WASHINGTON — Adm. Bill McRaven, the head of U.S. special operations, is mapping out a potential Afghanistan war plan that would replace thousands of U.S. troops with small special operations teams paired with Afghans to help an inexperienced Afghan force withstand a Taliban onslaught as U.S. troops withdraw.
While the overall campaign would still be led by conventional military, the handfuls of special operators would become the leading force to help Afghans secure the large tracts of territory won in more than a decade of U.S. combat. They would give the Afghans practical advice on how to repel attacks, intelligence to help spot the enemy and communications to help call for U.S. air support if overwhelmed by a superior force.
The Associated Press learned new details of the draft plan this week.
The special operations proposal was sketched out at special operations headquarters in Tampa, Fla., in mid-February, with Central Command’s Gen. James Mattis and overall Afghanistan war commander Gen. John Allen taking part, according to several high-level special operations officials and other U.S. officials involved in the war planning. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal has not yet been presented to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or the White House.
If approved by the administration, the pared-down structure could become the enduring force that Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak indicated Tuesday at the Pentagon that his country needs, possibly long after the U.S. drawdown date of 2014.
McRaven’s proposal amounts to a slimmed-down counterinsurgency strategy aimed at protecting the Afghan population as well as hunting the Taliban and al-Qaida.
It’s not the counterterrorist plan advanced by Vice President Joe Biden, which would leave Afghan forces to fend for themselves while keeping U.S. special operators in protected bases from which they could hunt terrorists with minimum risk, according to a senior special operations official reached this week.