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Hundreds of new commandos join Afghan military in US-backed security push

New Afghan special forces commandos attend a graduation ceremony in Kabul on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017.

PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 25, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan — More than 800 Afghan troops became commandos on Wednesday as part of a U.S.-backed drive to double the size of the military’s special operations forces to more effectively fight the Taliban and other militants.

Special forces conduct most offensive operations in Afghanistan, despite the fact that until Wednesday they numbered about 17,000 out of the 300,000-strong armed forces.

The doubling of the army’s elite component within the next four years is part of a new American-supported security strategy that also saw the special operations forces upgraded from a division to a military corps in August.

“This is critically important to the safety and security of all the people in Afghanistan,” U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James B. Linder, the commanding general of NATO’s Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan said on the sidelines of Wednesday’s graduation ceremony in Kabul.

“The Afghan commandos are undefeated on the battlefield, and soon the enemy will have to fight twice as many of them,” he said.

The Taliban have made significant gains in Afghanistan since international combat operations there ended in late 2014. The militants are said to control more territory now than at any other time since a U.S.-led invasion ousted them from power in 2001. In the past two years, the Islamic State has also established a presence in the country, further complicating the 16-year war.

The decision to boost the number of commandos followed concerns about fatigue among the existing group of fighters.

As of early 2017, special forces conducted 80 percent of all offensive operations in the country, according to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which said overuse of the fighters was a “major problem.”

“This is very good news for Afghans and very bad news for the enemies of this country,” Gen. Bismillah Waziri, commander of the recently formed special operations corps, said during the ceremony.

“During a guerrilla war, the special forces always play a vital role, because special force members can go to the nest of the terrorists and finish them,” he said.

Wednesday’s ceremony saw 833 graduates put on the coveted maroon commando beret. One of them, Ali Hasan, 27, said it was a lifelong wish.

“The special forces are the most important part of the army,” Hasan said. “It’s a tough job, but I happily accept it. I’m ready to go on missions anywhere my officers want.”

The next class of commandos is set to graduate next month, and three similar-size classes will begin in early 2018, Linder said. NATO trainers work with Afghan instructors, who lead the 14-week courses.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com
Twitter: @pwwellman

The badge of an Afghan commando attending a ceremony in Kabul on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017.
PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

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