KABUL, Afghanistan – Stuffed toys languish on a shelf near the building’s entrance. Playground equipment remains dead still beside Taliban uniforms draped over the playpen fence to dry: glaring reminders of the nursery school that existed inside the faded pink walls just 10 days earlier.
The former school now serves as the new base of the Taliban’s elite special forces unit known as Badri 313 or the “Badri Command.” But it is not only home to the hardest of hard fighters, who roam the grounds clad in camouflage and touting an arsenal of American-made weapons, it is also for those training to become suicide – or martyrdom – bombers too.
“This Command has two parts,” one high-ranking fighter, whose name I later learn is Hafiz Badry, tells me in a low voice. “There are those who train to be special forces fighters and those who train to be special suicide bombers.”
After a little while of grappling, the senior unit leader agrees to let us inside. We pass through cracked concrete pathways where children used to play and into an office with an American M240 pointed to the door and chain links of ammunition on standby.