An attack on a special forces green beret unit in Afghanistan this week highlighted real risks of key leader engagements (KLE). Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha was ambushed by while awaiting transport immediately following a KLE in Sherzad. Reports indicate an Afghan policeman attacked the unit with a heavy machine gun. Two special forces soldiers were killed and a reported six others were injured.
KLEs are an important counterinsurgency tool and one frequently used by U.S. special forces.. NATO identifies KLE activities to include:
a. Bilateral talks of senior leaders with military and civilian counterparts at their level of influence;
b. Speeches held at various occasions in the presence of the media and/or key decision makers;
c. Featured interviews to selected media with wide influence; and
d. Conferences arranged to discuss specific items of interest with influential characters
However, KLEs can provide additional information. They can serve as a basis for negotiations, an intelligence gathering tool, and/or provide targeters with a known location for specific members of insurgency organizations.
Unfortunately, KLEs often require special forces groups to move into unsecured territory, requiring navigating through unmapped enemy locations, an increased risk of IEDs and an higher chance of exposing themselves to rogue elements. Additionally, the negotiations conducted during these engagements may be performed by non-commissioned officers, who may or may not have received proper negotiation tactics training. This can result in inadequate, insufficient, or false information. It could also lead to the situation devolving into a confrontation. (source)
Ultimately, key leader engagements will continue to be a staple for special operations due to their ability to adapt to individual operations, and the necessity for communication in the modern conflict.