Midway through his press conference at the Pentagon Thursday, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US commander referred to as "The Pope," was asked—in a rather innocuous way—about the role US special forces assassination teams are playing in Afghanistan ahead of the planned summer Kandahar offensive. A reporter raised the issue of "the role of your Special Mission Units in targeting Taliban hard-core insurgents: Are they being used in Kandahar City to go after some of these assassination teams?"
SMUs are direct action teams composed of all-star special forces operators— the elite of the elite—drawn from the Navy SEALs, Delta Force and other "Tier One" special forces, working with the Joint Special Operations Command. Since 9-11, these teams have been the premiere force in capturing or killing "high-value targets" around the world.
Before becoming commander of the war in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal served as the head of JSOC, from 2003-2008. During his tenure, JSOC's operations, once largely focused on discreetly assisting "friendly" foreign military forces or US-backed proxy forces, were greatly expanded. While JSOC has historically worked sensitive counter-terrorism operations, since 9-11, JSOC has run a parallel rendition program, secret prisons and drones. JSOC forces have operated in Pakistan and other "denied areas." Its forces maintain classified "hit lists" and are at the center of US assassination operations. SMUs are used for the most sensitive of these operations.
McChrystal would never wax on about SMUs at a press conference, but the mere mention of them in his presence is fascinating nonetheless. "All of our special operating forces are doing a lot of things right now," McChrystal answered. "What we're trying to do is maintain pressure on the insurgency, on their networks and on their leaderships, while we do what is typically thought of as more traditional counterinsurgency."
McChrystal added: "It's interesting. Some people think that it's either/or, that in counterinsurgency you're either handing out volleyballs or you're doing conventional war with tanks. And that's actually not the case. Counterinsurgency is a wide effort that's as much civilian as it is military. In some cases, it's targeted operations against enemy leaderships. In other cases, it's protecting Afghan civilians in the street. And so we do have an ongoing effective effort."
In other words, "Yeah, we're bumping people off in Kandahr."
"How successful has that ongoing effort been?" McChrystal was asked.
"I'm satisfied with it so far," he responded.