A major buildup of Afghanistan’s commando force, part of a strategy to fight insurgents who contest or control nearly half the country’s districts, could have a detrimental effect on conventional army units, already beaten down by years of combat, corruption and desertion.
The plan, announced last year, calls for the number of commandos to nearly double, from about 11,700 to 23,300 by 2020. There will be at least 14,000 in coming days, after current classes complete their 14 weeks of training, said Army Col. Larry Niedringhaus, the U.S. Special Forces officer in charge of an advisory group involved in training.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani formed the plan with Pentagon backing in an effort to invest in units with a track record of success. While conventional Afghan military and police units have often struggled with the Taliban in combat, the commandos are generally seen as more prestigious and effective on the battlefield.
But as more Afghan soldiers are sent to commando school after basic training, fewer of them are available to fill holes in the conventional Afghan army units.
“It’s always a point of discussion over how many we can get from KMTC and how much the Afghan National Army gets from KMTC,” said Army Lt. Col. Karl Johnson, a U.S. Special Forces officer involved in training commandos, using an acronym for the Kabul Military Training Center. “That’s always a point of negotiation.”