Note: This is a continuation of a series. Read part three here.
This ultimately accelerated the remainder of the staff process and paved the way for our joint operations to get underway. Australia and the SOTG’s Force Element Bravo (FE-B, which was the 2nd Commando Regiment) were now given the green light to partake in the DEA FAST’s counter-narcotics and counter-NEXUS operations. The term NEXUS refers to targets who were producing narcotics for the purposes of funding insurgent activities.
Fundamentally, this did not mean that individuals would become targets for simply growing poppy. It meant that a connection between the drugs and insurgency would have to be established in order to show that the former was funding the latter. Individuals and networks proven to be involved in this type of insurgent funding would thus become legitimate targets and prosecuted accordingly. It is not difficult to see how, even though the driving force behind this targeting was narcotics, Rick could frame a logical reasoning as to why we should be involved in these types of operations.
The KCOs introduced Rick to the FAST command and operators as well as the Department of State (DoS) contractors who piloted and crewed their fleet of helicopters. The FAST and DoS personnel and equipment relocated to our base and subsequently staged out of Tarin Kot. They lived with us, ate with us, trained with us, and worked with us just like our own teams did. Our task forces became exceptionally well synced with one another, which ultimately made for seamless operating and incredibly successful missions.
It was the most enduring and valuable partnership that I had the privilege of being a part of. The relationship continued for three consecutive years; it was raised in 2011 and was sustained right until our unit’s last SOTG rotation at the end of 2013. It drove us to a level of maturation that was inextricably linked to both their level of expertise as well as the dedicated air assets that the Department of State (DoS) contractors and the DEA brought to the table.
The strength of the relationship also allowed for us to maintain an exclusive partnership which saw multiple advances from other task forces rejected by the DEA command. When the DEA were initially looking for SOF units to partner with, not many were willing to accept, and certainly not wanting to commit to the level that the SOTG did, as it was primarily seen as mundane, police-centric missions. These operations soon proved to be anything but, however, and were some of the most kinetic that we had ever conducted. These missions were also incredibly successful, with hundreds and hundreds of kilograms of drugs and manufacturing equipment seized and destroyed.
The professional relationship that developed between our task forces was nothing short of remarkable, and working with the DEA FAST was definitely a highlight of my career. The mutual respect was evident; no more so than seeing the photos and names of our members KIA during our joint operations hanging on the DEA’s memorial wall at their headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
Sadly, though, it appears as though our relationship with the DEA FAST was and will only ever be limited to the confines of Afghanistan. The Australian government does not have any appetite whatsoever to commit its military or special forces to counter-narcotics operations. In fact, it was the counter-narcotics premise which Rick had to creatively work around in order to get the government’s approval to work with the DEA in Afghanistan in the first place. If Rick focused on the narcotics issue alone, it would have actually been counterproductive to his plan. Rather, highlighting how the drugs were ‘legally aiding’ the insurgency and that the profits from narcotics sales were being used to buy weapons, explosives, and various other support measures, was the framing that was needed to secure the approval Rick needed.
Of course, this is oversimplifying the incredible work that Rick did to get his concept off the ground. It does, however, serve to highlight the patience and tenacity required to succeed when working with such a difficult bureaucracy with so many different levels to contend with and approvals to seek. It was a monumental effort to link a policing task force with a foreign special forces unit, but it has hopefully set the precedent for unconventional partnerships like this to occur from this point forward.