KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The newest additions to the Afghan battlefield are fighters sporting Star Wars-like headgear containing Russian-built night goggles, U.S.-made M-4 automatic rifles with laser pointers and bulky telescopic sights made in Iran or Pakistan.
They wear baggy shalwar kameez clothing and turbans — and fight for the Taliban.
Members of an elite outfit called the Red Unit, they may even ride into battle aboard a Ford Ranger police pickup truck or an armored army Humvee.
The red dots from their laser pointers shine on police officers and soldiers from the Afghan government, which has benefited from billions of dollars in Western aid to the Afghan security forces.
In five nighttime attacks in a 36-hour period Monday and Tuesday, fighters who appeared to be from such Taliban units killed scores of Afghan security personnel, mostly police officers, in two provinces in southern and western Afghanistan.
Afghan authorities said that the insurgents in these and similar recent attacks are proving to be better equipped than government forces, particularly those in police units, which have suffered most of the casualties.
The Red Unit has carried out many of these attacks, Afghan officials said, often using stolen military or police vehicles as Trojan horses to get close to bases they plan to attack.
“The Taliban now are using different tactics,” said Qudratullah Khushbakht, spokesman for the governor of Kandahar Province. “They have their own mobile special forces unit which is equipped with lasers and night vision gear, and they are attacking check posts and bases and then leaving the area as quickly as possible to avoid airstrikes.”
That was the case in attacks into the early hours of Tuesday in two districts in Kandahar Province, in which Khushbakht said 23 police officers were killed and 16 injured in rolling attacks on 15 police posts. Other officials, however, put the death toll in those incidents in the Zahre and Maiwand districts at 70 officers.
Khushbakht said that attacks began when insurgents drove a stolen police Ford Ranger pickup truck into a police post and detonated explosives, then moved on to attack nearby bases.
Similar tactics were described in a Taliban attack early Monday morning in the western province of Farah, in which eight police officers were killed. The Taliban fighters used night vision goggles, officials said.
Two Taliban units attacked other targets in Farah on Monday night and Tuesday morning, killing three police officers at one post and 15 Afghan National Army soldiers at another, according to government officials.
In the Kandahar attacks, none of the police posts was captured and the police inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban, said Matiullah Hellal, a spokesman for police in Kandahar Province.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the insurgents had lost only one fighter.