“The CTPTs (Afghan Counter-Terrorism Pursuit Teams) are getting their motherfu&*ing slay on tonight,” a Ground Branch paramilitary officer said as he watched tracer fire shoot through the night sky near their forward operating base on the Pakistani border.

“GB (Ground Branch) officers constituted the main force at Stone and were selected from among the baddest-ass military units—SEALs, Marine Force Recon, Air Force parajumpers, and the Army’s Combat Applications Group (formerly known as Delta Force). They wore civilian clothes and were equipped with the most advanced light weaponry on the planet,” writes former CIA Case Officer John Smith in his book, “Left of Boom.”

Ground Branch: The CIA's covert alternative to special operations
CIA-trained Afghan forces.

Ground Branch is a part of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, which also includes Air Branch and Maritime Branch. As the author noted, GB paramilitary officers are primarily recruited from the special operations community. At one point known as a sort of good-old-boys network, Ground Branch was once heavily represented by former Marines. Later, GB became heavy with retired Delta Force sergeant majors. These days, things are a bit different, with the CIA preferring to contract younger former sergeants out of Army Special Forces who they can raise up through the ranks of the agency over a longer period of time.

Although most GB officers are competent in their core tasks, one issue that often arises is that the CIA paramilitary operations officers (PMOOs) in charge of these programs are usually on the agency career track, and generally don’t have any military background. This results in some lopsided results, as one can imagine. It sucks for the PMOOs, too, because after a few tours to an active war zone, they have to start doing normal case officer duties around the world. There, they are expected to be Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to recruiting assets, but they are competing with peers who have been doing the case officer job since day one of their time at the CIA.