The exclusive relationship between the 2nd Commando Regiment and the DEA FAST was attributable to one senior officer from the 2nd Commando Regiment in particular, and for the purposes of this article, he will be referred to as “Rick.” Rick understood that whilst the SOTG was incredibly adept at achieving one of its main objectives of killing insurgents, we were not really reinforcing these effects by attacking their targetable critical vulnerabilities (TCV), the likes of which included their ability to finance their operations.
Our modus operandi (MO) during earlier rotations consisted predominantly of exceptionally long vehicle operations where spending four, five, and six weeks at a time patrolling through southern Afghanistan was not uncommon. At the time, the pendulum was swinging away from vehicle-based patrols and QRF operations to a more offensive deliberate action (DA) strike role, but it was only just starting to move. Our targeting during the early rotations were predominantly historical in context and provided little room to generate any kind of effects on insurgent TCVs. The lack of air assets meant that our historical targeting was a byproduct of our limitations due to the fact that, at the time, our FE operated exclusively as a ground assault force (GAF).
This leads me to Rick’s second point—which was addressed in my previous article—that being the Australian government did not fully enable the SOTG by providing dedicated air assets. Without a doubt, our biggest hindrance was a lack of helicopter support to the SOTG’s counter-insurgency and counter-leadership operations. While our country’s initial CH-47 Chinook helicopter detachment—which operated out of Kandahar Air Field as Task Group 633.7—was deployed to primarily support the Special Forces Task Group (the SFTF was the predecessor to the SOTG), the detachment was re-tasked in 2006 to support the wider NATO effort in the war. The re-tasking coincided with Australia’s initial withdrawal of the SFTF, which made sense as the aircraft and crews could still provide support to the war even though the government believed that the role of our special operations forces was over.
Even though the CH-47D and its 110 personnel from the 5th Aviation Regiment had already been re-tasked, the priority of the detachment was promised to be “given to Australian activities” above all else. In all of my experience deploying to Afghanistan, however, this was far from reality. The aircraft were placed in a pool of coalition air assets which needed to be ‘bid’ on by competing task groups for mission allocation. Operations and potential effect would essentially be weighed up, with air assets being allocated to those which were considered to be the most important.
As the SOTG plans officer, Rick had the privilege of being exposed to a variety of different and less publicized task forces which were operating throughout Afghanistan. During an informal conversation with the SOTG commanding officer, it was brought to Rick’s attention that there was a task force utilizing a fleet of Russian-built Mil Mi-17 helicopters who were operating all over Afghanistan. The Air Interdiction Unit (AIU) was based out of Kabul and frequently staged out of Kandahar and Helmand to conduct operations with a number of SOF units around the country. Rick took it upon himself to investigate the AIU further and see if there was any possible chance that we could work together.
But the AIU could only be used on counter-narcotics operations, which presented Rick with an extremely difficult obstacle from the outset. The SOTG’s mandate was essentially based around insurgent targeting in order to support the role of Australia’s Mentoring Task Force (previously known as the Reconstruction Task Force [RTF] and the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force [MRTF]). Even though our role was offensive in nature, who we targeted and why did not seem to fit the types of operations that the AIU were involved in. At this stage, it looked almost certain that Rick’s plan would never develop past its concept phase. Even the SOTG CO was convinced that the Australian government would never sign off on us conducting operations which had anything to do with narcotics. Despite these clear and obvious setbacks, Rick was unwavering in his focus and still adamant in bringing our task forces together.
A number of Rick’s responsibilities as the SOTG plans officer regularly took him from ISAF HQ down to Kandahar Airfield (KAF). Around the same time he was researching the AIU and looking for ways for us to integrate, he reached out to two of the DEA’s Kabul Country Office (KCO) agents and arranged a meeting at KAF. The meeting went as well as Rick had hoped, which left him with a renewed sense of confidence in his plan. He was incredibly impressed with the two KCOs and their enthusiasm. One was actually born in Afghanistan and immigrated to the U.S. as a child. He looked the part, spoke a number of regional dialects, and was just as keen to get the DEA FAST and SOTG working together as Rick was. He discussed how he was in admiration of the work that the SOTG were doing throughout southern Afghanistan and felt privileged that Rick had wanted to get our task force working alongside them.
The KCOs had intelligence on a number of critical narcotics networks operating through Regional Command South (RC South), and knew that working with the SOTG was their best option to exploit the south of the country. The SOTG had specifically focused on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations in this region since 2005, where our direct and indirect lines of operation had a devastating effect on the insurgent network. We provided a capability to incapacitate insurgent leadership groups and to ultimately disrupt and defeat their intentions throughout southern Afghanistan.