As U.S. troops have begun withdrawing from Afghanistan after 19 years of warfare, it looks like U.S. Special Operations units are going to be the last bastion of defense in the country.
The agreement between the U.S and the Taliban stipulates that American troops are to be gradually withdrawn from the country within a 14-monthly period. And this has already started, with approximately 5,000 U.S troops coming back, something that will leave less than 9,000 American warfighters in the country. There is, however, a caveat. For this to happen, the Taliban must honor their part of their deal, something in which they have already been failing in part. But what happens if the Taliban do indeed honor their part? For the foreseeable future, a small, scalable U.S. counterterrorism contingent will remain in Afghanistan. What does that mean? U.S. Special Operations units.
And that means Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (ODAs) and Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOTs) rolling out with Afghan SOF in Counterinsurgency (COIN) operations or perhaps the reintroduction of the Village Stability Operations (VSO) – though this is highly unlikely. A combination of COIN and Foreign Internal Defense (FID), VSOs were essentially focused on winning the hearts and minds of the population, thereby suffocating an insurgency of its oxygen, that is, the support of the people.
The reason that America went into Afghanistan in the first place was that it provided an ideal safe haven for al-Qaeda. A post-agreement U.S. presence in Afghanistan, thus, will surely contain a capable counterterrorism force that will be able to deal with any international terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, albeit the former has been battered pretty heavily in the past months.
Aside from the FID role of the stay-behind force, there will be a need for a number of direct action elements that could strike at terrorist targets. This is where the 75th Ranger Regiment and SEAL Teams come into play, though the former is better qualified for the operational environment found in Afghanistan. Geographically dispersed Ranger platoons will provide commanders with a potent direct action capability.
As far as the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) contribution to this contingent, it will be coming from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), also known as SEAL Team Six. Ever since America was embroiled in two simultaneous conflicts after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, JSOC had to divide the pie between its two direct action Special Mission Units, that is, Delta Force and SEAL Team Six. DEVGRU got Afghanistan, and Delta got Iraq. There has been, of course, some interoperability in the same Area of Operation (AOR) when necessary. During the height of the Iraqi insurgency, for example, individual and complete DEVGRU elements contributed to the fight against Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Shia militias.