Afghanistan will expand elite units
Commando forces seen as key to beating back Taliban.
The Afghan military will begin expanding its elite commando units in the com- ing weeks, Afghan officials and military officers said, in a bid to capitalize on a force that has been one of the few success stories in the nearly 16-year-old war.
Starting in September, the training academy here will add an 800-man, 14-weeklong commando course atop its current curriculum. Afghan officials are optimis- tic that in the coming years the 12,000-strong force will be able to almost double, to 22,000 troops.
As the number of commandos grows, the Ministry of Interior’s elite police unit and the Afghan Air Force’s Special Mission Wing will also expand, to 9,000 and 1,000 troops, respectively.
The Afghan military’s decision to invest in its commando forces comes with strong U.S. backing and is a key component of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s recent military reform plan.
The commandos, with their track record of reli- ability, have become a favorite of U.S. military officials. They see the force as key to pushing back the Taliban militants who have taken over broad swaths of the country since NATO forces ended their combat mission in 2014. A recent report from the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan said the com- mandos and other special units were responsible for 80 percent of all Afghan offensive operations as of early 2017, but warned that they have been overused.
The commandos “are very tired,” said Maj. Gen Dawlat Waziri, the chief spokes- man for the Afghan Ministry of Defense. “By raising the number of commandos we will be able to give them a breath.”
Col. Mohmand Zabihullah, the operations officer for the Afghan Special Operations command, told reporters that his forces have taken steps to ensure they weren’t being misused, including establishing better relations with regular units and ensur- ing requests for the commandos are channeled through the Ministry of Defense. It is unclear, however, how effec- tive those measures will be if the Taliban continues to gain ground.
The Afghan commandos were initially intended to act as a raiders against Taliban commanders and other critical targets, but they have slowly turned into the Afghan military’s premier shock troops. They are frequently tasked to clear areas of Taliban insurgents, often with the help of U.S. air support and Western Special Operations forces, so that regular Afghan Army units can flow in behind them.