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U.S. Soldiers Work With Afghan Army to Fortify, Instill Discipline

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GHAZNI, Afghanistan, Nov. 24, 2006 – As winter tightens its grip on Afghanistan -- higher elevations already are snow-covered -- U.S. forces are striving to fortify their Afghan National Army counterpart units and instill professional discipline to keep the Afghan soldiers on duty year-round.

“Traditionally, they all go home in winter,” Army Sgt. Maj. Bryan Gran, operations sergeant major for Task Force Iron Graze here, said in a Thanksgiving Day interview. “We’ve got to try to get them away from that. And the way to do that is we’ve got to provide them with suitable living quarters so that they can stay.”

Task Force Iron Graze comprises the 102nd Infantry Battalion, of the Connecticut Army National Guard. The unit falls under the 10th Mountain Division here and works in concert with Afghan army units throughout the 28,000-square-kilometer Ghazni province.

Military campaigns in Afghanistan throughout history have been cyclic with the seasons. Harsh conditions in the mountainous terrain have driven poorly supplied and equipped forces home during the worst winter months.

“Winter is very cold in this country, and it’s important to plan,” Afghan Command Sgt. Maj. Roshan Safi, recently appointed sergeant major of the Afghan National Army, told American Forces Press Service.

“We’re trying to teach them how to not be a ‘summer soldier,’ where they can gather up what they can and go out and fight until it’s exhausted and then go home,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Mark Payton, senior enlisted advisor for the 755th Expeditionary Support Squadron, an Air Force composite group responsible for building up Afghan National Army logistics capabilities.

Working out of the Afghan National Army Logistics Command Headquarters in Kabul and in five regional logistics depots around the country, military logistics experts from the United States and other coalition countries are working to prepare the Afghan forces “so they can carry the fight for their country, for the future, so that they can plan and be prepared to meet any obstacle that they’re going to face,” Payton said in an interview.

“Before this Log Command, we did not have this good system in this country. Lot of times the soldier, he didn’t get anything,” Roshan said. “But right now we have depots everywhere soldiers are deployed. They are getting their uniforms, boots, everything.”

Cultural and economic conditions in Afghanistan also stymie coalition forces’ efforts to simply keep Afghan soldiers at their posts. Large percentages of Afghan soldiers -- as many as half in some areas -- return to their homes during the religious holy month of Ramadan, officials said.

Poor banking systems in the country, combined with the fact that most people in this rural-based culture have no access to technology that allows such concepts as checking accounts or money transfers, cause many Afghan soldiers to disappear for a period whenever they get paid to bring money to their families. Many also return home to help during harvest periods.

“Unlike our Army where I’m here for Christmas and I’m here for Thanksgiving, that’s our job and we’re going to do it; they’re not so much like that,” Gran said.

There’s no easy fix for the problem, he explained. It could take years or generations to change economic realities and cultural mores in Afghanistan.

Gran said the Afghan soldiers of the 203rd Kandak, which operates in Ghazni province, are good soldiers and perform well operationally, “but they’re a young army, and it takes time to build that mindset of discipline,” he said.

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