Brussels: US special operations forces have nearly tripled in Afghanistan in the past year and have captured or killed 121 Taliban leaders, the commander of NATO forces in the Afghan war said on Thursday.
The special forces -- elite, highly-trained units -- increasingly work in cooperation with Afghan troops and government authorities are briefed in advance of operations, General Stanley McChrystal told reporters in Brussels.
"We're about three times the capacity we were" a year ago, said McChrystal, who led special forces in targeting militants in the Iraq war.
McChrystal acknowledged the secretive special forces were a subject that "we don't talk about much" but that the major investment in troops and resources had shown results in the fight against insurgents.
"In the last 90 days, we've captured or killed 121 Taliban leaders around the country," he said, without providing further details.
The US Department of Defense defines special operations as missions "conducted in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments," which "often require covert, clandestine, or low visibility capabilities."
While McChrystal was referring to US special forces, other members of the NATO-led contingent in Afghanistan have bolstered special operations units as well, the commander's spokesman, Admiral Gregory Smith, said.
The American special forces had increased not just in number but also had access to an expanded fleet of helicopters, planes and unmanned drones for operations, McChrystal said.
The special forces took great care to avoid civilian casualties, he said.
"Numerically, special operating missions don't produce the big percentage of civilian casualty events."
To reduce civilian deaths in NATO operations, McChrystal has issued orders placing limits on the use of air strikes and firepower since he took over as commander a year ago.
He said the main thrust of his strategy in Afghanistan was not to engage in direct combat with the Taliban but instead to provide security for the population and help the Kabul government deliver services.
But the targeting of "key" insurgent leaders had its place in the broader strategy.
First Published: Friday, June 11, 2010, 00:24