Obama administration to create new task force to hunt terrorists worldwide – report

FILE PHOTO © Manuel J. Martinez
The outgoing administration is reportedly seeking to create a new special operations task force that would use the elite Joint Special Operations Command’s experience to carry out clandestine activities all across the globe as an independent entity.

The proposal includes transformation of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from being a strike tool employed by US Army’s regional commands into a key part of a new multi-agency intelligence force, Washington Post reported

Referred to as the ‘Counter-External Operations Task Force,’ or Ex-Ops, the new organization would act globally with the stated goal of targeting terrorists beyond conventional conflict zones like Syria or Libya, according to Obama administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Ex-Ops task force could also share intelligence as well as deliver recommendations and advice to Western militaries and security forces, or even conduct joint operations, the report said.

It will report to the Pentagon through the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), according to the military officials, creating a “hybrid command system” that can bypass the Army’s regional commands to speed up preparations for covert operations.

In the past, the US military’s Special Forces deployed under the regional commands, according to Stars and Stripes, but the creation of the Ex-Ops would mean handing Army General Raymond Thomas first in command when sending the task force into combat missions.

“Now [Thomas] can request whatever he wants and... unless there's some other higher competing priority, the combatant commanders have to cough it up,” said a former senior defense official.

The number of contributing secret services, both nationwide and internationally, is in flux, the official added, as intelligence-sharing laws and internal friction have kept some on the periphery of the new organization.

Last month in Paris, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the JSOC “has been put in the lead” of combating Islamic State's (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) external operations outside conflict zones.

Previous media reports said the terrorist group is keen to target Europe. Some European intelligence officials have warned that IS activities on the continent will only intensify with the fall of Mosul, the group’s stronghold in Iraq. In Germany, security services say Islamic State has trained fighters to pass refugee application procedures and infiltrate European countries.

In the meantime, the plans advocated by the outgoing US administration appear to be similar to the notorious ‘Bush doctrine,’ the policy asserting that Washington had the right to secure itself against countries that “harbor” or give aid to terrorist groups, which was used to justify the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and partly with the 2003 Iraq invasion.

It is also unclear if the proposal will pass the reality check. Earlier in November, six former Special Operations Forces (SOF) commanders as well as some 50 active-duty officers told the Virginia-based think tank CAN that their units are already operating in an “increasingly complex security environment.”

US commandos “have shouldered a heavy burden in carrying out these missions, suffering a high number of casualties over the last eight years and maintaining a high operational tempo that has increasingly strained special operators and their families,” the SOF officers said.