fighting business as usual. For the seven Army Rangers chosen to embark on the unusually long eight-month deployment (Rangers typically deploy for three month at a time), it was a break from the monotony of direct-action missions throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pakistan_sm97This wasn’t an ordinary operation for the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment, whose mandate in foreign internal defense/advising operations are practically nonexistent. The CIA and JSOC forces on the ground were incredibly busy hunting down al-Qaeda and senior Taliban commanders in the tribal regions, creating target packages for drone strikes—some of which originated out of the Tarbela airbase. What they needed was a capable ground force.

Pakistan Commando trainee.
Pakistani commando (SSG) trainee.

CIA-funded and trained paramilitary units such as the Counterterrorist Pursuit Team and the Khost Protection Force didn’t have the capability of operating so deep into Pakistan’s tribal regions—nor the political leverage to do so. What they needed were hunter-killers from the Pakistani Army who could conduct offensive operations from the east. The most obvious choice was the Special Services Group; these commandos, numbering anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000, were headquartered 60 miles from the tribal regions, and already had a solid foundation of combat training and experience.

With a ground plan in motion, the CIA sent a formal request to JSOC and the Department of Defense, specifically requesting senior members of the 75th Ranger Regiment to lead a 12-week train-up for the Pakistani commandos. The CIA needed their capabilities to mirror that of the Rangers’—quick, direct-action raids, advanced infantry maneuvers, and air assault/fast-roping infiltrations. What the CIA didn’t need were Delta/DEVGRU operators training the Pakistanis in counter-terrorism or hostage-rescue operations, nor Green Berets training them in basic infantry tasks.

The seven Rangers included squad leaders, platoon sergeants, tactical communicators, and reconnaissance specialists on assignment with the Regimental Headquarters—men who had spent years training Rangers newly assigned to the battalions. For that eight-month period, the Rangers were directly assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency. This granted the Rangers protection under ‘Title 50’—the U.S. code for undertaking covert warfare and espionage to include the judicial protection of those men who conduct it, which is normally exclusive to the CIA. This was as opposed to ‘Title 10’, under which the standard military falls. With that important distinction also came the financially lucrative CIA overseas per diem pay normally reserved for its case officers and the paramilitary personnel from the Special Activities Division.

The seven Rangers were now part of ‘CFT Tarbela’, or cross-functional team—a small U.S. force comprised of CIA personnel, Delta/DEVGRU operators, and regardless of the CIAs numerous petitions, members from the Intelligence Support Activity, whose contention and mutual loathing with the CIA has been raging since the unit’s inception. This clandestine task force would be directed by Operational Control Element Islamabad, or simply ‘OCE Ibad’, the main CIA strength in the country.