On the Front Line: A Night With Afghan Commandos

On the Front Line: A Night With Afghan Commandos. Afghan commandos in a Mi-17 helicopter earlier than a night time operation at Camp Bastion withinside the Helmand province of Afghanistan. On a latest night time raid, a Times photographer captured Afghanistan’s elite forces as they disrupted Taliban operations in one of the country’s maximum unstable provinces.–166998642/–166998642/–166998642/–166998642/–166998642/–166998642/

SOMEWHERE OVER HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — As the metropolis lighting dwindled and the Soviet-technology army helicopter banked over the fields and canals of southern Afghanistan one night time in May, the Afghan commandos on board made their very last tests, searching at maps and adjusting their guns earlier than turning on their night time-imaginative and prescient goggles.

Their objective: to dismantle a bomb-making manufacturing facility internal a squat mud-brick residence in Chah Anjir, a village in Nadali, a district in Helmand Province this is absolutely below Taliban control.

Just days earlier, the Taliban had opened an offensive on Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah. Afghan authorities forces had misplaced ground. The metropolis turned into below siege. Frantic to alleviate a number of the stress at the capital, protection officers devoted their maximum elite of the Afghan unique operations forces to the province.

The flight of 3 Mi-17 delivery helicopters, subsidized with the aid of using small bubble-formed helicopter gunships, landed in a grassy area beside the goal residence. Overhead, Afghan and American drones watched for movement. The commandos disembarked, their guns readied.

The performance and professionalism of the operation, accomplished with the aid of using one of the commando corps’ smaller and extra elite tiers, turned into a miles cry from maximum gadgets withinside the Afghan protection forces, who frequently attempt to preserve the road with dwindling supplies, unsteady pay tests and steady assaults.

In 2017, there had been kind of 21,000 Afghans withinside the commando forces, with hopes to substantially increase the program.

But those specialised gadgets are, extra frequently than not, used as firefighters in a conflict with out end: rushed to warm spots to retake territory and preserve districts. And now to regions looking to stave a Taliban offensive that has taken dozens of districts in latest days withinside the country’s north. The commandos’ significance has elevated dramatically as worldwide forces put together to go away with the aid of using September, which means their overuse and attrition should spell a drastic discount in their effectiveness.

The night time missions, witnessed with the aid of using a photojournalist with The New York Times, are visible with the aid of using Afghan army officers as key to hitting the Taliban whilst the insurgents aren’t anticipating it, or at least disrupting destiny assaults on authorities forces.

But those tactics — perfected with the aid of using the US over its lengthy wars in each Afghanistan and Iraq — have had debatable if little success, as insurgencies in each international locations maintain to evolve and endure.

Night raids in Afghanistan mainly have grew to become people, specially the ones withinside the country’s rural regions, towards the authorities and worldwide forces. But the presence of those gadgets helped authorities forces preserve Lashkar Gah final month. For now, it’s miles one in all their satisfactory and restrained approaches of hanging the insurgents on this two-decade-lengthy conflict as authorities-held territory shrinks and gadgets are stretched thin.

But even taking place the offensive has lethal consequences, mainly as Taliban forces have grow to be even extra emboldened with the departure of worldwide forces. Earlier this month, extra than 20 Afghan commandos had been killed whilst their offensive operation to retake a district withinside the country’s northwest turned into derailed with the aid of using a vicious Taliban counterattack.

The final results of the May raid, documented at the unique forces crew leader’s cellphone, turned into taken into consideration a success: bomb-making substances had been seized and destroyed. Four Taliban individuals had been killed at the same time as his guys took no casualties. How lots that modified the wider battle’s final results in Lashkar Gah is questionable, however it stored one of the Taliban’s deadliest tactics — roadside bombs and home made mines — off the battlefield for a quick time.

The commandos back to Bost Airfield, a civilian airport. But that night time it become a transient command middle for the unit. Officials had installation tv presentations and radios atop its small terminal, below a starry sky as combating echoed withinside the distance.

Inside the helicopters because the metropolis got here lower back into view, a few commandos joked amongst themselves, others took forceful drags from cigarettes.

Their challenge turned into over. For now Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

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