Story by U.S. Army SFC
ISAF HQ PAO
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Afghan National Army Commandos, patterned after United States Army Rangers, led the assault on Marjah in the early hours of the February operation to take back the Taliban stronghold.
Partnered with their Special Forces trainers, ANA Soldiers from the 3rd Commando Kandak, 205th Corps were the first unit on the ground to secure territory for the U.S. Marines coming in behind.
“The Commandos fill the Ranger asset, minimizing civilian casualties on the battlefield because they’re so familiar with the people and the people we’re interacting with,” SF Senior Communications Sergeant, said. “The program is highly successful,” U.S. Army Master Sgt. Robert Weel, project manager, ANA Commandos, Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command Afghanistan, said.
The Commandos are a little bit different than a typical ANA unit, the Green Beret added.
“They’re one of the few among the ANA that have a maneuver capability on the battlefield,” Weel said.
In 2009, according to Weel, the Commandos were actively involved in the search for the only U.S. Soldier still missing in action in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl.
Commandos currently plan and develop missions with assistance from the Green Berets, said a SF Team Sergeant. During joint operations between January – March, the Commandos and the Green Berets have conducted missions that included the seizure of an improvised explosive device factory where they found rocket propelled grenades, IED pressure plates and bomb making residue.
“They are successful because of the quality of the training, the enduring embedded partnership,” Weel said. “They’ve been successful -- [conducting] raids on Taliban leadership daily. Commandos reacted to the -- attack in Kabul, Jan. 18. Within two hours they planned and executed [the bazaar raid saving many Afghan lives and ending the threat].”
The Commandos were cited for bravery within three days of the attack by ANA Chief of Staff Gen. Bismillah Khan.
A Green Beret weapons sergeant said that the U.S. Army’s train the trainer concept is important to building Commando units. “We can’t train a hundred guys, so we train the trainers,” said SF Senior Weapons Sergeant and the lead ANA trainer.
Eighty percent of the training of the Commandos is conducted and led by Afghan cadre, with the SF Soldiers teaching the other 20 percent, said Weel. Today there are 90 out of the original 100 trainers, taught by SF in Oct. 2006 during the program’s initial start up at the Commando Training Element, still teaching future Commandos.
Commandos are trained to conduct: cordon & search, a raid, an ambush, reconnaissance operations, close quarters combat, target interdiction and search & attack missions. Once their basic training is complete a Commando Kandak (Battalion) deploys to a forward operating base and/or to an intermediate support base to augment an ANA Corps in one of their areas of operation throughout Afghanistan.
The SF Senior Weapons Sergeant and lead ANA trainer said, ANA Soldiers, who want to make the ANA their career and are highly recommended by their leaders usually go to the Commandos and they see a better life. Most hear about the unit through word of mouth or they’re recommended if they’re high speed ANA Soldiers.
“[The] original plan was only one brigade with six Kandak [battalions] and now they [the ANA] want a division, 3 brigades, 15 Kandaks,” Weel said. “Predictability is one reason for their success.”
Once a Commando unit completes initial training and is deployed, they go into an 18 week combat fit, split into three cycles: amber, green and red to alleviate burnout and attrition. A typical Commando Company goes through three cycles every 18 weeks.
Initially, before going onto their green cycle the Commandos will be in their 6 week amber cycle directly after being assigned and deployed to one of the Corps in the Afghanistan area of operations. In this phase they receive refresher training which includes squad operations, individual/specialty tasks and a company operations led exercise.
In their next cycle their green mission capable cycle, the Commandos conduct operations for 6 weeks. The final stage is their 6 week long red cycle, where they go on rest and recovery leave, retrofit/refit gear and attend military schools. After their red cycle is complete, they restart the 18 week program all over again in amber cycle.
The Commandos have the highest retention rate and lowest absent without leave rate in all of the ANA. The Commandos also receive an extra $50 per month in incentive pay and a ration and a half per meal.
“They take it very seriously, [they] take it to heart for their country,” SF Senior Communications Sergeant, said. “The current company we have in there is the most professional and that shows a lot because we get the best in the Commando units.”
Editor’s Note: The names of the U.S. Army Special Forces Soldiers quoted in this story were not used because of operational security protocols.
Photos: ANA Commandos First on the Ground In Marjah