In August 2012, a special task force stood up at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Special Operations Joint Task Force-Bragg does not appear to have enjoyed any official mention before popping up in a Defense Department news release in January.
The secrecy belies the new unit’s important and highly sensitive mission. As best as we can tell from the information we could get, SOJTF-B—which is directly subordinate to the main U.S. Special Operations Command—trains U.S. special operators before they deploy to Afghanistan.
America and its allies plan to maintain a large Special Operations Forces contingent in Afghanistan for potentially decades beyond the planned departure of most regular troops this year. The Afghanistan war is becoming a secretive commando war—and the SOJTF-B and its classified training activities apparently make it possible.
The new task force works closely with Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, which oversees commandos in that country. This relationship was clear from the January release, which announced that Brig. Gen. Mark C. Schwartz, then deputy commander of SOJTF-B, was going to become deputy commander for SOJTF-A.
The 2013 SOCOM factbook lists one of SOJTF-A’s subordinate units in Afghanistan only as “task force.” According to SOCOM, that task force goes around Afghanistan hunting the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the terrorist Al Haqqani Networks. It is very likely that this unit is actually the Joint Special Operations Command task force in Afghanistan.
JSOC handles the most secret and dangerous commando missions all over the world, including the 2011 raid to kill Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
SOJTF-A formed in Afghanistan in 2012 after years of work by U.S. and allied war planners trying to unify the special operations scene there. Army Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, the unit’s commander, said at a press conference last May that SOJTF-A “began as a unilateral U.S. initiative.” But it undeniably has taken on an international flavor.
After standing up, SOJTF-A merged with NATO. The alliance wanted to keep its Special Operations Forces—from countries such as Albania, Romania and others—under a NATO commander, rather than a leader from the U.S.
But America is part of NATO, so an American officer can count as a NATO commander. SOJTF-A’s top officer is now also the commander of the NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan.
This leads the unit to be referred to commonly by the mouthful of an acronym NSOCC-A/SOJTF-A. Unwieldy acronym aside, what matters is that all U.S. and NATO commandos in Afghanistan now answer to the same person. That streamlines command and control and facilitates the smooth running of an increasingly secretive, commando-led conflict.
In addition, U.S. and NATO Special Operations Forces train and advise Afghan commandos and conduct actual missions with them. This effectively also brings the Afghan special troops under the NSOCC-A/SOJTF-A umbrella, too.
It makes sense that SOCOM would want a companion training force like SOJTF-B to go along with all of this. Fort Bragg, the home of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command, is a logical choice.
Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, a SOCOM public affairs officer, said that he could not provide any details about the training effort “at this time.”
The biggest benefit of a unit like SOJTF-B is probably centralization. Instead of training smaller units individually, SOJTF-B can bring together lots of small teams—potentially including foreign ones—for realistic training before these units must work together in combat conditions in Afghanistan.
SOJTF-B probably also equips these units before they head over. Special Operations Forces often get the opportunity to test new weapons and equipment in the field. A centralized training unit would give people a chance to get acquainted with equipment that might only be used in Afghanistan.
As the U.S. continues to withdraw conventional troops from Afghanistan starting this year, Special Operations Forces will continue to work with the Afghans and hunt terrorists. SOJTF-B will, in turn, no doubt continue its silent work at Fort Bragg.
Correction April 3, 2014: We misattributed the name of SOCOM’s public affairs officer. We regret the error.