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.
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American Special Forces officials said the fight had significantly reduced the ability of the HIG to operate in the area and that the operation resulted in no civilian casualties. Officials at the Afghan Ministry of Defense called the mission a success.Skip to next paragraph
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At the same time, Agence France-Presse quoted a local lawmaker, Rahmatullah Rashidi, as saying that the US-Afghan attack had killed several civilians. Independent sources say local leaders have made similar claims before that were unfounded.
Better supplies needed
But US and Afghan officials acknowledge the challenges in building such a force. Illiteracy is a big issue for all the Afghan security forces, and one that is all the more apparent within the commandos, whose high-intensity work requires higher skills.
"We want these guys to have strong reading and writing skills," says Colonel Jaber, whose battalion is training now. But Jaber laments the lack of trucks, weapons, and other equipment for the program.
Supplies for the force also continue to be a problem. Red tape, onerous Department of State regulations, and manufacturing delays have all contributed to equipment shortages that have handicapped the kandaks' effectiveness, American officials say.
Each kandak, for example, is mandated to have 51 Ford Ranger pickup trucks. But each battalion has only 30 or so, American officials here say.
"Resourcing is a big issue," says another American officer. While shortages often plague any foreign force, the success of the commando program – and its potentially broader influence with the Afghan Army – shouldn't be undermined by such problems, American trainers say.
The commando mission must also compete against gear needs for the Afghan police and Army – not to mention units in Iraq. Manufacturers also sometimes can't keep up with demand, officials at Combined Security Transition Command say.
The officials acknowledge that some equipment is backordered, but point to the speed at which they have supported the building of the commandos. Indeed, the US has significantly expanded its financial to the training and equipping effort here. The budget for the training command has grown nearly seven times in the past two years, from around $1 billion in fiscal 2005 to about $7 billion in fiscal 2007.
Unity amid diversity
Ultimately, commanders here say, one area where the commandos can make a difference is in fostering a constructive sense of nationalism.
Ensuring that men from a variety of ethnic backgrounds get along is critical, American trainers say, and commandos rely on a creed under which they are brothers in arms, whether they are Pashto, Tajik, Hazaras, Uzbeks, or Turkmen.
Rigid rules govern what's acceptable and what's not: talk of politics falls in the second category. Even so, ethnic differences can be acceptable fodder for good-natured ribbing.
As 1st Sgt. Mohammed Akbar supervises the squad navigating the training at the shoot house, one of his trainers jokes that Akbar, a Hazara whose Asian background is apparent in his facial features, has a "flat nose."
But that's fine with Sergeant Akbar, a serious soldier-trainer who says the commandos' diversity is their strength. "This is all Afghan," says Akbar, as he stands atop tires in the training building and gestures to the men below him.