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Afghanistan Plans to Double Special Op Forces, Use Drones

A file photo of Afghan special forces in the eastern province of Laghman.
A file photo of Afghan special forces in the eastern province of Laghman.

WASHINGTON — As Afghan security forces continue their military operations against the Taliban and Islamic State militants in the country, the government plans to improve its security forces in the next few years to help beat the growing threat posed by militant groups, Afghan officials said.

As part of a four-year security plan, Kabul plans to beef up the country’s elite Special Forces, and efforts are underway to improve its air force.

“Our commando forces would be further strengthened and they should receive more arms, new and sophisticated equipment,” General Dawlat Waziri, the spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Defense told VOA.

The plan would double the special operation forces currently serving in the capacity of a military division of 17,000 troops. A new military corps is to be created within the Afghan National Army structure to accommodate the growing number of elite forces.

Given the nature of the warfare, Afghanistan has shifted its focus from conventional warfare to special operations in an effort to help defeat a growing insurgency that has become potent in recent years and an emerging Islamic State threat that has made inroads in various parts of the country.

Currently, Special Forces conduct 70 percent of the country's military operations. The elite forces are trained as quick reaction forces and conduct regular night raids against militants in various regions of the country.

NATO has confirmed that more commandos will soon join the Afghan national security and defense forces. Captain Bill Salvin, spokesperson for Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, said recruitment and training for more commandos is already underway.

Growing Air Force

The Afghan government also wants to increase its air force capabilities to provide logistic and close air support to Afghan forces on the ground.

Spokesperson Waziri told VOA the country's air force is expected to soon receive up to 200 helicopters and other aircraft.

Afghan security forces have also been provided with surveillance drones for use in restive regions.

“We do use drones to collect intelligence on militant groups as part of our military tools in the fight against terrorism,” General Mohammad Radmanesh, the deputy spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Defense told VOA.

According to Radmanesh, the Afghan army received 10 drones from the U.S. for surveillance purposes last year which are being used in several provinces including Helmand, Nangarhar and Kunduz.

“The surveillance drones that we have started using are very helpful in monitoring militant activities in the northeastern zone,” Lt. Gen. Sher Aziz Kamawal, commander of the Spinzar Corps in northeastern Kunduz province told VOA.

Kamawal added that drones are operated by Afghan military personnel, trained by NATO forces.

NATO’s Combat Role

Despite successes, Afghan security forces continue to struggle against a potent insurgency and an emerging threat posed by Islamic State.

Afghan officials say continued training, support and equipment will turn the tide of the war in favor of the Afghan government.

Currently, around 13,000 NATO troops, including 8,400 Americans, are part of the Resolute Support Mission, which is tasked with training Afghanistan's 300,000 national security and defense forces.

“NATO’s train, advise, and assist mission is essential to our shared goal of ensuring that Afghanistan develops the capability to contribute to regional stability and prevail over terrorist threats, including al-Qaida and ISIS,” U.S. secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday.

As planned, U.S.-led NATO forces ended their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Under a new mission, NATO troops have kept a rather passive role, but they continue to take part in combat missions from time to time to help the Afghan security forces.

Last month, U.S. Army General John Nicholson, the current NATO commander in Afghanistan, asked U.S. officials to send a few thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to break what he termed a "stalemate" in the fight against the Taliban and Islamic State.

The Afghan government welcomed Nicholson’s call for additional troops, citing the country’s ongoing war on several fronts against different militant groups, which has stretched the country’s security forces increasingly thin.

Corruption Charges

Besides battling an emboldened insurgency, Afghan security forces also face rampant corruption in their ranks.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has repeatedly warned that corruption and mismanagement could lead to military failure in the country.

President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to crack down on corruption in the government and the country’s security sector.

Last week, the Afghan Defense Ministry dismissed nearly 1,400 of its officials over corruption charges over the past year. A senior general leading a military corps in the restive Helmand province, Moen Faqir, was fired and arrested on charges of corruption last week.

Despite challenges, NATO officials in Kabul seem optimistic about the long-term prospects of the Afghan national security forces.

“We can see a gradual improvement in the Afghan security services and we believe that we will see additional improvements this year,” Captain Salvin told VOA last week. “It takes a while to build an institution like an army or a police corps.”

-- Noor Zahid wrote this story for Voice of America