New Afghan Commandos Take to the Frontlines As NATO forces push for Afghans to take the lead in the battle against insurgents, the first class of American-trained Afghan commandos graduates this week.
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New Afghan Commandos Take to the Frontlines

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New Afghan Commandos Take to the Frontlines

New Afghan Commandos Take to the Frontlines

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Not as messy, though, as Afghanistan. That's where Western and Afghan forces continue battling the Taliban and al-Qaida. And this week, a newly trained Afghan unit is supposed to join the fight. These are Afghan commandoes trained by American Special Forces, and they graduate tomorrow. They're part of an effort to get Afghans to take charge of a war that shows no sign of ending.

Here's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: At this former al-Qaida training camp outside Kabul, Afghan soldiers firing volleys of blanks charge over sandy hills. They run toward a crumbling building, occupied by pretend-Taliban fighters with a stash of weapons and mound of fake heroin.

But the mock raid soon melts into mass chaos.

(Soundbite of men shouting)

NELSON: Once inside the building, everyone starts yelling. The soldiers in green berets fire at anything that moves, many are unsure of where to go and what to do next.

A half-hour later, the exercise is over. The trainees assemble for a review of their performance.

NELSON: Nearby, a U.S. Special Forces team mentoring the Afghans huddled to discuss the mistakes. There are some big ones, like failing to secure the building.

Unidentified Man #1: (unintelligible) Hesitation. You know, those guys, like, killed - a whole squad killed each other in that building.

Unidentified Man #2: Really?

Unidentified Man #1: Well, first they hesitated to go in there. They saw a guy shooting, so when I went in - well, one of the guys is bat, bat, bat all around his (unintelligible), the first two.

NELSON: Nevertheless, the Americans conclude the trainees did pretty well. This Special Forces member, like the others, is not allowed to reveal his name.

Unidentified Man #1: With a little more time, a little more training, these guys will be pretty good, you know. Everything just takes time.

NELSON: There isn't a lot of time left for this group, however. They are part of the first commando battalion graduating tomorrow. These trainees will soon be handling missions that, since the defeat of the Taliban, have fallen to the West.

But there is growing resistance in some NATO countries to keeping soldiers in Afghanistan. The pressure is on to get the local army and police out in front in the war against insurgents and terrorists. That pressure is especially high these days, given a growing body count that could make this the bloodiest year since 2001.

Joanna Nathan, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Ms. JOANNA NATHAN (Senior Analyst, International Crisis Group): In 2006, you actually see human waves of insurgents throwing themselves at international forces, whereas now they're aiming for more classic insurgency. There's sort of hit and run guerillas techniques.

NELSON: She and others say putting more Afghan troops in the lead could ease what is perhaps the biggest obstacle for foreign troops in this war: ignorance of Afghan culture and customs.

Using Afghan troops eliminates the Taliban's ability to characterize their enemies as foreign invaders.

U.S. Major General Robert Durbin, who for the past 18 months headed military training here, says the buildup of Afghan forces is in full swing.

Major General ROBERT DURBIN (Commander, Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan): I won't speculate on a specific timeline that defines when what we call Afghan primacy will be in effect. I will tell you that we have a program that is designed over the next 18 months to complete the equipping and the training and the majority of the facilities to build a 70,000-man Afghan National Army and an 82,000 police force.

NELSON: The soon-to-be commandos interviewed believed it'll be four or five years before Afghan forces are ready.

Captain ABDUL MATEEN (Afghan Solider): (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: This trainee, Captain Abdul Mateen, says Afghans desperately need Western help to rebuild their air force if they are going to beat the Taliban. He says Afghanistan's neighbors - especially Pakistan - must also be pressured by the international community to stop enemy fighters from pouring over the borders, but Abdul Mateen says the three-month commando training is a major step.

So are the new weapons and equipment they're getting from the West - like M-4 assault rifles, which are much better than their Kalashnikovs, says Colonel Fareed Ahmadi, the commando battalion commander.

Colonel FAREED AHMADI (Afghan Soldier): This was the dream of every Afghan soldier to have modern, good and capable equipment and weapons. My soldiers will conduct operations and do the job better than they did in the past.

NELSON: Meanwhile, officials say American trainers will embed with the new commando battalion to ensure they can handle their new missions.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Also in Afghanistan, the Taliban claim to have extended the deadline to trade hostages for prisoners. The insurgents want the release of militants, and they kidnapped 23 South Koreans. They were traveling to the city of Kandahar, where they live and work - many of them in medical facilities.

Now Afghan forces say they have surrounded the kidnappers, but the kidnappers warned that any use of force will claimed the lives of the hostages, and negotiations continue.

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