JUST IN: SOF Leader Calls Over-the-Horizon Ops in Afghanistan ‘Hard’ But Doable

By Stew Magnuson
Army Gen. Richard Clarke

Photo Credit: Stew Magnuson

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — The head of Special Operations Command said trying to remotely squash potential threats to the United States in Afghanistan from great distances will be harder without forces on the ground, but still possible.

Army Gen. Richard Clarke, SOCOM commander, said Nov. 19 that unmanned aerial vehicles will still be in the mix when attempting to keep tabs on potential terrorist threats after U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan last summer. The military can also rely on contacts they have made in the region and nearby allied nations, as it has in the past, he said during a talk at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Canada.

Without troops on the ground in Afghanistan and few nearby allied bases, the United States will be forced to adopt a so-called “over-the-horizon” approach to dealing with potential threats, U.S. leaders have said.

“While hard, we’ve done hard and we will continue to persist,” Clarke said.

To prevent Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist safe haven again, the United States must understand the intelligence picture emerging from the country. If another threat to the United States or one of its partners surfaces, “we can go to where the enemy is. We have proven that time and time again,” Clarke said.

Jawed Lundin, former deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan, in a panel discussion later during the forum, criticized the over-the-horizon approach.

“This whole idea of over-the-horizon, surgical strikes, military response to potential threats, we just saw that for 20 years — for God’s sake, it doesn’t work,” he said. The United States needs to be “more clever” and work with locals who can oppose and begin a resistance to the Taliban, he suggested.

Clarke said that globally, “the violent extremism that attacked us on 9/11 is still there. We can never forget that,” he said.

“While al-Qaida was largely decimated in Afghanistan and the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria was defeated, the threats still exist. In fact, in some ways it has metastasized. It’s actually harder to track,” he said.

Clarke was asked if he saw the Taliban as potential allies in the fight against ISIS’s Afghanistan affiliate. “I don’t see it,” he answered. “I don’t think they should be considered today … as a counterterrorism partner.”

Clarke was asked about his assessment as to why Afghan special operations forces that SOCOM had trained over the years put up little resistance after the Taliban began sweeping through the country as the United States withdrew.

Militaries have to have a strong connection to their government, he answered. “Once the government of Afghanistan that was in support of all those forces fell apart, there was no further logistics, no further pay and no further weapons or ammunition coming to them," he said. "Without that hope, without that backbone, they did not resist against the Taliban after it was evident it was a losing proposition."

When asked where these forces vanished to, Clarke said some did evacuate with U.S. forces, but some have remained.

Topics: Special Operations, Defense Department

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