ANA Commando: Afghanistan’s premier special operations unit

Eric Sof

In the Afghan National Army (ANA), the ANA Commando Brigade (ANACDO) is considered the special operations forces unit. The Commando Corps is a key component of the ANA and holds a prominent position within the army hierarchy. It plays a central role in the ANA’s operations. To understand more about the ANA Commando Brigade and its role within the ANA, it’s helpful to consider its history and origins. In 2021, the unit was disbanded as Afghanistan came under Taliban rule.


The Afghan National Army (ANA) formed its first commando battalion, known as the ANA Commando Battalion (ANACDO), in 2007. This unit was modeled after the U.S. Army Rangers and was designed to improve the country’s security and combat terrorism and insurgency. It eventually became a part of the ANA Commando Brigade, which later evolved into the Afghan National Army Commando Corps.

Today, the ANA Commando Corps is one of the most highly respected special forces units in the world. Its mission is to provide the ANA with a specialized force capable of conducting complex and high-risk operations in a variety of environments.


The ANA Commando project was initially supervised by the U.S. military, with American instructors (mostly from the U.S. Army Special Forces, or Green Berets) providing joint training. The basic training for ANACDO lasted three months and included advanced tactical skills, infantry training, and combat first aid and tactical management under fire, all at a level comparable to international standards. The American mission was primarily focused on training and equipping the ANA Commandos, so they took on complete responsibility for education and training management.

Initially, the ANA Commando battalions were equipped to U.S. military standards, which allowed them to become a highly skilled and elite component of Afghanistan’s security forces. The ANA Commandos are open to accepting anyone into their ranks, including women, who can undergo the rigorous selection and training process. Overall, the goal of the ANA Commando program is to provide Afghanistan with a specialized force that is capable of conducting complex and high-risk operations in a variety of environments.

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 following years, the ANA Commandos gained valuable experience by participating in numerous operations and missions alongside ISAF and American partner forces. In 2011, the Afghanistan National Army decided to establish the ANA Special Operations Command (ANASOC). The Chief of the General Staff signed the new special forces headquarters into existence in April 2011. The goal was for ANASOC to continue developing and implementing its plans for the staffing, training, and equipping of its forces while also achieving results on the battlefield.

The creation of ANASOC was seen as a major advantage for overall security and the fight against insurgents and terrorists, especially in mountain warfare and domestic operations. It is considered a crucial component of the overall force structure and strategy for transitioning to Afghan security lead. For NATO and ISAF (coalition forces), the development of ANASOC has been an important factor in maintaining stability and security in Afghanistan.


When it was created in 2011, the ANASOC headquarters consisted of 7,809 ANACDO and 646 ANASF (ANA Special Forces) personnel. Graduation rates for both ANACDO and ANASF operators have been steady and are on track to meet end-strength targets. From October 2011 through March 2012, the ANASOC School of Excellence produced 1,817 new CDOs and 183 new S.F. operators.

As security challenges and insurgency in Afghanistan have continued to evolve, the capacity of ANASOC has increased, leading to the creation of additional kandaks (battalions). By 2015, approximately 10,700 military personnel were under the command of ANASOC, organized into ten kandaks (battalions) located throughout Afghanistan. These kandaks are responsible for carrying out specialized operations in various regions of the country.


The ANA Commandos (ANACDO) are trained to carry out a wide range of missions and special operations against hostile forces. They are prepared for urban and guerrilla warfare, combat search and reconnaissance, and can handle hostage situations. However, their primary focus is on helping the Afghan people, so it is not uncommon to see ANA Commando operators escorting convoys of humanitarian aid or distributing aid directly to communities in need. In addition to their specialized training, ANA Commandos are also skilled in providing security and assistance to civilians affected by conflict.

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.)

The ANA Commandos (ANACDO) have proven to be highly effective in their operations throughout Afghanistan, consistently achieving decisive victories when engaged in combat. Nearly all special operations kandaks, including ANACDO units, have conducted independent company-level operations. Some have even carried out unilateral missions based on intelligence gathered by Afghan forces without the involvement of coalition special operations forces. ANA Commando units are also skilled in conducting night raids independently, using their own intelligence capabilities to plan and execute operations.


As previously mentioned, the ANA Commandos are equipped with gear that meets U.S. military standards. As a result, they often use standard U.S. military-grade weapons, including:

The ANA Commando Corps typically uses American Humvees as their primary vehicle. The Humvee is known for its excellent mobility and protection against personal weapons. ANA Commandos can be distinguished from 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)

As of 2017, the Afghan National Army Commando Corps headquarters were located at Camp Morehead in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, and the unit had around 21,000 commandos. Despite comprising just 7% of the Afghan National Security Forces, the commandos are responsible for conducting 70% to 80% combat operations in the country. This highlights the critical role that the ANA Commandos play in maintaining security and stability in Afghanistan.

How strong are Afghan special forces?

I have significant practical combat experience and, when combined with high-quality training, support, and mentoring from U.S./coalition forces and contracted services, I believe I can be a formidable fighting force. However, I have seen firsthand the challenges that the Afghan Army has faced, such as high turnover rates and issues with corruption and nepotism.

These issues can hinder the overall performance and effectiveness of the military. It is important that we address these challenges in order to maximize the capabilities of our personnel and create a more cohesive and effective force.

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

I understand that my personal experiences have given me mixed feelings about the Afghan military. It is important to remember that, like any organization, the Afghan military is made up of individuals with a variety of motivations and levels of commitment. While there are certainly many Afghan soldiers who are dedicated and willing to fight for their country, there are also some who may be more interested in the paycheck or less motivated to perform their duties. It is crucial for the Afghan military to address these issues in order to improve its effectiveness and ability to face the challenges it encounters.

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 collapsed under the weight of Taliban rule, ending the country that had been established in the aftermath of the United States’ intervention in 2001. As a result, the unit also ceased to exist. The Afghanistan government was forced to flee in the face of the Taliban’s massive offensive, which was launched shortly after the U.S. military withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. Some members of the unit fled to the Panjshir district and attempted to mount a resistance, but it was only a temporary measure.

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