Averting Disaster

Afghanistan’s Crisis Response Unit 222 specializes in extricating hostages and killing terrorists

UNIPATH STAFF | Photos by Getty Images

Tragedy struck Kabul, Afghanistan, in March 2017 when terrorists wearing white laboratory coats assaulted the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital with the intention of killing hundreds of patients and medical staff.

Within minutes, Crisis Response Unit 222 — a specially trained counterterrorism force of the Afghan National Police — skillfully weaved its way in armored cars through heavy traffic to help rescue dozens of hostages at the hospital.

Known as CRU 222, this elite force has one of the most demanding jobs in Afghanistan. Its missions include responding — preferably within five minutes — to hostage rescue scenarios in which terrorists besiege places like hotels, airports and schools.

Founded by the Afghan Ministry of the Interior in 2009 with a few hundred men, CRU 222 has grown to 7,000 personnel stationed across the country. Its high-profile work is equally high risk: Nearly 100 of its troops have been killed during intense firefights in which terrorists sometimes detonate explosive vests.

Crisis Response Unit 222 conducts training. (left and right photos)

The unit has fine-tuned its skills with specialized training from NATO troops, such as Norwegian Marinejegerkommandoen who are operating under a “train, advise and assist” mission dedicated to stabilizing Afghanistan.

The physical and psychological demands on the unit are arduous. CRU 222 training lasts for several months with an intensity that compels nearly one in seven candidates to drop out before completion of the course.

“We get better training than the commandos, but we work together,” CRU 222 Commander Lt. Col. Abdul Raqib Mubariz said in a 2017 interview. “We recruit from all over the country.”

The unit gained national prominence in July 2014 when gunfire and explosions near Kabul Airport alerted security forces that a suicide attack was underway. In a four-hour fight, CRU 222 killed all five terrorists with a precision that spared the lives of civilians on site.

In gratitude for their bravery in eliminating the terrorists at the airport, hundreds of Afghans welcomed the returning troops with a display of national flags and flower bouquets.

“It feels wonderful to have such a professional and skilled police force in our country who are adept at thwarting major insurgent attacks,” Kabul resident Noor-ul-Anwaar Rohani told the magazine Afghan Zariza. “Now we are not so heavily dependent on foreign forces to protect us from insurgents.”

CRU 222 has also helped defeat terrorists assaulting the American University of Afghanistan, the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul, the Hotel Inter-Continental Kabul and the Kabul Serena Hotel. In the case of the embassy incident in July 2017, the unit rushed embassy staffers to safety while repulsing the terrorists.

Another role of CRU 222 is arresting dangerous criminal and terrorist suspects in and around Kabul, some captured when citizens tipped off the Afghan National Police using the nation’s “119” emergency phone line. Among those arrested are major drug smugglers.

Crisis Response Unit 222 conducts training. (left and right photos)

Even though most CRU personnel operate close to their regional bases, the force also deploys assault, surveillance and support squadrons by helicopter across Afghanistan with the help of the Afghan Special Mission Wing.

Little of this would have been possible without support from international military partners who realize global and regional security is a coalition effort. Norwegians, Australians, Britons, Americans and New Zealanders have all helped train and equip CRU 222.

“The Afghan police special units are visible, relevant and highly in demand. In view of the challenging security situation and the continuing need for counterterrorist capacity, Norway will continue its tactical and strategic support to the Afghan special police,” Norwegian Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Søreide said as the country recommitted to training CRU 222 in 2017.

CRU 222’s specialized training complements that of other units in the Afghan National Security Forces. For example, when CRU 222 arrived to confront the terrorists at Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital, CRU 222’s leader consulted with Afghan National Army commandos to ensure that tactical differences between the two units didn’t compromise the clearance operation at the hospital.

For high-ranking commanders such as Gen. John Nicholson, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, CRU 222 has been a heroic success in the country, responsible for saving thousands of lives over the years.

“Crisis Response Unit 222 responds to all high-profile attacks in Kabul. It successfully contained the terror attack against the American University in Kabul on August 24, saving the lives of over 60 hostages and hundreds more who were trapped on the university grounds,” Gen. Nicholson noted in a statement to the U.S. Congress in February 2017. “This same unit also responded to the October 11 twin attacks against Shia mosques, rescuing 70 hostages.”

Sources: The New York Times, recoilweb.com, Afghan Zariza, Voice of America, Norwegian Ministry of Defense.