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A raid by Afghan special forces freed 59 people from a Taliban prison on Saturday, according to a statement from the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.
The Afghan counterterrorism unit — known as the First Ktah Khas (KKA) — reportedly used helicopters to storm a Taliban hideout in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand province. No casualties were incurred during the raid, and a spokesman for the US military said the Afghans received "only limited intelligence and planning support to this operation." The statement added that "no US forces were on the ground" during the assault.
The rescue was the second of its kind in less than a month. In December, Afghan troops successfully rescued 60 prisoners from the Taliban during a raid in the Now Zad district of Helmand, which reportedly led to the intelligence that pointed the Afghans to the location of Saturday's raid.
NATO launched Operation Resolution Support in Afghanistan last January, replacing Operation Enduring Freedom, a previous US-led mission to train and advise Afghan government forces in their fight against the Taliban. A recent investigation by Reuters found that, after the previous NATO mission ended, Afghan forces were increasingly riddled by corruption and mismanagement, which left government-controlled territory vulnerable to the Taliban and contributed to their encroachment over the last year.
Helmand, which borders Pakistan in southern Afghanistan, is a notoriously violent corner of the country. It's been the nucleus of the battle against the Taliban, in part because of the thriving poppy plantations that help fund the insurgents. Last year, more foreign troops died fighting in Helmand than any other province in Afghanistan.
"In one battalion, the official strength is 400 but the actual number is around 150," Ataullah Afghan, a Helmand provincial council member told Reuters of the Afghan forces. "There is intelligence failure, lack of coordination, huge corruption in terms of selling fuel, ghost troops, and much else."
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Afghanistan's acting defense minister has complained that NATO withdrew its troops from the region too hastily, and that expectations that Afghans would be able to maintain stability were ultimately unrealistic. "In 2014, in such a hurry, everyone was saying we have to take over responsibility," Masoom Stanekzai said during a news conference in Kabul last year.
Mohammad Rasoul Zazaia, a spokesman for an Afghan military battalion, told Reuters that Afghan commanders have repeatedly asked for more helicopters and intelligence gathering tools.
"Coordination among forces here have improved but intel gathering still remains a challenge," Zazai said. NATO had previously operated with around 60 surveillance balloons, which allowed them to track the movements of insurgent groups. Now, Afghan forces have just one balloon for the entire province. "Our request is still pending."
Brigadier General Wilson A. Shoffner, a US military spokesman for Operation Resolute Support, praised the Afghan forces for Saturday's rescue, and said it was proof of their ability to successfully fight the Taliban with minimal help from their foreign allies.
"We congratulate the Afghan Security Forces on accomplishing this important mission," Shoffner said. "The operation highlights the capabilities of the Afghan Special Security Forces and is a visible demonstration of the Afghan government's commitment to the security of the people of Afghanistan."
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen