Camp Morehead [Afghanistan] – 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, US generals say, worries the Taliban.
These new members of Afghanistan’s Special Operations Command (SOC) will soon be on the frontline of the war that US President Donald Trump 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.
“We are hunters, you know. What I’m saying to you is we are killers, we are looking for the bad people to kick them in their arse,” one of the commandos, who cannot be identified, told reporters recently at the secondary training base.
While the SOC — which also includes top special forces — account for about seven percent of the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, they have been deployed in nearly 80 percent of offensives and emerged victorious each time, they say — a claim supported by US and foreign forces.
But as the Taliban gain ground across the country and Islamic State group expands its footprint, there are concerns the fighters are becoming physically exhausted.
“It’s true they are tired. They are currently fighting on behalf of the world” against multiple militant groups, said General Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the defence ministry.
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 are put through 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 25-kilogramme bag and return,” said an Afghan sergeant.