ASSF - Afghan Special Security Forces
ANA Special Operations Command (ANASOC)
Afghan special operations forces remain among the best in the region, and they continue to mature with coalition assistance. The ASSF have proven their ability to conduct counterterrorism raids successfully and are furthering their capability to analyze and exploit intelligence gained from these operations. Expanding the ASSF is a key pillar in the ANDSF Roadmap and essential to seizing the momentum against insurgent and terrorist forces in 2018.
The Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) have demonstrated their ability to train and employ forces and are a battle-tested force. In 2016, following the drawdown of U.S. and Coalition forces, the ASSF successfully defended against eight attacks on provincial capitals throughout the fighting season. The ASSF go beyond shaping operations and conduct 70% of ANA offensive operation and are often the offensive “force of choice” by ANA Corps commanders and senior Ministry of Defense officials.
With the December 2017 approval of the FY 2018 tashkil, ANASOC is authorized 16,040 personnel, organized into four Special Operations Brigades (SOB) and a National Mission Brigade (NMB). The NMB differs from the SOBs in that it has a deployable mission command package, including the 6th Special Operations Kandak (SOK), Ktah Khas (KKA), and two Special Forces Kandaks (each SFK includes five AOBs with eight ANA Special Forces teams per AOB). MoI and NDS liaisons serve in the NMB HQ to ensure ANA-ANP coordination. The SMW and the AAF provide priority support to the NMB. The SOKs, ANASOC’s primary tactical elements, conduct core special operations tasks against threat networks to support regional corps’ COIN operations and provide a strategic response capability against select threats. Nine of the ten SOKs are aligned with regional SOBs with the ability to work with a specific ANA corps if requested. The 6th SOK (assigned to NMB), located in the Kabul area, functions as the ANA’s national mission unit. Although ANASOC only accounts for a very small percentage of ANA manning, it conducts a majority of ANA’s offensive missions.
As part of the ANDSF Roadmap, the ANASOC division expanded from a division of 11,300 personnel to a corps with four brigades and a National Mission Brigade, totaling 22,994 personnel. Both of the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle (MSFV) brigades completed transition from the conventional ANA to the ANASOC. The 6th Mobile Strike Kandak (MSK) completed Commando school in 2017 and the Cobra Strike Maneuver Course (CSMC) in April 2018. The 5th MSK graduated Commando school in April 2018 and begin the CSMC in late June 2018. Nine of the ten SOKs will add an ANASOC Commando company, and each Special Operations Brigade (SOB) will gain a General Support Kandak (GSK).
The ANASOC School of Excellence (SOE) is meeting the training need for growth. In April 2018, the SOE had more than 2,000 ASSF students from the 5th and 6th MSKs going through numerous courses, including the 14-week Commando Qualification Course (CDOQC) and the CSMC. There were 617 students enrolled in the CDOQC class that graduated in late April 2018, and 998 students in the CDOQC class that graduated in early May. The SOE had 734 6th MSK students enrolled in the CSMC class that graduated in early May 2018.
ANASOC’s Mobility School, established in January 2018, trains select Commandos to operate and employ M117 wheeled-armored vehicles. MSK capabilities include lightning strike, enhanced direct fire lethality, strongpoint penetration, and high mobility. This capability greatly enhances ANASOC’s firepower, mobility, survivability, and lethality on the battlefield. The Mobility School will support the training for two MSKs per training year, which will be a significant component of the newly formed SOBs over the course of the Roadmap.
The Afghan Special Security Forces [ASSF] is a vital component of the overall Afghan security strategy. ASSF accounts for a small portion of the ANDSF; however, historically the ASSF conducts the vast majority of the ANDSF offensive missions. The doubling of the ASSF will add 33 new Commando companies and Mobile Strike Commando companies to the force by the end of 2019, increasing the Commando capability by 73 percent. The ASSF Growth Plan, initiated in 2017, will provide the ANDSF the capacity and ability to achieve offensive overmatch across the entire country in the coming years.
During early 2018, ASSF growth slowed due to challenges with recruiting across the ANA. Basic training courses designed to process 13 classes per year with approximately 1,000 soldiers per class were undermanned and, in several instances, delayed or canceled until classes reached full capacity. As a result, ASSF graduates were assigned to conventional units and ASSF units primarily as replacements rather than new ASSF units associated with the growth plan. ANDSF recruiting and retention efforts must improve to meet future ASSF growth milestones.
The ASSF remained a bright spot in ANDSF capabilities. When senior ANDSF leaders employ them properly, the ASSF consistently overmatch the enemy on the battlefield. During this reporting period, the ASFF focused on: building combat power; achieving unity of effort across the wider Afghan Security Infrastructure (ASI); developing leaders; countering corruption; and exercising disciplined operational readiness cycles (ORC) to improve ASFF effectiveness during Operation Nasrat.
The MoD’s ASSF components rely primarily on MoD elements and typically the closest ANA corps headquarters and regional logistics node for sustainment support. During 2018, ANASOC brigades improved their use of general support kandaks (GSKs) to help build logistical capability and reduce reliance on conventional ANA corps. ANASOC logistical nodes at the forward supply depots and regional logistics centers ensured material designated for ANASOC units was not redirected to other ANA units as had occurred in the past.
Conventional ANA overreliance on the ASSF continued during 2018. In response to enemy offensive operations, particularly those against fixed targets such as District Centers, the ASSF provided an emergency response force to secure threatened locations and recapture those that have fallen to the enemy. When the ANA employs the ASSF in conventional roles, they restrict the ASSF from deploying offensively against insurgent targets or preparing for future operations.
The Afghan National Army Special Forces specialize in foreign internal defense and COIN operations. They are the most capable component of the ANSF and have made impressive strides towards becoming an independent and effective force. Since activation of the ANA Special Operations Command (ANASOC) headquarters by the Chief of the General Staff in April 2011, ANASOC has continued to develop and implement its plans for the manning, training, and equipping of its forces, all 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.
Training efforts continued to expand the capacity and capability of the ANA Commandos (ANACDO), which are similar to U.S. Army Rangers, and specialize in direct action. The ANASOC in 2011 consisted of 7,809 ANACDO and 646 ANASF. 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 a total of 1,817 new CDO and 183 new SF operators. Based on current recruiting and graduation trends, ANASF are anticipated to achieve their end-strength force level by March 2013. ANACDO are expected to reach their end-strength force level by December 2012.
Approval of the SY 1391 tashkil in March 2012 enabled the full establishment of the headquarters and included two Special Operations brigades containing a mix of ANACDO and ANASF. Each brigade has five Special Operations kandaks [Battalion], with one kandak working directly for the ANASOC Commander.
Additionally, the SY1391 tashkil added one general support kandak and the forward support companies and military intelligence detachments to each Special Operations kandak, which gives the ANASOC Commander the ability to provide tactical- and operational-level logistical support to all ANASOC forces. The restructuring of the forward support company in each of the existing nine Special Operations kandaks creates support assets at the company-level, which better sustains operational units whose reach spans multiple provinces. Furthermore, the approved fielding plan also calls for the creation of a military intelligence capability within ANASOC, which will increase ANASOC’s capacity to generate its own intelligence-driven operations. The development and restructuring of the ANASOC headquarters, the continued development and growth of enablers in the form of logisticians and intelligence personnel, and the establishment and growth of a Special Operations Forces aviation capability remain priorities for the near to medium term.
By 2015 approximately 10,700 personnel were under the command of ANASOC. ANASOC was grouped into 10 kandaks (battalions) geographically dispersed across Afghanistan. At least one special operations kandak operates in each corps area of responsibility. The 10th Special Operations Kandak was established in early 2015. The ANASOC consisted of two special operations brigades, a military intelligence kandak, a national strategic reserve operations kandak, and four mobile strike force companies.
The kandaks were divided into two main groups: commandos and special forces. Commandos are a specialized light infantry unit with the capability to conduct raids, direct action, and reconnaissance in support of counterinsurgency operations; and they provide a strategic response capability for the Afghan government. This trained unit represented some of the most elite fighting forces in the ANDSF. They continue to demonstrate their ability to conduct independent operations throughout Afghanistan and, when engaged, win decisively. Nearly all special operations kandaks were conducting independent company-level operations, and 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 own intelligence to drive their operations.
As an operational headquarters, ANASOC continued to make steady progress. The most significant development for the ANASOC in early 2015 was in its ability to execute mission command for complex operations. Deploying a command post forward to Helmand Province, ANASOC leadership provided mission command for operations that included the SMW, the GCPSU, and the Ktah Khas. During this operation, the ANASOC demonstrated force projection, mission command, utilization of enablers, and joint interoperability. ANASOC leadership directed targeting and current operations, as well as planning for future operations during the month-long deployment. The ANASOC continued to organize, train, equip, plan, coordinate, and project its forces in combat operations to disrupt and destroy insurgent forces. The staff continues to improve its orders process, coordination, and implementation of enablers during the operational planning process.
Coalition advisors mentor ASSF leaders during mission planning to improve cooperation and interoperability with other ANDSF units. On missions, advisors evaluate leadership and tactics both in the field and in tactical operations centers in order to guide their ASSF partners through after-action reviews and then to apply lessons learned for future security operations. Finally, advisors provide critical support to the successful integration of coalition fires, MEDEVAC, and ISR enablers when such assets are committed. Since the transition to the RS (Resolute Support) mission, advisors have focused on substituting organic ASSF unit capabilities and weapons systems for coalition enablers. This is an ongoing effort to build Afghan confidence in their systems, processes, and joint special security forces.
The growth potential for the ANASF was limited because the Special Forces take longer to train, have a smaller base of highly qualified personnel to recruit from, and as of 2012 were still building to their total authorized end-strength. Despite the desire to build the force, the ANASF gained only about 400 personnel per year between mid-2011 and mid-2013, in large part because the recruiting standards are higher than for the Commandos, as is the attrition rate during initial ANASF training. One potential way to increase the recruiting pool for the Special Forces — and reduce attrition during training — would be to recruit Special Forces from within the ANA Commandos, as was done to recruit the original ANASF in 2010.
Recruiting standards and the intensive 15-week basic training course are not the only barriers to generating more ANASF. Currently, once ANASF recruits finish basic training, they are then partnered with a U.S. Army Special Forces team for an additional six months of on-the job training. Building additional ANASF, therefore, likely requires not only additional international personnel to conduct basic training; but also a greater commitment of U.S. Special Forces for the sixmonths of on-the-job training.
In 2010, the recruits for the first several ANASF classes were drawn from the best performers in the existing Commando battalions, which reduced Commando force strength and capability significantly. So as not to continue decimating the experienced personnel from the Commandos, the ANASF began recruiting from the regular ANA in 2011.
According to DoD, almost all special operations kandaks conducted company-level operations. Some have reportedly conducted unilateral missions based on Afghan-gathered intelligence, without the involvement of coalition forces. As the role of the ANASF evolves away from supporting the VSO and ALP programs, however, the future role for population-centric Special Forces within Afghanistan is not exactly clear.
The ANASOC was authorized 11,700 personnel in 2015. The ANASOC conducts counterinsurgency and stability operations and executes special operations against terrorist and insurgent networks in coordination with other ANDSF pillars. The ANASOC has proven itself capable and effective on the battlefield this fighting season. Although ANASOC operations can successfully maintain pressure on Taliban forces, when faced with entrenched enemy forces they are often reliant on coalition kinetic strikes.
The ANASOC was organized into two special operations brigades with ten battalion-sized ANA commando Special Operations Kandaks (SOKs). Each SOK contains three commando companies, one special forces company with eight special forces detachments, and a support and headquarters company. Nine of the ten SOKs are regionally-aligned with ANA corps and conduct special operations in support of ANA counterinsurgency operations and against priority counterterrorism targets. The tenth SOK is located in the Kabul area with a focus on countering high-priority attacks in the Kabul area and providing a strategic reserve capability.
During 2015, the ANASOC experienced a high operational tempo. ANASOC kandaks were frequently deployed to emerging threat areas – often with little or no notice – to conduct clearing operations and bolster struggling conventional forces. Furthermore, commandos were often used as holding forces after successful operations due to limited follow-on ANP or ANA forces to secure cleared areas. If continued, the ANASOC’s high operational tempo risks degrading its effectiveness due to combat weariness.
The ANASOC continued to make strides in incorporating intelligence into operations. In particular, the development of a Network Targeting Center has allowed them to build targets based on Afghan reporting through the Nasrat intelligence fusion center. Although the ANASOC were increasingly using Afghan-derived intelligence within their targeting cycle, their capability is limited and they rely heavily on coalition information and support.
ANASOC capability gaps included a lack of organic intelligence collection assets and insufficient logistics and maintenance capabilities due to reliance on the ANA corps for support. Additional TAA priorities with the ANASOC include improving soldier proficiency through the ANASOC School of Excellence, enhancing mission command abilities, logistics operations during combat operations, and further improving network targeting and collection.
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