Do Special Forces Need Special Funding? ; Elite US Military Units Push for Broad Authority to Fund Local Militias and Other Groups in Carrying out War on Terror

Article excerpt

It was "High Noon" in Afghanistan. On the dusty main street of the border town of Orgun, a large crowd gathered as three US Special Forces soldiers confronted the corrupt local warlord.

Master Sgt. Mark Bryant positioned his men for a gunfight, then made the first move. "We pulled him and his guys out of the car, and told him 'Hey, you're on foot now. We're confiscating this car because it doesn't belong to you,' " he said.

After a tense standoff, warlord Zakim Khan backed down and left town, culminating months of effort by the Special Forces team to end his grip on the Orgun valley. But the hard-won progress in Orgun proved fleeting, Bryant says. Thanks to a $20,000 monthly CIA stipend intended to buy his loyalty, Mr. Khan survived his 2002 ouster and is now back in power. In fact, knowingly or not, the CIA sealed his comeback by abruptly cutting off US wages for a 300-man Afghan militia that the Special Forces had lured away from Khan and trained, a military official says.

"We don't control that money," Bryant says. "So now you have 300 [well-trained] fighters and you're just going to tell them: 'OK, guys, see ya. Have a nice day.' "

The story of Orgun illustrates how conflicting priorities between the CIA and elite US military units can sometimes hamper efforts to forge alliances with indigenous forces and tribes - relationships increasingly vital to uproot terrorist groups from lawless regions in Afghanistan and around the world.

For decades, the CIA has held the purse strings for foreign spies and paramilitaries to gather intelligence and conduct covert action, while the State Department has paid for military aid to sovereign states.

Now, Congress is advancing legislation that for the first time would grant the Pentagon broad authority for US Special Operations Forces (SOF) to directly pay and equip a wide range of foreign groups and individuals supporting military operations to combat terrorism. It aims to allow such troops to muster a local force quickly after infiltrating a country, supplying weapons, radios, night vision goggles, and other gear for joint operations. Over the next 20 years, Pentagon officials say that small teams of such troops are likely to work in up to a dozen countries pursuing terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda.

The legislation would address what Pentagon officials consider an old quandary: the 49,000-strong Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has the mission to conduct unconventional warfare that relies on foreign forces, but lacks the budget authority to execute it. "It's been a continuing problem for DOD since the command was created [in 1987]," says a Pentagon official. "It's cumbersome, it's not dependable, and we can't plan for it."

DOD officials say they want the same flexibility and agility the CIA has in working with foreign forces. …