President Barack Obama will today privately thank some members of the elite special forces team involved in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The meeting is to take place when Obama visits Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to address several military units that have recently returned from duty in Afghanistan.
A White House official told Reuters Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Vice Admiral William McRaven, who The Washington Post reported was the overall commander of the bin Laden mission. Bin Laden was killed on Monday in Pakistan by a top-secret US strike team.
The official said Obama will meet “special operators” involved in the mission but was not specific.
“The president met with Admiral McRaven at the White House yesterday to thank him personally in the Oval Office and will have the opportunity to privately thank some of the special operators involved in the operation tomorrow at Fort Campbell,” the official said without elaborating.
The US National Journal reports the task force included the specially trained and “highly mythologised” SEAL Team Six, officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), “an extraordinary and unusual collection of classified standing task forces and special-missions units. They report to the president and operate worldwide based on the legal (or extra-legal) premises of classified presidential directives.
“Though the general public knows about the special SEALs and their brothers in Delta Force, most JSOC missions never leak. We only hear about JSOC when something goes bad (a British aid worker is accidentally killed) or when something really big happens (a merchant marine captain is rescued at sea), and even then, the military remains especially sensitive about their existence. Several dozen JSOC operatives have died in Pakistan over the past several years. Their names are released by the Defense Department in the usual manner, but with a cover story — generally, they were killed in training accidents in eastern Afghanistan. That’s the code,” the National Journal reports.
“How did the helos elude the Pakistani air defence network? Did they spoof transponder codes? Were they painted and tricked out with Pakistan Air Force equipment? If so — and we may never know — two other JSOC units, the Technical Application Programs Office and the Aviation Technology Evaluation Group, were responsible. These truly are the silent squirrels — never getting public credit and not caring one whit. Since 9/11, the JSOC units and their task forces have become the U.S. government’s most effective and lethal weapon against terrorists and their networks, drawing plenty of unwanted, and occasionally unflattering, attention to themselves in the process.
“JSOC costs the country more than US$1 billion annually. The command has its critics, but it has escaped significant congressional scrutiny and has operated largely with impunity since 9/11. Some of its interrogators and operators were involved in torture and rendition, and the line between its intelligence-gathering activities and the CIA’s has been blurred.
“Indeed, according to accounts given to journalists by five senior administration officials Sunday night, the CIA gathered the intelligence that led to bin Laden’s location. A memo from CIA Director Leon Panetta sent Sunday night provides some hints of how the information was collected and analyzed. In it, he thanked the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for their help. NSA figured out, somehow, that there was no telephone or Internet service in the compound. How it did this without Pakistan’s knowledge is a secret. The NGIA makes the military’s maps but also develops their pattern recognition software — no doubt used to help establish, by February of this year, that the CIA could say with ‘high probability’ that bin Laden and his family were living there.
“Recently, JSOC built a new Targeting and Analysis Center in Rosslyn, Va. Where the National Counterterrorism Centre tends to focus on threats to the homeland, TAAC, whose existence was first disclosed by the Associated Press, focuses outward, on active “kinetic” — or lethal — counterterrorism missions abroad,” the National Journal adds.
“That the center could be stood up under the nose of some of the nation’s most senior intelligence officials without their full knowledge testifies to the power and reach of JSOC, whose size has tripled since 9/11. The command now includes more than 4000 soldiers and civilians. It has its own intelligence division, which may or may not have been involved in [the bin Laden raid], and has gobbled up a number of free-floating Defense Department entities that allowed it to rapidly acquire, test, and field new technologies.
“Under a variety of standing orders, JSOC is involved in more than 50 current operations spanning a dozen countries, and its units, supported by so-called “white,” or acknowledged, special operations entities like Rangers, Special Forces battalions, SEAL teams, and Air Force special ops units from the larger Special Operations Command, are responsible for most of the “kinetic” action in Afghanistan.”
The wikipedia notes JSOC was established in 1980 on recommendation of Colonel Charles Beckwith, in the aftermath of the failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the 1979 attempt to rescue US diplomats and CIA agents being held prisoner in Tehran, Iran. It is located at Pope Army Air Field and Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
The JSOC is the “joint headquarters designed to study special operations requirements and techniques; ensure interoperability and equipment standardisation; plan and conduct joint special operations exercises and training; and develop joint special operations tactics.” It also commands a number of “Special Mission Units (SMU)” including the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, the Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron.
The Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) is also under JSOC. This unit collects specific target intelligence prior to missions, and provides signals and other support during those missions. Notable ISA successes include locating US Army Brigadier General James Dozier who had been kidnapped by Italian Red Brigade terrorists in 1982 and Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar in 1993. They also played a role in the hunt for Saddam Hussein and his family after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.