KABUL: Afghanistan plans to double the number of elite special forces from 17,000 troops, officials said, part of a long-term strategy to bolster units stretched and exhausted by persistent attacks from Taliban insurgents and other militants.
Special forces, who represent a small fraction of the 300,000-strong armed forces, have been carrying out nearly 70% of the army’s offensive operations across the country, underlining Afghanistan’s heavy reliance on them.
While regular forces, including police, are deployed largely to defend positions, special forces are taking the battle to militants from Kunduz in the north to Helmand in the south, sometimes working in tandem with US counterparts.
“Our commando forces have to be strengthened and have to be better equipped,” Defence Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said.
Waziri declined to give exact numbers, saying only that the special operations division would be increased to the level of an army corps.
But three Afghan and Western officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that under current plans, special forces would double and the government was talking to foreign donors about contributing through funding and other assistance.
Recruitment in recent months has focused on replacing special forces troops lost during last year’s fighting, meaning the drive to “substantially” increase numbers would take longer, said NATO coalition spokesman Captain Bill Salvin.
“It’s going to take several years to grow to the level that (Afghan President Ashraf) Ghani currently envisions,” Salvin said.
Recruitment and training was already underway for more commandos, as well as special forces support units like medical care, intelligence, logistics and communications, he added.