Iraq has it own version of Green Berets — in training ... and the Special Forces instructors taking them through their paces are all Iraqis. That's a long way from where they were nearly three years ago when this elite unit was first formed by American Green Berets.
"Their learning curve is very dramatic; they pick it up quick because, you know, their lives are on the line," says a U.S. Special Forces commander, whose name CBS News cannot give for security reasons. Since the U.S. invasion three years ago, he has spent more time in Iraq than he has at home.
"There are very frustrating days, and on those days you have to say to yourself, 'I love it,' because if I just liked it, I would quit," he says.
Quitting is still an option for new recruits on the Special Forces selection course. By day five, 121 of the 400 recruits have already dropped out. One was later placed in detention after he was discovered to be a member of a militia that's been targeting Special Forces commandos.
"When they go home for leave, if they are not secret enough or if they keep a close hold and the wrong people found out, they could be shot on the street, kidnapped, tortured, mutilated," the U.S. Special Forces commander says.
It takes a lot for these recruits just to show up for the selection course, because they know that Iraqi Special Forces are a prime target for the insurgents and some militia groups. Even those recruits who don't make it through the course are putting their lives at risk because they have to return to their communities, where any association with the Iraqi Special Operations Forces is enough to get them and their families killed.
One 23-year-old Iraqi Sergeant Major who's been in the Special Forces for more than two years has already paid a high price. After a series of threats, his father was gunned down by insurgents. "As long as they are killing our families, we have to fight back," he says, adding that the sacrifice is worth it.
The main issue now is not the skill of these soldiers, it's the Iraqi government's ability to sustain and supply them.
On night raids, it's still American choppers carrying the Iraqi Special Forces commandos to their target. On one recent mission, their objective was to find the remains of an American pilot who was shot down the week before. They found three of the men involved in the attack, but not the remains. Yet both the American and the Iraqi soldiers said they would keep looking for as long as it takes.
That's a sign of the close bond they now share, one Green Beret says.
"I love 'em," he says. "They really want to make a difference in their country. I would trust one of them just like I would trust my own guys."
With no sign that the fight in Iraq is fading, that trust will be tested again and again.