Afghan Army Units Doing Well in Field
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2003 U.S. officials in Afghanistan have said the Afghan national army units are gaining operational experience and are working well with coalition troops.
The Afghan units are working with U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers, who are advising them in an operational setting.
"Reports on the two battalions in the field so far have been very positive," said Army Col. Roger King, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force 180.
For example, soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the Afghan national army and Special Forces advisers located a series of arms caches in and around the village of Madr in Bamian Province.
One battalion deployed to Orgun-E in Paktika Province. The population of the area, on the border with Pakistan, is majority Pashtun, and the province was a stronghold of the Taliban. When the battalion moved into the area, the locals thought it was another unit of foreign coalition forces, King said.
"The battalion was disciplined and behaved well to the local population," he said. "The people could certainly tell the group wasn't the forces of a warlord."
The battalion commander met with the town council and explained to the leaders of the area that the unit was part of the Afghan army, that it was multiethnic and would not respond to the whims of any local warlord. He also explained that the unit was in the area to help the population and to get rid of terrorist elements.
The unit became popular with the people of the area. "They had so many people knocking on the door that the unit sponsored a recruiting drive in Orgun-E and signed up 135 men for the Afghan army," King said.
There have been growing pains, he noted. While the leaders of the unit are very comfortable working at platoon level, they need more training in company and battalion maneuvers. Operational experience is helping the Afghan units learn these lessons.
"There was one unit out for two months," King said. "By the end of that time, they were performing pretty well." Based on his own infantry experience, he said, "The unit is adapting to new tactics quickly. They do 'fire and movement,' 'covering fire,' and 'assaulting an objective' just about as well as anyone."
Afghan authorities are working on getting the national army into more places. In addition to Orgun-E, a battalion is now stationed in Bamian, and further plans call for a unit to work with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division.
"It's important for the Afghan national army to get out with the population," a DoD official said. "The people then see that the government is trying to protect them. The army must provide the security so that the economic benefits of peace can follow."