Afghan SOF small arms photo essay

by Miles

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.

These guys weren't on one of our helo missions with 1/9, but instead were the unit that we replaced, Echo 2/8 in Leatherneck. Notice the Brit loadouts, the GP30 grenade launcher and even the older British flak jackets. The face masks serve a practical purpose for all the moon dust that is kicked up, but also conceals their identity to Taliban spies who might inform on them.
It may look like an AK74, but it is an AKMS, with 74 magazines. I assume these magazines are a holdover from Soviet times when large numbers of AK74 parts flooded the Afghan and Peshawar arms markets. Notice the light, and CAA grip.
Same AK from above is on the right. This was mostly an event shoot instead of an actual training mission. The two RPGs are excellent examples of an anti tank rocket on the left, and an anti personnel on the right. People often have an image of an RPG with the bulbous AT rocket on the left, whereas in reality the anti personal is used more often.
These guys are all TF 444. I can tell from the DCUs, the desert of Helmand, and the Marine CH53s which were based out of Leatherneck, here coming to pick them up for a mission. Seeing that they aren't in a security perimeter around the LZ, this is probably just a training mission.
Notice the Aimpoint, ziptied PEQ 1, and Surefire light. In addition to the odd camo, ACU pack, MSA headgear, and American NVG Rhino mount, this guy most likely worked with an American SOF unit. He also has a PRC 152 with a cable going to his MSA headset.
This officer (notice the bars and pips) has a Streamlight TLR 1 on the bottom of his rifle, and what appears to be some sort of commercial light on the right rail, in addition to a PEQ 1 on top of his rail system. His vertical foregrip has a pressure switch taped to it as well.
A good difference between a belt mounted load, and a flak one. Commando on the left has the old M249, with the modern telescoping stock. Scope is a Trijicon RCO, while his source of ammunition is the 200 round plastic drum that comes preloaded. The U.S. used these for a while but we left them in preference for the 100 round cloth sack that was much more reliable and wouldn't crack like a plastic one would. He is also probably a Hazarra, or Tajik by his facial complexion. Both ethnicities are a minority in Afghanistan and have always been on an uphill battle for fair representation.
Notice the painting of the rifles, you'll see this as a constant theme within the Commandos, some are more eccentric than others, but I think it comes down to them wanting to distinguish themselves from their ANA counterparts. A mark of eliteness as it were, they do the same thing with their patches. The handheld radio on the right is called an ICOM, a popular Japanese brand used equally by the ANSF and Taliban.
And here we have a sweet G36C with a converted magazine well that can take STANAG magazines. Probably not his, he is most likely partnered with a German unit and borrowing it for a photo or training.
Some very well done up paint jobs on their AKs. Notice the amount of accessories on both, and the belt loads, to include British pouches.
Nice scope bro. Second from left, standing.
"Pa Afghanistan Kii, da raess operate day"- In Afghanistan, the boss operates.The M203 belt on the soldiers hip is a Marine issued one that we were also issued for OEF.
Browning Hi Power in a drop leg holster.
An elusive 7.62x51mm Remington M24.
This is the second TLR light I've seen in these pictures on an M4. This Commandos leaf sight is mounted much too far to the rear on the picatinny rail.
The GPS latched onto the stock is an American method that the Commandos have used. The truck most likely belongs to an American unit, being a MAT-V.
What is war without a Rambo shot? This Commando has painted his M4, in addition to having the Para buttstock on his M249.
One of the more interesting devices to emerge out of this war, is the contraption on this Commandos back, a Wolfhound. This device is a radio intercepter that we used to monitor Taliban ICOM communications traffic. Super errie feeling hearing exactly what the enemy is about to do, before they do it. Notice the PMAG.
Even the 240s are painted up!
Again, the stock mounted GPS. And the PMAG.
The guy on the right isn't a Commando, but instead a Marine MARSOC operator. Notice the full length handguard, Safariland holster, and Colt MEU SOC 1911.
These guys look like a happy bunch. Notice the Black Hawk M9 high holster on the right, in addition to the painted M4s.
I too wish to cradle a Barrett M107 in a sandbagged enclosure. These might not be ANA weapons, and the soldier is simply posing with American gear. I say this because the M240 has an Elcan optic, which I've never seen in use with the ANA, and is in use with the U.S. Army.
Tiger stripped paint scheme. It's the new style alright? Radio is a PRC 152.
One of the more interesting ARs I've seen in these pictures. Due to the short barrel length, small suppressor and oddly shaped magazine, it might be a .22 upper receiver. In which case it might be for dispatching dogs. Afghan dogs are no joke, they are literally Satan reincarnate.
Magpul magazine and stock, Hogue overmolded grip, Trijicon RCO with RMR, Surefire scout and grippod, this Commando would be right at home with tactical types in the States! Mis M9 looks to be mounted in a chest mounted Black Hawk! holster.
M240, M4 with PMag, RPG, and M24 rifle. Apart from the trigger discipline, this guy is ready to bring all sorts of hate down on the enemy. His radio is a Motorola PRC 153 with a special antenna.

Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I've made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at

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4 of 38 comments
  • 624A24 624A24 on Dec 30, 2015

    This is a great article in so many ways.

    As an ex-infantry conscript from another land, its sad to see men who train, fight and face death for a cause that may never succeed. These men and their families face great danger with a resurgent Taliban and an aloof government. Hopefully the coalition powers won't abandon them, like what happened to South Vietnam.

    • See 1 previous
    • TheAnnoyedMan TheAnnoyedMan on Jan 02, 2016

      @Miles Right on. Abandoning them now borders on the criminal...... And it reinforces the message to insurgencies everywhere that if they last long enough, American politicians will cut and run. We and the Aghan people deserve better than our politicians gave us.

  • Fruitbat44 Fruitbat44 on Dec 30, 2015

    Great, and informative, article and great accompanying pictures too. As the article says most of these pics were taken several years ago. So here's hoping that the guys are still with us and fighting the good fight.