U.S. Units Securing, Rebuilding Afghanistan in Small Steps
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE GHAZNI, Afghanistan, Nov. 24, 2006 Bringing stability to provinces in Afghanistan and bringing areas under control of the national government is a two-step process that’s progressing steadily in small steps.
U.S. forces operating under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force at nine forward operating bases in Regional Command East and two in Regional Command South fall into two main categories: provincial reconstruction teams and maneuver units.
“Maneuver will go in, and we’ll take an area controlled by the Taliban or insurgent forces,” Army Sgt. Maj. Bryan Gran, the operations sergeant major for Task Force Iron Graze here, said yesterday. “We’ll take it from ‘red’ -- meaning controlled by the enemy -- and we’ll conduct operations in order to get rid of the enemy to make it more hospitable for the PRT to operate in.
“We get rid of the bad guys, then the (U.S. Agency for International Development) and the engineers and all those people that are going to work on the infrastructure will come in,” he added.
Gran said it’s important for an area to be relatively secure before infrastructure improvements can begin. “We don’t want to go out and build stuff when the enemy is just going to burn it down,” he said.
Progress has been steady in TF Iron Graze’s area of operations, which is all of Ghazni province -- 28,000 square kilometers. In the seven months that the 102nd Infantry Battalion, of the Connecticut National Guard, has run TF Iron Graze, the unit has gained a lot of ground in the security arena. “We’ve done a lot of kinetic (traditional military) operations; a lot of the bad guys are pretty much going away,” Gran said.
At Forward Operating Base Gardez, Task Force Vanguard officials report similar progress. “We’ve been busy running the bad guys out of the woods,” Army Command Sgt. Maj. Wayne Walker, TF Vanguard’s senior enlisted advisor, yesterday told Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gainey made Thanksgiving visits to several bases in Afghanistan.
Task Force Vanguard is the operational element for maneuver missions in Paktika and Logar provinces.
“It’s a challenge to get out and make sure you can provide security so the PRT can build schools and infrastructure,” Walker said.
Gainey praised the way maneuver and reconstruction teams are working in concert to make huge gains in Afghanistan. “The task forces are gaining trust using kinetic capabilities in support of the non-kinetic capabilities of the PRTs, who are the ones who are doing the work of winning hearts and minds,” he told American Forces Press Service.
The continuing success of the PRTs in many areas is allowing the maneuver units in those areas now maintain security without engaging in firefights. “They’re winning engagements without a single bullet being fired,” Gainey said. “That’s what every soldier would like to do.”
He said he believes that helping Afghans in the provinces to help themselves is winning a battle in its own right. “Soldiers are used to winning battles by pulling triggers,” Gainey said. “It might be more challenging to win without pulling the trigger, but the results are often more lasting.”
Task Force Vanguard is working to improve security in the region around FOB Gardez even though the unit is a brigade special troops battalion -- the communications, intelligence, military police, and other support troops who support combat arms units. This unit made up of various support troops is performing tasks normally done by infantry units, explained Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Redmore of Task Force Spartan, the brigade-level headquarters that oversees TF Vanguard and other units. “They’re working as a maneuver battalion task force, but they’re not combat arms,” he said.
Morale is particularly high in Task Force Spartan because the unit is organized under the Army’s relatively new modular brigade concept, Redmore said. The unit’s members were formed into a unit, then trained together, deployed together, are serving together and will re-deploy home together.
“Morale is as high as it could be considering it’s Thanksgiving and these soldiers are away from home,” Redmore said in an interview. “Cohesiveness is much higher, especially under challenging and trying times.
“Everyone here is a brother,” he added.
The sergeant major acknowledged that servicemembers will have bad days and deal with challenges. “But it helps when soldiers can lean on each other,” he said.
Redmore said servicemembers of TF Spartan understand their roles and that what they’re doing is important. “What they’re doing has reason and gives them something to be proud of,” he said.