Afghan special operations forces freed 60 prisoners from a Taliban prison in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, according to a statement from the U.S.-led mission there. The rescue mission took place in Now Zad, a restive district in Helmand province that has changed hands numerous times over the course of the 15-year-long war.
Three Afghan special operations units – including an army commando unit, an elite aviation detachment and elements of Afghanistan’s counterterrorism forces, known as the Ktah Khas – participated in the nighttime helicopter assault, according to the statement.
The statement said Afghan units were supported by “coalition forces” operating in a “train, advise and assist role,” shorthand for Western Special Operations forces operating alongside their Afghan counterparts.
Despite Western involvement in the rescue, 75 percent of all Afghan security forces operations are conducted without coalition support, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for Resolute Support, the name of the U.S-led mission in Afghanistan, told reporters Thursday.
Two members of the Taliban were killed and a number were wounded or detained, according to the statement. There were no Afghan or coalition casualties. The rescued prisoners were transported to Kandahar.
Afghan-led prison rescues have been a somewhat regular occurrence in Helmand province in recent months and have been subsequently broadcast by Resolute Support, presumably in an effort to showcase the prowess of Afghan security forces.
Despite the United States spending more than $35 billion on the Afghan military since 2001, the Afghan army is still plagued with defections and equipment shortages. Afghan special operations forces, however, are a little more polished, boasting additional resources, training and spirit de corps. In turn, the commandos provide a much-needed spine for the regular forces.
Operating like Iraq’s counterterrorism service, Afghan commandos act more like shock troops than anything else. Afghan special operations units, alongside U.S. Army Green Berets, were instrumental in spearheading the advance that helped retake the city of Kunduz from the Taliban last fall, and have also buoyed floundering Afghan army units fighting across the country.
The Taliban currently controls large portions of Helmand province and is expected to start a concerted offensive there following this year’s poppy harvest. Currently, the Pentagon estimates that there are 30,000 Taliban still fighting in Afghanistan, while Afghan intelligence puts that number between 45,000 and 60,000.
There are approximately 10,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, 3,000 of which are there in a counterterrorism role. The counterterror troops are actively pursuing remnants of al-Qaida and the Islamic State’s offshoot growing in the east, while the rest support the Afghan security forces.