WASHINGTON – U.S. military commanders said Wednesday there are no plans to turn the Afghan war over to CIA control after 2014, with special operations answering to American intelligence officials.
"There are absolutely no plans right now to put special operations under Title 50 in Afghanistan now that I am aware of," said Adm. Bill McRaven, the overall special operations commander, referring to the legal authority under which the CIA operates.
Gen. James Mattis, who heads U.S. Central Command, and, McRaven told the House Armed Services Committee that they will continue an emphasis on special operations training of Afghan forces, especially at the village level.
McRaven also defended the continued use of "night raids" against Afghan enemy targets, saying they are all led by Afghan troops.
The commanders were giving lawmakers a bird's eye view of where their forces stand since last year's U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and where they might be headed as military leaders grapple with how to down troops fast enough to meet the White House's 2014 deadline to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan.
Pentagon staffers already have put forward a plan to hand over much of the war-fighting to special operations troops in Afghanistan.
The chairman of the House Armed Services, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., spoke of the option to add a three-star special operations general to the structure, to help coordinate the drawdown and shift to a U.S. special-operations-backed Afghan force.
McRaven answered several questions about his proposal to allow him to move more of his forces more quickly around the globe, when asked by U.S. regional commanders to train local forces or supplement existing U.S. operations. He said none of those troop movements would move ahead without the request by or coordination with the regional U.S. military chief or ambassador.
"I would never recommend circumventing any of those," McRaven said.
The idea of turning the Afghan campaign over to the intelligence community after 2014 has been floated by a senior defense intelligence official and reported by The Associated Press last week. The plan is one of several possible scenarios that Pentagon officials are debating, but has yet to be presented to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the White House or Congress.
The notion did not sit well with either McRaven or Mattis, when consulted by lawmakers in closed sessions, according to an official who was briefed on the meetings and who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Proponents of the draft proposal say one advantage would be a smaller, less visible footprint, at a time when Afghan President Hamid Karzai is eager to show his troops in the lead and that U.S. troops are on the way out.
But a CIA-run war would mean that the U.S. public would not be informed about funding or operations, as they are in a traditional war. Oversight would fall to the White House, top intelligence officials, and those two congressional committees, plus a few other key lawmakers.
While McRaven stressed repeatedly that no such plan is in the works, he acknowledged that when special operations troops are put under CIA control, as they were for last year's raid against Osama bin Laden, they answer to the intelligence agency. That means Congressional oversight falls to the intelligence committees, not defense oversight bodies.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., expressed concern that "we have budgetary control" in the committee, but no authority over when Special Operations Command passes off operational authority to intelligence agencies.