Archive for the ‘Afghan Security’ Category

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Story by 2nd Lt. Scott Murdock

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – “When I was here last, we had a 12-year-old boy  turn his father in for making [improvised explosive devices],” said Capt. Aaron  Fisher, Support Company commander, 9th Engineer Support Battalion. “We asked him  why he’d do that. He said he learned in school that IEDs are bad and that bad  people make them.”
Route Tiffany runs east-to-west through the low  rolling hills of southwest Afghanistan. Constant wind makes the air thick with  sun-bleached dust and the sweet smell of blooming poppy. The landscape is as  beautiful as it is deadly.
Marines from 9th ESB left Camp Leatherneck in  northern Helmand province the morning of March 27 to begin construction on the  new road. They reached the dry riverbed, called a wadi by locals, where they  would begin construction and established security by early afternoon.
The  construction team “rolled out a click and a half of road the next day,” said  Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Lovely, Heavy Equipment Platoon commander, Support  Company. One or two kilometers of road per day is exactly the pace the Marines  were accustomed to. The next week would not see similar results.
The  night of March 28, one of the team’s armored vehicles was struck by an IED that  killed one Marine and wounded two others. At that point, it became clear that  creating Route Tiffany would not be a typical mission. Telling signs of the  insurgency warned that by leaving the established security area Marines risked  driving into what was likened to a minefield.
Marines bore the effects of  this attack in their hearts and on their bodies. Cpl. Nickolas Gaversoni,  security team leader for the first convoy to begin work on Route Tiffany, pulled  his Marines from the stricken vehicle. His uniform was torn from his body in  places and he was covered in motor oil. Like all Marines there, he continued  working in a way that honored his brothers’ sacrifice.
A second team,  composed of Marines from Support Company, 9th ESB, Army explosive ordnance  disposal, and an Army route clearance platoon, was dispatched from Camp  Leatherneck on April 1 to relieve the Marines in the wadi. From the time the  convoy departed friendly lines it was confronted with small-arms fire and  IEDs.
One of the most frustrating challenges was identifying which  individuals posed a threat.
“A kid carrying yellow jugs in a wheelbarrow  could be getting water for his mom or he could be getting ammonium nitrate to  blow us up,” Fisher said. “One is a hostile act, one is just a good deed for his  mom.”
Fisher explained several reasons for the opposition the teams  faced. Insurgents often use IEDs to protect the poppy fields that provide the  revenue with which they fund the insurgency. They also see any sort of  improvement to the infrastructure of Afghanistan as a threat because it  decreases the degree to which the local population relies on insurgent support.
An established road running directly through poppy fields poses a  serious threat to insurgents.
“Basically wherever you put pavement,  terrorists go away,” said 1st Lt. Andrez Posada, Motor Transport Platoon  commander with Support Company, 9th ESB.
The combined teams received the  full support of their command and quickly sent a strong message to the local  population.
“We’re here to build roads,” said Brig. Gen. John  Broadmeadow, commanding general of 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “The  roads will help you. You can let the insurgents take that away or you can help  us build roads.”
The Marines of Support Company were backed by the full  force of Marine fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing  (Forward), unmanned aerial vehicles from 1st MLG(Fwd), coordination from 1st  Marine Division (Forward) and I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), Army route  clearance platoons and explosive ordnance disposal units, British rotary-wing  aircraft, and Georgian ground patrols and mortar illumination.
“It feels  good to know I’m being backed up,” Posada said. “Now that we’ve got the support  we need, we’ll do it.”
The teams identified threats in the route ahead  using ground and air assets, and cleared the way using various methods of  controlled detonations. The road quickly became crowded with armored trucks and  heavy machinery. Marines labored under heavy body armor stained with rings of  sweat.
As the sun set each night, a second shift of Marines, soldiers  and Navy corpsmen took to the road to continue nonstop construction under the  watchful eyes of Marines picketed along the entire route.
Georgian  mortars cast an eerie glow over the desert, steadily hanging illumination rounds  over the road and adjacent compounds. Under the flares’ flickering light, white  poppy blooms turned bright orange in the black fields.
Days were marked  by explosions from a combination of insurgents’ homemade explosives and military  countermeasures. Line charges ripped through the sky and fell ahead of the  convoy. The charges, and any IEDs in their path, detonated with shock waves that  rippled across the fine Helmand sand.
Every indicator of a potential  IED was treated with the utmost caution.
“There’s a 99 percent chance  that command wire is from a previous blast,” 1st Lt. Tony Cox, the convoy  commander said. “But there’s still a one percent chance that I don’t want to  risk.”
Fisher frequently spoke to local farmers to gain information and  communicate his mission. Sitting in the sand between the road and poppy fields  with village elders, Fisher explained that the road would bring them access to  schools, hospitals and commerce.  Before using explosives to clear IEDs he  assured them he was not there to threaten their lives or livelihoods.
“I  am a peaceful man,” Fisher said. “I have a family. I believe in God.”
Broadmeadow visited his Marines to share words of encouragement and to ensure  they were being taken care of. He asked several Marines what they needed, and  how he could help them. He comforted those whose friends had been wounded or  killed. His face showed genuine concern as he told even the most junior of  Marines to look after one another. As he addressed a large group just before  nightfall, the general demonstrated the kind of resolve and determination that  makes Marines successful.
“This is not easy,” Broadmeadow said. “But it’s  who we are, and it’s what we do.”
The general’s visit marked the  completion of the road that linked the established road to the west to the wadi  that provided the gravel for Route Tiffany. He gave his closing remarks as the  sun sank below the wadi’s protective berm. New aircraft arrived overhead to keep  watch over the construction crews below. Thick black clouds of diesel exhaust  coughed from dump trucks and graders. Headlights flashed to life and  night-vision goggles sprouted from helmets. The Marines turned east and began a  new stretch of road.
“We’re the engineers,” Fisher said. “If we can’t  find a way, we’ll make a way. That’s what we’re going to do right now.”


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Story and photos by Cpl. Kenneth Jasik

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – As the tour of duty for many soldiers with  British Advisory Group 3rd Kandak 215th Corps, (Two Rifles Battle Group), comes  to an end, many of them can look back at their work and see the results of their  time advising the local security forces when they see a more independent Afghan  National Army.
British troops played a supporting role in Operation Now  Roz, March 16 through 19. During the operation, they observed Afghan National  Security Forces securing the Yakchal Valley almost twice as fast as they  expected.
“The ANSF have done really well,” said British Cpl. John D.  Elliot, a section commander with Two Rifles. “They are quite professional. The  locals are showing the ANA appreciation, which I believe is winning the  war.”
Elliot, who first deployed to Sangin district approximately three  years ago, said things have definitely changed since then, when they had to  teach the ANA the most basic military skills. “They are taking care of things  themselves,” said Elliot, 24, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. “Advising them is  much easier.”
When he arrived on Camp Gereshk as a battlefield casualty  replacement during December, British Capt. Oliver C.S. Little, a Tolay Adviser  Training Team commander with Two Rifles was expecting a less disciplined ANA  then what he found.
“My expectations were that they would be at pretty  basic skill levels,” said Little, 26, from Tisbury, Wiltshire. “Everything I’ve  seen them do, they’ve done with a lot of professionalism.” Little said his  advisers have refreshed the ANA on first-aid and map reading skills, but the  only kinds of support they’ve needed to provide is helicopter-based casualty  evacuation, fires and surveillance. He added that the Afghan soldiers have done  a good job of training themselves.
“I think from what I’ve seen at the  start state of the tour to where they are now, I’ve been massively impressed  with the progression,” said Little. “They are now at a state where I believe  they could completely plan and conduct an operation themselves.” After the  ANA’s success in Operation Now Roz, the adviser has even more confidence in  their abilities.
“I think the next step is pulling back even more,” said  Little. “With a couple of things from us, they can look after themselves.  They’re able to map read, able to bring about better results.”
Little  also noted that an ANA training team usually relies on a sergeant and an officer  to complete their tasks, but during this tour the whole platoon-sized team got  involved, which produced strong results.
“I think it’s quite interesting.  A lot of the guys don’t get a chance to get involved with the ANA as much as  possible, so we’ve quite often used them to deliver lessons to the ANA, which  gives them a good chance to get involved,” he said
During their  Afghanistan tour, Little’s team stayed involved in the ANA’s development, and  built a strong relationship with their Afghan counterparts.
“It’s all  about relationships,” said Little. “If the guys have a good relationship with  them, and the guys have a good relationship with the ANA, then things work  smoothly. Generally speaking, the better the relationship, the better their  output is going to be, because they trust you to do the right thing.”

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Story and photos by Cpl. Kenneth Jasik

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan troops cleared a Taliban stronghold the Yakchal Valley, with the support of International Security Assistance Forces, during Operation Now Roz, March 16 – 19.

During the operation, the Afghan National Security Forces discovered more than 40 improvised explosive devices, arrested known Taliban members and discovered caches which included IED components and suicide vests.

Senior Afghan National Army leadership planned and led the operation to secure the objective.

“The ANA seemed to dominate the ground pretty effectively,” said British Sgt. Chris G. Bannon, a platoon sergeant with British Advisory Group, 3rd Kandak, 215th Corps, (Two Rifles Battle Group). “They had a positive effect on local nationals, who were pleased to see the ANA. It’s quite easy to say that their presence on the ground forced the insurgents out.”

After several years of developing the ANA, British soldiers on their second tour of duty in Afghanistan note significant improvement in the ANSF capabilities.

“I think this is definitely a step forward,” said Bannon, 29, from Leyburn, Yorkshire. “I saw the ANA company a couple years ago and they wouldn’t manage it. It’s better now. The ANA are independent. It’s good to see them taking the lead in their country.”

The ANSF forces weren’t the only ones on the ground. British and Danish troops were there too, but only in a supporting role.

“The only things they ever can need from us is helicopter-based casualty evacuation, fires, and (surveillance),” said British Capt. Oliver C.S. Little, a Tolay Advisor Training Team commander with Two Rifles. “Having said that, they’re not going to have it once we leave.”

Little, 26, from Tisbury, Wiltshire, added that the ANSF will need to find ways around that and have begun to plan accordingly.

“As we’ve seen on this operation, they can get a casualty out on the ground,” said Little. “They can do it very quickly, so they are more than capable of going it alone.”

While the roles of the ISAF and the ANSF are changing, the Afghan troops are building on their knowledge of their homeland and have begun to fight in a way which the local population can support.

“Their concepts and the way they do things is different to ours, given the fact they are not a western army,” said Bannon. “They get the job done in good order, and they are respected by the local nationals.”

The mission did more than clear a historically strong Taliban area, it showed that the ANSF are growing in professionalism.

“It sent the message out to the insurgents that the ANSF are completely capable of planning and mounting large operations such as (Operation Now Roz) successfully,” said Bannon.

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Story by Staff Sgt. Brian Buckwalter

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave a strong message of support to service members during a town hall meeting at Camp Leatherneck, March 14.

“We will not fail,” said Panetta to the nearly 200 Marines and Afghan forces in attendance.

He made his remarks before visiting a nearby combat outpost and Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, where he’s scheduled to meet with the country’s president, Hamid Karzai and other senior leaders.

“This is probably the broadest and the deepest international military coalition that we’ve seen in a long, long time,” he said. “Fifty nations that are working together to bring together a very strong international effort to try to bring some peace, some justice and hopefully some security to Afghanistan and to the world.”

Camp Leatherneck is in Helmand province, which is a part of the Regional Command Southwest area of responsibility. Violence in the region is down 31 percent from this time last year. In some areas of RC (SW), the secretary said, violence is down 80 percent.

“This was the Taliban’s stronghold,” Panetta said. “And because of your work, because of your dedication, because of the tremendous sacrifice you’re making, the reality is that we are achieving greater stability and greater security in this area.”

The efforts, successes, and sacrifices in the region aren’t just made by the U.S. and other coalition nations. Afghan forces are playing an increasingly larger role in their own security.

“The Afghan forces are doing an outstanding job throughout Afghanistan because of the partnership you’ve built out here,” said Panetta. “You train, you fight together, and you’re willing to put your lives on the line together. Afghan forces continue to take charge and head up operations, and you’ve made that possible. By working with them, by training with them, more than 90 percent of the operations are now partnered with the ANSF. That’s a remarkable achievement.”

In recent weeks, Afghanistan has been a focal point of attention because of increased violence in the country.

“As tragic as these events of violence have been, they do not define the relationship between the coalition and the Afghan forces and the Afghan people. What you are doing out here every day determines that relationship,” Panetta said.

The defense secretary reaffirmed the commitment the U.S. has to finishing the mission in Afghanistan, saying that the resolve of coalition forces will not be undermined by individual events.

“We will be challenged,” said Panetta. “We will be challenged by our enemy. We will be challenged by ourselves. We will be challenged by the hell of war itself. But none of that must ever deter us from the mission that we must achieve. That mission is the dream that I talk about. The dream of making sure that we can provide our children – that we can provide children of Afghans – a better life for the future.”

Panetta traveled to Combat Outpost Shukvani after the town hall. There he met with Georgian troops and praised them for the work they’ve been doing in the area and for their sacrifices. He also read them a letter from their recently injured battalion commander.

This is Panetta’s third trip to Afghanistan since assuming his office in July, 2011.

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Story by Master Sgt. Brenda Varnadore

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Major Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) commanding general, assumed command of Regional Command Southwest, from Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, II MEF (Fwd) commanding general, during a Transfer of Authority ceremony here, March 12.

During the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Gurganus, along with Brig. Stuart R. Skeates, the RC (SW) deputy commanding general, assumed responsibility for Helmand and Nimruz provinces.

“The strength of RC Southwest, it’s obvious to me, has always and will continue to be the combined efforts,” said Maj. Gen. Gurganus. “This is a coalition made up of 10 coalition nations coupled with our Afghan National Security partners and friends. It’s also comprised of the Helmand (Provincial Reconstruction Team) and our regional platform. And lastly, and just as important, and probably more, is the leadership provided by our Afghan officials, led by Governors (Gulab) Mangal and (Abdul Karim) Brahui, who is not with us today. For everyone here, just understand that we intend to try and maintain those relationships.”

Maj. Gen. Gurganus went on to recognize the important role the Afghans play in continuing the successes II MEF (Fwd) and their coalition partners.

“That’s the key to being a team. But, the one partner that I haven’t mentioned, that is probably the most important partner to me, is that of the Afghan people. The people of Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. Gurganus. “Because it’s their choices that they will make in the future that’s really going to be the true measure of our success. And I think for those that would continue to fight to destroy the possibility for that better future, I think they should know that they also have choices and they also have opportunities to be a part of the better future. So, I would ask that they weigh their options carefully and make wise choices as well.”

II MEF (Fwd) focused on the development of the Afghan National Security Forces and transitioned to professionalizing the force by the end of their yearlong deployment. I MEF (Fwd) will continue the professionalization of the ANSF to enable the government of Afghanistan to deliver goods, services and provide security to their people and give legitimacy to the whole government.

“You know, the number one line of operation that we focused on was what we call ANSF development,” said Maj. Gen. Toolan. “ANSF development meant getting the people out into the areas and working closely with the coalition forces in sort of a partnering, mentoring role. That ANSF development started more than a year ago when we first got here. It was a matter of marrying them up with their equipment, getting them familiar with how to conduct patrols, how to give a five-paragraph order. Over this past year, what we’ve done is gone from ANSF development to ANSF professionalism. Now, we are in the process of training their (non-commissioned officers), trying to build an NCO corps. We all know that the heart of any organization, the heart of any army, is their NCOs. We’re putting them into training and mentoring them with our own NCOs.

“The sergeant major (Sgt. Maj. Michael F. Jones, II MEF (Fwd) sergeant major) has spent an untold amount of time working with their senior staff NCOs – really trying to get them to understand that if you want an organization to function properly, that the backbone is the NCO corps,” said Maj. Gen. Toolan. “That’s what professionalization is all about.”

The work of II MEF (Fwd) did not go unnoticed. The reviewing officer for the ceremony, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir William Patey personally thanked Maj. Gen. Toolan for his efforts.

“As I travel around Afghanistan, it is without doubt Helmand enjoys the highest reputation of the province that has made the most progress in the past year,” he said. “Children going to school. Farmers going about their business. Government officials going about their business without fear. This country will look back on this year and the contributions you’ve made. There is no doubt, in history, you will go down as a general who’s made a significant and outstanding contribution to this country and to Helmand in particular.”

The turnover between I MEF and II MEF began back in August 2011 as the I MEF (Fwd) staff formed, with their British partners, in Camp Pendleton, Calif. The staffs conducted predeployment site surveys, conference calls and video teleconferences so the transition was seamless to the coalition partners and Afghan forces. II MEF (Fwd) sent representatives from Afghanistan to California to assist with the Mission Rehearsal Exercise during December to ensure I MEF (Fwd) had the most up-to-date information and procedures from theater.

“Our II MEF brothers and sisters have set us up for success and we look forward to carrying on where they left off,” said Sgt. Maj. Harrison Tanksley, RC (SW) sergeant major who relieved Sgt. Maj. Jones. “I would like to see us take it to a new level. II MEF has done a fantastic job, but there is always room for improvement and under Gen. Gurganus’ watch there is no doubt in my mind that I MEF (Fwd) will take this thing to a new level.”

Now that I MEF (Fwd) has assumed command, Maj. Gen. Gurganus and his team will take to heart Maj. Gen. Toolan’s final assessment and continue to assist the ANSF in Helmand and Nimruz provinces.

“They know how to use their weapons, they still have some challenges with counter (improvised explosive devices) and part of that has to do with that it’s just a difficult job,” said Maj. Gen. Toolan. “The Afghan National Security Forces today have more casualties than we have, but they’re out there. They’re taking charge of their own country, and they’re learning as their going. They’re getting better every day. I’m convinced that as the professionalization of the Afghan National Security Forces goes up, the insurgency is going to go down. That sweet spot in the middle is what we are searching for because that’s where governance takes charge and that’s when the government of Afghanistan all of a sudden is capable of providing goods and services to its people. That’s success. ”

Story and photos by Lance Cpl. Mark Garcia

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — During a time of transition, provincial leaders from Nimruz province conducted a meeting March 9 with the outgoing and incoming commanders of Regional Command Southwest.

Topics discussed during the meeting included the governance, security and developmental successes of Nimruz within the last couple of years since International Security Assistance Forces started working in the region.

“There used to not be any provincial reconstruction teams that existed in this region, and the people were really disappointed with their way of life,” said Qasim Khydri, the deputy governor of Nimruz. “The work that has been done here, including all the projects done since ISAF came here, is truly extraordinary. You have completely built the confidence and trust of the Nimruz people. All the people of Nimruz are happy for what you have done for them.”

During the meeting, Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, the commanding general for RC (SW), praised the leadership and security efforts taking place in Nimruz.

“It was always obvious to me from the beginning days that the leadership in Nimruz is very good and that they have a really good handle on their security. We really just tried to assist in that area as much as possible,” Maj. Gen. Toolan said. “We’re finding out that as transition occurs, more and more Afghan police officers and soldiers are sacrificing in terms of injuries and deaths. It’s evident that it’s not an easy fight, but the Afghans are certainly stepping up and taking care of business.”

The meeting also provided the leaders of Nimruz the opportunity to say farewell to Maj. Gen. Toolan and welcome Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, who is assuming command of RC(SW).

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Story and photos by Chief Petty Officer Leslie Shively

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Key Afghan leaders from both Helmand and Nimroz provinces joined U.S. military and civilian leadership for a farewell gala hosted by Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, March 8, at the Afghan Cultural Center.

Before dinner, Toolan, commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and current commander of Regional Command Southwest, took the opportunity to introduce his successor, Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus commanding general, I MEF (Fwd.) during the event.

Toolan relinquishes command of RC(SW) to Gurganus next week.
The evening was lighthearted and fun. While introducing Gurganus, Toolan remarked that his replacement already has a complete set of Afghan robes. “He will probably wear them sooner than it took me to wear mine,” he said.

“I don’t have a turban,” Gurganus said.

“I will leave you my turban,” Toolan responded, laughing. The general wore a complete Afghan outfit to the celebration.
Deputy Commander RC(SW), U.K. Army Brig. Nicholas Welch, also introduced his successor, U.K. Army Brig. Stuart Skeates, deputy commander, RC(SW) IMEF (Fwd.) to the gathering.

“There’s no difference in the way we operate,” Welch said. “He’s just younger, better looking and slightly brighter.”

Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal commended the partnership between RC(SW) and the Helmand province during his remarks.

“The relationships we have between the Afghan National Security Forces, the Marines and coalition forces are strong,” Mangal said, adding that now coffee is offered to guests as often as tea in Afghan homes.

“There are many achievements in this time,” Mangal said, “especially along Route 611 through the Sanguin district.”

Route 611 extends north through Helmand province into the Upper Sangin Valley. The road was an insurgent hotbed until late last year, when Marines asserted their presence and reestablished a sense of stability, freedom of movement and commercial development.

Traditional Afghan music and dancing followed dinner.

“A joint gathering like this strengthens relationships between coalition forces and Afghan officials, tribal leaders and religious leaders,” said Qamar Jabarkhiel, an RC(SW) cultural advisor. “Having a good relationships between representatives of Afghan society, we can reach the communities.”

Jabarkhiel said creating a bridge between coalition forces and Afghan society supports the mission of RC(SW), the Afghan government and benefits the people of Afghanistan.

“We are warrior developers,” said Col. Michael Lawrence, garbed in a turban. Lawrence, a provincial coordinator for Nimroz province, said he wore the traditional head gear to honor the Nimroz representatives who came to the gala.

“We’ve built close relationships and we’ve watched the Afghan Security Forces grow to a very professional force,” said Toolan. “Through it all we were a team and I think, as a result, there’s been a lot of growth and change in Helmand.”

We’ve made some progress and things are better,” Toolan said, adding that his departure from Afghanistan is bittersweet. He said he feels a bond between himself, his team and the Afghan people, especially when he sees the children smile.

“You want to help them out. We had an opportunity over this past year to do just that, so I feel pretty good,” he said. “Afghans have got the best chance they’ve ever had in 32 years.

The general said he knows his team has made a positive impact in Afghanistan. “Some people go through life wondering if they’ve made a difference. These Marines and these soldiers don’t have that problem,” he said, referring to a quote from former President Ronald Regan.