New armored personnel carriers will help outfit specially created Afghan Army rapid strike battalions. (Textron)
TAMPA, FLA. — Several dozen new armored personnel carriers are on their way to Kabul to outfit the last of nine specially created Afghan Army and special forces Mobile Strike Force (MSF) battalions, the US manufacturer says.
These last vehicles will complete the delivery of 634 “Commando” wheeled vehicles made by US manufacturer Textron.
The Commando is a derivative of Textron Marine and Land Systems’ M1117 armored security vehicle also being used by US, Canadian, Colombian and Bulgarian forces, and NATO has ordered the armored personnel carrier with a turret as well as the ambulance variant for Afghan forces.
The idea behind setting up the special kandaks (battalion sized units) with the fast, armored vehicles is to create a specialized MSF — two kandaks are special forces — that can respond to crises quickly with mass and firepower, giving Kabul additional options when faced with a variety of fast-moving and unpredictable threats.
The vehicle’s infantry variant comes equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher and 50mm machine gun in the manned turret.
Plans call for five of the kandaks to remain in and around the capital of Kabul with two more based in Kandahar in the south, in addition to the two special forces units. More than 1,600 Afghan troops so far have been trained on the platform.
All told, 311 turret vehicles, 274 protected gunner vehicles and 49 ambulance vehicles will be delivered once the last shipment arrives.
One of the big issues with Afghan force has been that NATO trainers have prioritized combat training over logistics and maintenance, leaving many, if not all, Afghan units incapable of servicing their own equipment and sustaining themselves.
But Mark Morano, vice president of Tampa operations for Textron, told Defense News that each MSF kandak has its own organic maintenance capability, as 170 Afghan soldiers have been trained to fix their own vehicles since the start of the initiative.
Textron currently has about 50 employees in Afghanistan who continue to train Afghan forces in using the vehicle, but Morano said he is unsure how long they will remain in country due to uncertainty over the joint security agreement between Washington and Kabul.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign an agreement to allow NATO forces to stay past the December deadline for withdrawal, saying it is up to his successor to sign the document. Afghanistan held presidential elections in April, but a winner is not expected to be decided until this summer. ■