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
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. …