A covert force of CIA-trained Afghan paramilitaries is being built up to continue the US-led war on the Taliban as thousands of US troops prepare to leave the country in 2014.
Senior figures within the shadowy group of some 400 men in southern Kandahar province have revealed that they were taught hand-to-hand combat by foreign military advisers, were delivered to targets by US Black Hawk helicopters and have received a letter of thanks from President Hamid Karzai for their work.
Despite their apparent military successes, the Kandahar Strike Force has been dogged by rights-abuse allegations that have raised questions about their role when their foreign handlers left the country.
"These kinds of forces are the most shadowy and the most unaccountable in the country and it's a really serious problem [that] nobody's quite taking responsibility for," said Rachel Reid, a senior policy advisor to the Open Society Foundation.
Taliban sources have said that the Kandahar Strike Force is the outfit they fear most.
Atal Afghanzai, a former commander of the Kandahar Strike Force, said that he was recruited when he heard that the Americans were looking for guards. He was billeted at Camp Gecko, a sprawling place in the hills outside Kandahar City that was once home to Taliban leader Mullah Omar but now houses a cafeteria, pool and two-tiered fountain with catfish.
Foreign military advisers at the camp taught hand-to-hand combat and put new recruits through ambush training, as well as teaching them English, said Afghanzai.
Everyone, he said, from the cook to the Special Forces advisers was "working for OGA somehow" – an acronym standing for "other government agency" and generally used to refer to the CIA.
"We had day raids, night raids, any time we received intel from the NDS [Afghanistan's security service] that there were 10, 20, 50 insurgents gathering in a house or a garden, we'd launch an op. We didn't sit around searching people at checkpoints."Reuse content