Archive for the ‘Nimroz province’ Category

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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. ”

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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.