By Arshad Zaman | 23 June 2010
The chain of command out of Afghanistan has sometimes perplexed analysts. The confusion arises because of a latent de facto US forces chain of command, that sails under the much publicised NATO flag as an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), of which the U.S. ostensibly is just one member. The solution is that the top leadership has two titles (is “double-hatted”), one a NATO/ISAF title which is displayed prominently for public purposes, and one a US military title that is used only if necessary.
This does not pose any real problems because all NATO operations are conducted under the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), a U.S. Flag or General officer, who doubles as Commander European Command (EURCOM), while US forces operate under the regional Central Command (CENTCOM). The choice between NATO and US leadership boils down, in practice, to one between EURCOM and CENTCOM, in which CENTCOM is clearly the logical choice.
The U.S. armed forces—consisting of the army, navy, marines, air force, and coast guard—are headed by President Obama, whose second in command is Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
They are advised by a six-member Joint Chiefs of Staff, consisting of Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, a Vice Chairman, and the four service chiefs.
The Joint Chiefs, however, are outside the chain of command that passes from the Defence Secretary to the heads of the ten (multi-service) Unified Combatant Commands: six regional (including CENTCOM, headed by Gen. David Petraeus), and four functional (including the Special Operations, SOCOM, and its component, the Joint Special Operations Commands, JSOC).
Under U.S. law, however, only the CIA is allowed to conduct covert (including “black”) operations. The CIA, however, can call upon regular US military units to assist in its operations. Broadly speaking, then, while the regular military carries most of the burden of the war in Afghanistan, it is the CIA–under the Department of Defense leadership, and with assistance from other elements of the Intelligence Community (IC)–that carries out the war in Pakistan.
The Real Chain of CommandThe war in Afghanistan is being fought by CENTCOM, whose man in Kabul is Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Commander U.S. Forces in Afghanistan (COM USFOR-A). McChrystal is supported by Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, Deputy Commander U.S. Forces – Afghanistan (DEPCOM USFOR-A), who commands the five Regional Commands, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), the Psychological Operations teams (“theatre enablers”), and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) operations; and Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, Commander Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTCA), who works on training the Afghan police and army.
Both Lieutenant-General David Rodriguez and Lieutenant-General William Caldwell–in addition to General James Mattis, the commander of US Joint Forces Command–are thought to be potential replacements for Gen. McChrystal, if he is replaced.
The Public (NATO/ISAF) Chain of Command
To maintain a façade of NATO leadership, McChrystal, Rodriguez, and Caldwell downplay their USF titles, choosing to parade their NATO titles of Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ISAF Joint Command (IJC), and NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A), respectively.
Under the top command, there are regional commands that coordinate all regional civil-military activities conducted by the military elements of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in their area of responsibility, under operational control of ISAF. Each regional command is assumed by a lead nation and is composed of:
- a Command and Control (C2) Headquarters; and
- a Forward Support Base (FSB) that are essential logistic installations, created to provide supply, medical and transport hub in each region to assist the PRTs in their mission to extend the Government of Afghanistan’s authority.
There are currently six Regional Commands–after a Regional Command Southwest, RC(SW), was hived off from the Regional Command South, RC(S)–however, the latest information posted on the ISAF website provides the following details on the five regional command structure prior to this reorganisation:
- Regional Command North – RC(N):
There are 5 PRTs under RC(N) command.
Lead nation: Germany
C2 HQ: Mazar-e-Sharif (Germany)
FSB: Mazar-e-Sharif (Germany)
- Regional Command West – RC(W):
There are 4 PRTs under RC(W) command.
Lead nation: Italy
C2 HQ: Herat (Italy)
FSB: Herat (Italy & Spain)
- Regional Command Capital – RC(C): Since 6 August 2006, Regional Command Capital is the new name given to the former Kabul Multinational Brigade. The name change brought the Kabul area in line with the ISAF structure in place in the rest of Afghanistan.
There is no PRT in RC(C)
Lead nation: Turkey
C2 HQ: Kabul (Turkey)
FSB: Kabul International Airport (KAIA) (Spain)
- Regional Command South – RC(S) [Now Split into South & Southwest]:
There are 4 PRTs under RC(S) command.
Lead nation: United Kingdom
C2 HQ: Kandahar (UK)
FSB: Kandahar Airfield (UK)
- Regional Command East – RC(E)
There are 13 PRTs under RC(E) command.
Lead nation: United States
C2 HQ: Bagram (US)
FSB: Bagram (US)
- ISAF Regional Command South Split into Helmand-Nimruz and Kandahar Commands
- US Revamps Chain of Command in Afghanistan
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