By Deirdre Tynan
US Special Operations Forces have permission to enter Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on a “case-by-case” basis when conducting counter-terrorism operations, US Central Command has confirmed.
Other sources tell EurasiaNet.org that US Special Forces occasionally cross borders in “hot pursuit” of armed militant groups on the run from Afghanistan. US Special Forces do not maintain a permanent presence in any Central Asian country, but they have the ability to carry out extended missions in the region, a US military source said.
“Periodically we will have military-to-military cooperative events with our Central Asian partners. Any entry into these countries of US Special Forces would be with the permission of the host nation and conducted on a case-by-case basis,” said LTC Michael T. Lawhorn, Chief of Media Relations at US Central Command.
Last September, US Special Forces provided crucial tactical support in helping Tajik government troops repel an attempted Islamic militant incursion, a well-placed source told Eurasianet.org. “It’s hardly classified information, the Tajiks didn’t do it alone,” the source said. The skirmish left 20 militants and one Tajik government soldier dead. The militants had reportedly crossed the Pyanj River into Tajikistan from Kunduz Province, after being forced to flee Afghanistan due to a security sweep carried out by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The framework for US Special Forces’ operations throughout Central Asia was established under an August 2009 directive issued by US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). As part of an “adjustment in regional orientation,” Special Forces’ 3rd Group was realigned to focus on Central Asia. A spokesman for SOCOM confirmed that as of February 1, 2010, 3rd Group would “be prepared to conduct foreign internal defense and security forces assistance to assist partner nations improve their ability to provide for their own security in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.”
The arrival of 3rd Group in Afghanistan a year ago coincided with an upsurge of US-led coalition activity against Islamic militants in northern Afghan provinces. In May, 2010, for example, US Special Forces and the Afghan National Army troops killed 30 Taliban militants in an operation 10-kilometers north of the provincial capital Kunduz. US Special Forces also provide training to local police.
Funding for all such activities is provided for in the US defense budget. Adm. Eric Olson, the commander of US Special Forces [USSOF] has stated that authority for special operations in Central Asia is covered under Section 1208 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2005. “This authority enables USSOF to train and equip indigenous forces, both regular and irregular, and to enable them to support ongoing counterterrorism operations,” Olson said in a 2010 statement.
“Indigenous forces – while serving a leading role and supported by USSOF – provide essential access to locations, populations, and information otherwise inaccessible,” Olsen continued. “Support to indigenous forces through Section 1208 reprioritization of funding has resulted in many successful counterterrorist operations.”
The 2011 US defense budget increased Section 1208 funding from $40 million to $45 million, as well as expanded the range of “logistic support, supplies, and services” the US may provide to “allied governments.” SOCOM’s overall budget for 2011 increased 5.7 percent over the previous year’s level, reaching $6.3 billion. The increase reflects “the priority to focus on irregular warfare and to strengthen core special operations capabilities,” according to the US Department of Defense.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.