For the first time ever, a Navy SEAL was the commander of a joint task force, fighting 400 to 600 miles inland in Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Navy special warfare commanders were placed in unprecedented leadership positions during the conflict in Afghanistan. The upshot is that the SEAL (Sea, Land and Air) are redefining their role in U.S. and multinational military operations, said Navy Capt. Robert S. Harward, who was the commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-South, or TF KBAR, in Afghanistan.
Harward assumed command of Naval Special Warfare Group One in August 2001, and soon after the September 11 attacks, he deployed to Afghanistan.
His task force included Array troops from the 4th Psychological Operations Group, Air Force Special Operations personnel, and Marine and Army helicopter units. He also operated alongside a coalition of special operations forces from Denmark, Germany, Australia, Norway, Canada and New Zealand.
"We are not only commanding SEAL assets, but also other entities of the special operations forces community under one umbrella," he told National Defense. "It is the first time the Navy special warfare has had that leadership role in the command and control structures."
Harward's troops were tasked with raiding sites in southern Afghanistan, where al Qaeda and Taliban forces and equipment might have been located.
"In the end, I had 2,800 people working for me," said Harward. "I even had my own special operations theater component, which was comprised of AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] Pave Hawk helicopters and AC-130 gunships. I had refuelers. I had the MC-130 Echo [Combat Talon] penetrators." Even with all that equipment, he said, he could not have done his job without help from the other services.
Harward said that Operation Enduring Freedom validated the SEALs' capability to fight inland. "SEALs add additional capability on the ground," he said.
The expanding role, however, means that naval special warfare units will need more people in combat and support operations. The Navy is getting more people into the "pipeline," said Harward, but it is a "lengthy process until those people are ready to be deployed. It rakes at least two years to create a SEAL, he added.
A growth in the number of SEALs in the future also will require an expansion of what Harward called the "deployable special warfare package ... so critical to what we do downrange."
A case in point are...