Elite Afghan forces begin to worry Taliban, ISIS


Afghan special forces perform a drill in Kabul July 27. Afghan commandos soon will take the front lines against the Taliban. [Shah Marai/AFP]

Afghan special forces perform a drill in Kabul July 27. Afghan commandos soon will take the front lines against the Taliban. [Shah Marai/AFP]

KABUL -- Commandos armed with RPG-7 rocket launchers aim at a tank hundreds of metres away, fresh recruits to Afghanistan's most skilled fighting force -- an elite group whose growing strength, observers say, worries the Taliban and other militant groups.

These new members of Afghanistan's Special Operations Corps (SOC) will soon be on the front lines of the war that the US has vowed "to win" by putting more American boots on the ground indefinitely.

Camp Morehead, a former Soviet base near Kabul, is one of two training bases where the commandos are drilled by Afghan instructors in a programme overseen by US-led international forces.

While the SOC -- which also includes top special forces -- account for about 7% of the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, they have been deployed in almost 80% of offensives and emerged victorious each time, they say -- a claim supported by US and foreign forces.

Earlier this year Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered a near doubling of their ranks from 17,000 as part of a four-year roadmap that also aims to strengthen Afghanistan's air force.

At Camp Morehead, also previously used by the Taliban as a training ground, commandos undergo several months of training before being sent into battle.

From Kunduz Province in the north to Helmand Province in the southwest, they defend villages threatened by the Taliban and -- their speciality -- launch night raids on insurgent hideouts.

"You better be in good condition. During the week of selection, they had to run around with a 25kg bag and return," said an Afghan sergeant.

'Never lose'

Since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014, Afghan's special forces and commandos have served as a bulwark against attacks launched by the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups, including the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

"The reason why they are so good is because they have been trained by some of the best special forces around the world," said a US general.

"When the special forces are employed, they never lose. If we double them, that means a significant capability, and we know the Taliban are concerned."

Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, told reporters recently that additional American troops would enhance training of Afghan forces and expand Afghan air and special operations fighters.

"The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield," Nicholson said, expressing confidence in Afghan security forces, even though they are still not ready to fight on their own.

"As their (special operations forces) numbers increase, we will cover more of the country and we can conduct more missions," said Col. Ahmad Zabihullah, their operational commander.

General Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the defence ministry, remained confident Afghan forces would eventually prevail.

"Can we win this war? Yes, we win this war. Long live Afghanistan," he said.

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