Special Operations Forces the world over are uniquely appealing to firearms enthusiasts for a number of reasons. For me, the sheer diversity of what they carry is fascinating enough. When you study military history, or examine a large number of military photos, the plain jane issue gets very boring, very quickly.This is especially true if you are in the service and all you are surrounded is with the stock gear; the M16A4s, Berettas, and M240s. Even the M27s and SMAWs get boring after awhile… But looking at SOF guys, there’s H&K this, Safariland that, this thing hasn’t come out yet that. Eye candy for the firearms enthusiast, and future envoy of every “operator” nowadays (isn’t everyone an operator these days?). But I digress, this post is about the Afghan SOF community, or at least what they want to allow to show us on their official Facebook page. Apart from browsing through pictures of “Commandos” (all the red patches in the photos are their official insignia, MARSOC wore it in Helmand), I’ve worked with them in Helmand. Many of the Afghan SOF units are partnered with American or British units that help train and mentor them both on the bases and on missions. The particular unit we worked with was Task Force 444, or simply “Triple Four” in short. Their mentors were British Paras, and we would provide security and trucks/helos for them in Helmand. Absolutely great guys, although their dispersion could have used some work. But they were always willing to get in a good gunfight, always willing to push forward despite them not having half of the modern amenities that we had (ECMs, air support, CMDs, Medevacs). Which makes it truly heart breaking to see the current situation the country is in now. Because although many of these ANA and SOF guys absolutely fight like lions, many of their battles were predetermined from the start because of politics/tribal dynamics, corrupt officials, or terrorism.
Regardless, as you look through these pictures, try to pick out what ISAF units these SOF guys were previously working with. You’ll notice many of the units working with the Brits will have British load bearing gear, magazine pouches and such. Because this is the surplus gear that their counterparts were able to spare or supply. Many of the American partnered units will have those single magazine pouches that are so popular in the U.S. Military and tactical world. You’ll also notice if they load their gear on their patrol belts or on their flak jackets. The patrol belt scheme is very British, because that is what the British Paras do. If you even look back into pictures of the Bravo Two Zero, the ill fated British SAS patrol into Iraq during the first Gulf War, you’ll see this heavy emphasis on loading out belts instead of their chest webbing.
Notice the type of camouflage they have on. Contrary to popular belief, Afghanistan isn’t one huge desert. It has large amounts of forest, mountains, and open plains. TF 444 specifically wore the tricolor DCUs in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, which are entirely desert. But you’ll see much more woodland tricolors in these pictures, which are in the north part of the country, in Kunduz, and Badakshan provinces. Some of the pictures have newer camouflage patterns that I haven’t even seen before, more of an Afghan version of Cryptek that we have in the States. All this differs from the standard ANA uniform which is based on the U.S. Army’s combat uniform, complete with a green digital pattern. The Afghan police have a similar uniform but in blue instead of digital green.
For movement alot of these Afghan forces depended on our helicopters and our trucks to take them out on mounted patrols. Towards the end of the war, we were mainly a security force, providing overwatch with the gun trucks and satellite patrolling the area while the Afghans would do their thing in the villages, searching them out or talking to people. But as you can see in the photos from the Facebook pages, many of them are getting their own methods of travel, from Humvees to four wheelers, and even some Russian helicopters that the Afghan Air Force is beginning to use more often.
As for small arms, the most prevalent rifle and carbine of the ANA/ ANA Commandos is the M16A2 or M4 with rails. AKs are actually quite small in number and mostly arm the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP). Although TF 444 was armed exclusively with 7.62x39mm AKMs. The supply of ARs is because of the U.S. arming the ANA with surplus small arms, after the move to M16A4s and M4s. Handguns seem to be a mixture of Berettas and Browning Hi Powers. TF 444 didn’t have any handguns so I honestly can’t speak from experience on that part. Light and medium machines range from RPKs/M249s, to PKMs/ M240s. All are prevalent, with the American machine guns being seen more often than not among the ANA regulars, but in these photos I’m seeing alot of PKMs with the ANA Commandos, which was the case with TF 444. RPGs for HE armament, and the ever elusive Remington M24s (Remington 700s) are in their armories as well. I’ve only seen Dragonov sniper rifles in use with the ANA units, none with the Commandos.
Below I’ve posted two videos from our own patrolling with the TF 444 guys. I’m not too concerned about identity because you really can’t see any of their faces in the videos at all, and it was several years ago so most of these guys have moved on. But you can clearly see the British Paras working with them, how their kit is set up, compared to how the Afghans set up theirs, and it is strikingly similar.