An early March skirmish in a restive Afghan province illustrates the growing, but still limited, capabilities of one of Afghanistan’s largely-unheralded security forces. On March 9, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force reported that an Afghan Provincial Response Company, supported by U.S. Special Forces, had killed three insurgents during a mission to rescue a pinned-down reconstruction team.
The battle began when an ISAF Agricultural Business Development Team was ambushed in Laghman's Alisheng district. An Improvised Explosive Device exploded, apparently disabling at least one vehicle and stranding the agricultural team. “Shortly after, an unknown number of insurgent forces then engaged the team with small arms fire,” ISAF reported.
The Provincial Response Company, a SWAT-style heavy police force based at the main ISAF facility in Mehtar Lam, Laghman's capital, came to the rescue. The PRC, a relatively new organization, handles missions that are too dangerous for the regular Afghan police and too urgent to await the mobilization of a full-fledged Afghan army battalion.
There are more than 20 roughly 100-man PRCs scattered across Afghanistan. In January, the PRC in Paktika Province recaptured a telecommunications building that had been seized by insurgents. Lately the Laghman PRC has been focused on serving warrants on high-profile criminal suspects.
Probably traveling in their gun-armed Humvees, the Laghman PRC raced the short distance to Alisheng and opened fire on the insurgent ambushers. Three insurgents died and the rest fled, according to ISAF. The coalition didn’t report any casualties among its own forces.
The firefight is an encouraging sign for ISAF as it works to shift responsibility to Afghan forces. But the PRCs aren’t yet fully independent. Polish forces led the Paktika PRC in their January victory. U.S. commandos still lead the Laghman PRC during most, if not all, missions.
ISAF has vowed to withdraw its regular combat troops from Afghanistan no later than the end of 2014.