KABUL – Afghanistan plans to double the number of elite special forces from 17,000 troops, officials said, part of a long-term strategy to bolster units stretched and exhausted by persistent attacks from Taliban insurgents and other Islamist militants. Special forces, who represent a small fraction of the 300,000-strong armed forces, have been carrying out nearly 70 percent of the army's offensive operations across the country, underlining Afghanistan's heavy reliance on them. While regular forces, including police, are deployed largely to defend positions, special forces are taking the battle to militants from Kunduz in the north to Helmand in the south, sometimes working in tandem with U.S. counterparts. "Our commando forces have to be strengthened and have to be better equipped," Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said. Waziri declined to give exact numbers, saying only that the special operations division would be increased to the level of an army corps.
BALKH PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN – Taliban fighters killed nearly 60 members of Afghanistan's beleaguered security forces in a spate of attacks across the country's north, officials said Monday, as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war intensify. Heavy fighting overnight in four provinces followed a wave of violence across the war-torn country in recent weeks that has left hundreds of civilians, police and soldiers dead. After seizing a military base in Sar-e-Pul, Taliban fighters were threatening the provincial capital in a situation that could result in "disaster" if reinforcements were not sent, the area's police chief, Abdul Qayom Baqizoy, warned. Baqizoy compared the threat to the Taliban's extraordinary raid last month on the provincial capital of Ghazni -- fighters held large parts of the city located just two hours from Kabul for days. At least 17 security force members have been killed near Sar-e-Pul city after militants seized a checkpoint in Sayyad district and burned it to the ground, provincial Gov. Zahir Wahdat told journalists Monday.
An injured soldier recovers in a hospital after Friday's attack at a military compound in Mazar-e-Sharif province north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, April 22, 2017. Gunmen wearing army uniforms stormed a military compound in the Balkh province, killing at least eight soldiers and wounding 11 others, an Afghan government official said Friday.
KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan villagers caught in Taliban territory in the northern province of Kunduz, by the border of Tajikistan, recently began reporting unmarked helicopters at night landing and leaving quickly from known Taliban hideouts, or at least areas outside of government control. Others spoke of smugglers bringing in shipments of small boats across the quiet river, called Panj on the Tajikistan side and Amu on the Afghanistan, between the two countries. It didn't take long before suspicions arose of an international outfit at play. The locals feared going close to the tightly controlled Taliban enclaves to investigate. Around the same time, reports from the U.S. started growing that Russia was once again meddling in Afghanistan -- this time by arming the Taliban.