Sgt. Jawed Hazara, with an elite Afghan army commando unit, chugged an energy drink, grabbed his M-4 assault rifle and hopped into the driver’s seat of a military pickup truck. The 24-year-old was directing a convoy of commandos on night patrol in the southern outskirts of Kabul.

“Now, we do my job,” Hazara said as he fumbled with his radio and sped off the base. “By the grace of God, I will do a good job.”

Indeed, if large swaths of Afghanistan are to be saved this year, that responsibility is likely to rest on how Hazara and 11,500 other Afghan commandos perform as their country staggers into the 15th year of the Taliban insurgency.

Despite more than $35 billion in U.S. support since the Taliban was driven from power here in 2001, the regular Afghan army is still broadly criticized as ineffective because of defections, timidity and an inconsistent command-and-control network. But U.S. and Afghan officials believe the army’s commando and special-forces units can fill the void and should be sufficient to reassure nervous Afghans that the Taliban won’t be able to fight its way back into power.

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