ANA Special Forces Impact the Course of Afghanistan
Some would say that Brigadier General Dadan Lawang, the commander of the Afghan National Army's Special Operations Command, has the most important job in Afghanistan today. Lawang, along with his fellow officers, is charged with building the nation's special-operations forces — the forces many Army leaders say will be "game changers" in Afghanistan.
"Our Commandos and Special Forces have a great history with U.S. Special Forces," said Lawang, during a visit to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, or SWCS, in June.
Lawang and a contingent from his command were at the school to observe training, discuss doctrine and explore the building of an NCO corps within the command.
"We have worked a long time together training," Lawang said. "Our hope is to learn the lessons that I can take back home for my own forces in the training and doctrine arena and incorporate them in our training."
Lawang's visit to the schoolhouse comes at a critical time in the development of the Afghan special-operations forces. While most American forces are familiar with the Afghan Commandos, the Afghan Special Forces are in their infancy, having graduated only a handful of classes from its qualification course since the inception of the force. The creation of the Special Forces will build on the achievements of the Commandos, a direct-action force. The Afghan Special Forces, like their American counterparts, are trained to act in the indirect realm and have already begun building relationships and long-term commitments in villages throughout Afghanistan.
"In the Afghanistan Special Operations Command, we have a long-term commitment with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command," said Lawang. "They have always helped and supported us. Lt. Gen. John Mulholland (commander, U.S. Army Special Operations Command) and Brig. Gen. Ed Reeder (commander, U.S. Army Special Forces Command) recognize this commitment and have promised that they will be here with us for a long time."
The commitment Lawang speaks of extends to the sharing of lessons learned and helping establish and create a professional force in Afghanistan.
"Our main responsibilities are policy, doctrine, training and equipping the force," explained Lawang. "As we move forward, we are providing better command and control for our force, and our goal is to go out and be operational."
To meet that goal, the Afghan command has established a school similar to SWCS, the training center and proponent of Army special-operation forces.
"It is a school of excellence where we are teaching our commandos and our SF candidates," said Lawang.
Lawang hopes to take some of the things he saw while visiting SWCS back to his country and implement them within his command and training.
The Afghan special-operations leaders spent time at the SWCS NCO Academy, Directorate of Regional Studies and Education and Directorate of Training and Doctrine, and they see these activities' missions as integral to the creation of a professional force.
Lawang was particularly impressed by the training conducted at the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center.
"This is the most comprehensive training I have seen. It is most amazing," said Lawang. "I haven't seen such training in my life and would like to see one day this kind of training for my forces."
Growth of the Force
There are currently nine active commando battalions and one SF battalion operating under the auspices of the Afghan Special Operations Command. Lawang and his staff are planning for the growth of the forces to two Commando brigades, one SF brigade, one training brigade, one support brigade and one strategic battalion.
The growth will include the establishment of a civil-affairs and military-information-support force, which will have the specific task of engaging the Afghan populace.
Lawang says that in the past several years, the Commandos have made inroads in winning the support of the population, but he acknowledges that he needs the expertise of Special Forces to succeed.
"The Commando achievement is based on training, equipment and hard work," he said. "Now we must build the force that can take that further."
In order to create his special forces, Lawang picked the best of the best commandos to fill leadership roles within the new force.
"They are very well-trained," he said.
While the Commandos will continue to be trained in direct-action techniques and skills by American Special Forces teams, it is to the Afghan Special Forces that the U.S. forces will pass on some of their most important lessons: how to think outside the box; how to deal with conflict as a diplomat rather than as a warrior; and how to engage the population in order to gain their loyalty and trust.
"Our SF troops are engaging the people directly. So far, everyone is satisfied, and we have very good achievements so far," said Lawang. "Our SF troops are working daily with the people. They are listening to their problems. They are conducting shuras. The people have started trusting the SF and Commandos more than before. They are turning to them. This is a big achievement."
Lawang ties those achievements to the training provided by U.S. Special Forces and the partnership that they have developed with the Afghan forces over the past 10 years.
He explained that while U.S. Special Forces are training his new troops, his troops are training other soldiers.
"One of our SF teams is training soldiers — more than 300, while another trains 200 local policemen," he said.
He noted that his force is actively engaged in village-stability operations.
"The people in a village had a dispute over water, so the 1st Battalion cut ditches to bring water into the village. By doing this, the SF soldiers helped settle the dispute and settled the village down," he explained. "In another village, the problem was the roads. The roads were not asphalted, so working together, the Commandos and the special forces made a proposal to the government to get the roads asphalted. These roads help the villagers, but it also gives us greater access to the village."
While Lawang and the Afghan government seem to support the concept of village stability, they do have some concerns.
"It is a successful mission. We have good achievements. Our only concern is that we do not want people who had power in the past to take over and build their own militias again and control the countryside," he explained. "We want the local council to select the leaders.
"Over the next two years, we will have a lot of changes in training and equipment. Right now, we have hopes for my soldiers. Once they are fully capable, they will make a history in our country," he continued. "Two years is a long time, but we will have a much more professional Commando and Special Forces."
Lawang expects the relationship between his command and the American Special Forces will be key in the growth and professionalization of his force.
"We listen to each other, and we respect each other," he said of the American forces. "When we go out into the field, our U.S. counterparts listen to us, because they know we know the culture and traditions. They accept what we say, and this results in no casualties, which has made a place for all of us in the hearts of our people.
"Our people are now confident that our force can protect them from the Taliban and terrorism," he continued. "They know that this force will take care of them."
While American Special Forces have long been referred to as "brotherhood," Lawang sees the growth of a different brotherhood.
"Our partnership has changed to brotherhood between our forces," he explained. "We work together, train together, eat together, and we spend time together. When we go into the field and shed our blood — we do it together."