ANA Commando: An elite Afghanistan special operations forces

Eric Sof

In the Afghanistan Army, only one unit is considered the special operations forces. It is the ANA Commando Brigade (ANACDO). In the Afghan National Army, Commando Corps is the main factor, and it plays the primary role in the Army and its hierarchy. To learn more about this, we need to go to the beginning.

In 2007, the Afghan National Army (ANA) formed its first commando battalion (ANACDO,) which had a structure and training similar to U.S. Army Rangers. It later became a part of the ANA Commando Brigade.

The overall aim was to improve the country’s security situation and create a specific force to fight against terrorism and insurgency. Later, the ANA Commando Brigade has become the Afghan National Army Commando Corps. It is one of the most significant special forces communities in the world.

History

The project was started under the U.S. Military’s supervision, and it included various joint training directed by American instructors (mostly from U.S. Army Special Forces – Green Berets). ANACDO basic training lasted for three months. It had advanced tactical skills, infantry skills, and training in combat first aid and tactical management under fire, similar to the world’s standard. The American mission there was fully used as train and equipped, so they took over complete education and training management.

First, ANA Commando battalions were equipped by U.S. Military standards, which ultimately transformed ANA Commandos into an elite military component of Afghanistan security forces that is able and ready to accept everyone into their ranks, including women who can undergo rigorous selection training.

ch 47 gunner
A flight engineer silhouette is operating an M240 machine gun on the ramp of a CH-47D Chinook in eastern Afghanistan. (Photo: Ed Darack)

In the next few years, they had overdone dozens of operations and tasks alongside ISAF and American partner forces and gained experience until 2011, when the Afghanistan National Army decided to activate the ANA Special Operations Command (ANASOC). The Chief of the General Staff signed the new special forces headquarters in April 2011. The goal was for ANASOC continues to develop and implement its plans for the manning, training, and equipping of its forces while simultaneously achieving effects on the battlefield.

The development of the ANASOC remains a critical component of the overall force structure and strategy to sustain the transition to Afghan security lead. For NATO and ISAF (coalition forces), the creation of ANASOC was considered an excellent help for overall security and the fight against insurgents and terrorists, especially in mountain warfare and domestic turf (for Afghan soldiers).

Organization

Upon his creation, the ANASOC HQ in 2011 consisted of 7,809 ANACDO and 646 ANASF (ANA Special Forces). Graduation rates for both ANACDO and ANASF operators remained steady and are on schedule to meet end-strength targets. From October 2011 through March 2012, the ANASOC’s School of Excellence produced 1,817 new CDOs and 183 new S.F. operators.

Further development of security issues with insurgency increased the capacity of ANASOC and directed the creation of new kandaks (battalions. By 2015 approximately 10,700 military personnel were under the command of ANASOC. ANASOC was grouped into ten kandaks (battalions) geographically dispersed across Afghanistan.

Mission

ANA Commandos (ANACDO) are trained to perform all kinds of missions and special operations against hostile forces. They are prepared for urban and guerrilla warfare, combat search, and reconnaissance. ANA commandos can also deal with hostage-taking situations. Still, their main goal is to spend every possible moment helping the Afghan people, so it is not uncommon to see the operators of ANA Commando escorting convoys of humanitarian aid or to see them distributing humanitarian aid directly.

US Army Special Forces Group and ANA Commando operators during Operation Enduring Freedom
U.S. Army Special Forces Group and ANA Commando operators during Operation Enduring Freedom (Photo: X.Y.)

They reached the ability to conduct independent operations throughout Afghanistan, and when engaged, ANACDO wins decisively. Nearly all special operations kandaks, including ANACDO members, performed separate company-level operations. Several have conducted unilateral missions driven by Afghan intelligence gathered without the involvement of coalition special operations forces. Commando units routinely conducted night raids independently, using their intelligence to move operations.

Weaponry and gear

As I have mentioned already, the equipment and gear are up to U.S. military standards, so the members of ANA Commandos often use standard US Military-grade weapons, including:

ANA Commando Corps generally uses American Humvees as their primary vehicle. The Humvee is known for its excellent mobility and solid protection against personal weapons. They distinguish between other ANA units by their Red Berets.

Afghan Special Forces - operators from the ANACDO (ANA Commando Brigade) during the training
Afghan Special Forces – operators from the ANACDO (ANA Commando Brigade) during the training (Photo: ANA Commando Corps)

Today, the Afghan National Army Commando Corps headquarters are located at Camp Morehead, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, and it has around 21,000 commandos (2017). The commandos comprise 7% of the Afghan National Security Forces but conduct 70% to 80% of the fighting.

How strong are Afghan special forces?

Quite a few Afghan soldiers will possess considerable practical combat experience. When combined with high-quality training, support, and mentoring from U.S./Coalition forces and contracted services, it creates the potential for a pretty lethal combination.

But in my experience observing Afghan forces, including some of their higher speed guys, I think they are a VERY mixed bag. Extremely high turnover in many Afghan Army units(including the higher speed units) combined with a persistent culture of corruption and nepotism results in increased friction inhibitors to consistently high performance.

I had an instructor who once told me “If you look good, you are good.”I think in SOME cases that’s true.

But I changed my mind on that when it came to Afghans. In contrast, in a culture, men(in their 20s/30s outside of the fundamentalist conservatives) seem to place an exceptionally high level of importance on physical appearance in terms of dress. Which pretty much describes a gigantic cohort of males within the Afghan Army.

They certainly seemed to emphasize how “high speed” they looked, which should be a result of functional operational necessity rather than tactical fashion.

I don’t mean to take such a negative tone on many Afghan military personnel; there are certainly a bunch fighting the good fight “doing the business.”

But for every solid Afghan tooth arms soldier(not just high-speed Afghan SOF), there’s a platoon/company/battalion’s worth who are just showing up for the paycheck(if they show up at all) and smoking hashish. Others’ opinions may vary considerably from my first-hand anecdotal conflict zone “tourism.”

Afghan National Army Commando Corps Patch Insignia (ANACDO, ANA Commando)
Afghan National Army Commando Corps Patch Insignia (ANACDO, ANA Commando)

Taliban rule

In 2021, the Afghanistan government felt the Taliban rule, and it stopped existing as the country created in the aftermath of the United States intervention in 2001. So the unit stopped existing too. The Afghanistan government fled in front of the Taliban’s forces after they launched a huge-scale offensive shortly after the U.S. military pulled out troops from Afghanistan. Some parts of the unit fled to the Panjshir district and tried to resist, but it was only short-term.

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