The Taliban has been touting their “Special Forces” unit for quite some time, however with recent attacks on Afghan government police and conventional military units, they’ve been pushed to the forefront in the news. Reports of the Taliban using night vision equipment and laser aiming devices have the Afghans worrying. On November 13, Taliban units aided by a mole inside killed eight policemen in Farah as they slept using night vision equipment.

In August, the Taliban released a professionally made 73-minute video that featured Taliban fighters dressed and acting much like US Special Operations troops. The Taliban claim that their “Red Group” are using captured US M-4s and night vision equipment and the beginning of their video shows the Taliban “SF” kitted out much and moving much like a US Special Operations unit would.

They supposedly train with small arms, pistols, heavy machine guns, 82mm mortars and more. They have small pickup trucks with heavy machineguns (technicals). However, in the still photos of their training that been released show Taliban fighters all carrying AK -type weapons. And while there has to be an increased level of training, these Taliban “SF” units are no match for US SOF at the present time.

A U.S. Special Forces Soldier searches a tree line for insurgent activity, in Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo Special Operations Task Force South).

There have been reports going back to the summer of 2016 of certain Taliban units using night vision and lasers but their own propaganda always overstated their capabilities and numbers. But now one of the questions has to be who is sponsoring and equipping these Taliban units. Since the night vision devices seem to be of Russian origin, the first reaction is that Moscow is behind it. But Russian military arms and equipment are easy to get on the Black Market and neighboring Pakistan is an easy place for them to pick up whatever they need. There is also the distinct possibility that the Taliban are receiving support and training from the Iranians.

The question of possible Russian support was broached to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in October. His response to lawmaker’s questions was that there was no direct evidence that the Russians were supporting the Taliban and the government was working to find more evidence to either confirm or deny.  

But now the Afghan units, which aren’t nearly as well trained, capable or reliable as the US-trained and led Afghan Special Forces are reeling over this and other attacks where Taliban troops are using the same types of vehicles as Afghan government troops to confuse the troops as their intention until it is too late. It would also shield them from drone and air attacks as they’d be mistaken for the Afghan government troops.

Since the first Gulf War, the US and their coalition troops have ruled the night with the widespread use of night vision goggles. Now the Taliban have upped the ante a little bit. They’re threatening to change the status quo. They’re not going after the US-led Special Forces units but attacking “softer” targets with police units which don’t have the same level of training or equipment. That further undermines the already shaky hold the government has in the disputed countryside. The Taliban are challenging the US’ monopoly on owning the night. And now they’ll be forced to deal with this latest development.

What can be done? First, the US will have to continue to pressure Pakistan to close sanctuaries and use their intelligence capability to locate the sources of and neutralize any and all support for the Taliban.

Next, they must try to find the locations where the training of this unit is done and where these “Special Forces” units are massing at. Then they’ll be able to engage them with airstrikes and drone attacks. As well as US Special Operations troops.

The war in Afghanistan is no closer to a finish than it was 16 years ago. The government hasn’t been able to stand up on its own and the Taliban control vast swaths of the countryside. The one constant during the war, was the US and its coalition forces owning the night. Now, this potentially may be in jeopardy as well  It must be addressed and as soon as possible.

Photos: Taliban video, US Army