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Americans build elite Afghan commando force

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Indeed, the base generates a sense of permanence with its neat rows of tin-roofed buildings, clean streets, and the bustle of construction on its far side. Surrounded by a tall chain-link fence, there is an American side and an Afghan side, each with its own living and working areas. On the commandos' side is a black billboard featuring a steely-eyed soldier and reminds commandos that they are "the best among bests"; a well-equipped, well-trained, and brave force "to do dangerous and difficult tasks."

The difficulty of the work the commandos do means that they have been given a unique, 18-week operations cycle. The commandos receive extra pay as well as double amounts of food each day, an uncommon perk. Each battalion trains for six weeks, conducts missions for six more, and then essentially "refits and recovers" for an additional six weeks, during which time they may go on leave and see their families.

Snaking into the tire house

On a recent day, after their Afghan trainer gave them the high sign, a group of commandos moves into a practice building fabricated cheaply out of stacks of tires. As the trainer yells commands in Farsi or Pashto, the "stacks" – lines – of men snake into the rooms, weapons pointed, and yell "dum, dum dum dum," as they mock the sound of gunfire.

But something strikes the trainer as amiss. He pointedly shoves a soldier's weapon down to the ground, jolting the soldier to attention and loudly scolding him, perhaps a bit more loudly for a visitor's benefit. His message: Aim the weapon at a potential target – not absentmindedly at the ceiling above.

It's a question of showing them "what right looks like," as another American officer here says.

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