Americans build elite Afghan commando force
The commando battalions, just a year old, are being trained and deployed nationally as a mobile, quick-reaction force.
Rish Khvor, Afghanistan
Pvt. Said Reza says he's ready to be a soldier in his country's fight against extremists, and as he stands in uniform in the middle of a training camp here with his semiautomatic rifle, kneepads, and American-style dark glasses, he looks the part.Skip to next paragraph
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Private Reza has already graduated from basic soldier training. He volunteered to become a member of an elite unit of the Army that is being groomed to become a model force of Afghan warriors.
"The only thing I know is that these [extremists] are a bunch of people who sell their country for a very small amount of money," says Reza of the extremists he expects to fight. When asked if he's ready to take them on, his answer is simple: "Bali ho" – of course.
Trained to be "the best of the best," who fight in riskier, more complex political and military environments – say, taking on a popular tribal leader aligned with the Taliban – the Commandos are distinct from the regular Army but are expected to help define the image and capabilities of Afghan security forces as a whole. The goal is an elite, quick-reaction force that can act independently. It's a crucial addition for an uneven US-NATO mission that many military and civilian leaders agree has evolved in a way that has let the Taliban resurface.
But here at this former Soviet training base in the town of Rish Khvor, near Kabul, the company of US Army Special Forces Command in Afghanistan, 3rd Special Forces Group that is training this band of men is in no danger of putting itself out of a job. With training that gives them a leg up from the common Afghan soldier, these Afghans have helped US forces to nab 40 of the most wanted extremist leaders since last year.
But commandos still require oversight, especially when it comes to advanced planning for missions, says the American commander here, who cannot be identified by virtue of his job in Special Forces. They also need help on the missions themselves, as the commandos have no aircraft to speak of and must rely on their US partners in a myriad of ways.
Yet the advent of the 3,500-strong force, now just a year old, is a natural fit in a country that has seen decades of war and where an inherent warrior ethos helps the drive toward a professional military. In Iraq, US forces training Iraqi security forces gripe that many soldiers don't have the necessary will or discipline. But trainers here say they see plenty of will – they just need to be shown the way.
A permanent home?
The base here in eastern Afghanistan is nestled amid low mountains in a relatively safe, remote area that stands in contrast to the violence of southern Afghanistan.
The base is likely to become the permanent home of the commandos. American officers here hope they can build up the program as much as possible, but unlike coalition forces training the regular Army, the Special Forces expect a long-term relationship with this base as they seek to build and then nurture the program. "We are sure these guys won't leave us," says Col. Abdul Jaber, the commander of the battalion currently undergoing training.