Preparing for a multi-generational, international fight against terrorists, U.S. special operations chiefs are launching a new counterterrorist nerve center at an undisclosed location in the Middle East to fight the so-called Islamic State, al Qaeda, and any other terrorist actor.
The Joint Special Operations Command, the U.S. military’s premier counterterrorist strike force, is expanding its existing targeting nerve center in the region to make space for more American terror hunting personnel from three-letter agencies like the CIA, NSA, and FBI to foreign partners like Britain, France, Iraq and Jordan.
The Obama administration is enshrining the strike force’s role of gathering multiple points of view on who to kill and capture, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan into a permanent information sharing platform, two U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast, speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the secret task force publicly.
“This has been going on,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the expanded mission. “We’re just putting it on steroids.”
Special Operations Command declined to comment, and Pentagon officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
JSOC had already removed more than three-dozen “external operations planners” off the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, including key ISIS operatives blamed for plotting deadly attacks in Europe and beyond.
The new effort approved by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter builds out an existing location to make space, and looks at the problem globally.
“It’s a platform for information sharing,” the official said. “People just need to come. The point is to gather them together,” like the intelligence fusion centers now-retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal set up to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“We allowed other agencies to follow our operations (previously unheard of) and we widely distributed, without preconditions, intelligence we captured or analysis we’d conducted,” McChrystal wrote in his 2013 memoir My Share of the Task, describing the first fusion centers that sat Defense Intelligence Agency analysts next to National Geospatial Intelligence analysts and more.
Carter also expanded the influence of the head of Special Operations Command, Gen. Tony Thomas, by making him the conduit to the Defense Secretary for the joint interagency team’s observations and recommendations for anything from more surveillance on a given area, to a recommendation to strike a terrorist leader or network.
“He’s talking directly to the Secretary of Defense without any filter,” the official said. “He can say, this is how I would recommend dealing with the problem. It might be to hit a target or to activating local law enforcement in Bangladesh to arrest someone.”
The official explained that when JSOC does carry out a strike, it still answers to the regional military commander—for instance, Gen. Joseph Votel in the Central Command area—and still only carries out missions with the permission of the U.S. ambassador in the affected country.
“It’s a streamlining of communications,” not an expansion of JSOC authority, a second senior U.S. official said of the new center. “The normal chain of having to get approval still occurs. They are still having to seek the same permissions to do things.”
“But they can look at things transregionally—and give advice…more efficiently and more effectively by eliminating some unnecessary steps so you can get at this problem quicker,” the official said, shortening the amount of time to get approval an intelligence gathering operation or a drone strike.
As this effort took hold, JSOC has been spending a lot of time reassuring its own U.S. government partners that they won’t share everything with foreign partners—just that which helps other governments identify, track and if necessary, arrest or kill terrorists in their midst.