U.S. Soldiers Achieve Gains in Paktika Province
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Nov. 18, 2010 The commander of the last combat brigade deployed to Afghanistan as part of the troop surge reports that from his vantage point the multipronged counterinsurgency strategy is working.
Army Pfc. Randall Kinnaman, with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, provides security in a village in the Charbaran district Oct. 27, 2010, during Task Force White Currahee Toccoa Tikurah, the largest combined air assault mission 4th Brigade has conducted in Paktika province, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lorenzo Ware
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Col. Sean M. Jenkins, commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, told reporters here via videoconference he’s seeing encouraging signs of progress in the remote but strategically important Paktika province.
Paktika province is beset by challenges that include poverty, illiteracy, lack of critical infrastructure and a shared border with Pakistan that gives insurgents access into Afghanistan.
However, Jenkins said he has witnessed positive trend lines on a variety of fronts during the two months since he assumed command of his sprawling operating area within Regional Command East.
The Afghan military and police forces his “Currahee” brigade soldiers partner with are gaining capability and professionalism, Jenkins said. And, he said, a new, charismatic governor is generating excitement about possibilities for the province and the broader Afghanistan. Development, which has come slower to Paktika than to more accessible parts of Afghanistan, is picking up.
Meanwhile, the colonel cited what he called “oil spots of security” –- areas of the province where the population is aligning itself with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
“Our goal is to take those ‘oil spots’ and expand them,” Jenkins said.
“We want to protect the population,” Jenkins said. “We want to separate the enemy from the population, and we want to provide them the ability, through that increased security, to support growth, governance … [and] the competency and capacity and credibility of the Afghan institutions.”
Jenkins said he and his soldiers understood before arriving in Afghanistan that this broad goal requires synchronized actions by a wide range of players. They’re part of a combined, unified team, he said, that includes not just the U.S. military and Afghan national security forces, but also their interagency partners, multinational organizations and the Afghan government.
“We are not going to shoot our way out of this fight,” Jenkins said. “We are not going to build our way out of this fight by building superhighways, roads [and] schools…. It is a combination of all of that.”
Meanwhile, Jenkins said, the brigade’s top focus is on establishing a security environment that will allow the other facets of the strategy to progress. It’s an effort, he said, that’s performed in close partnership with the Afghan national security forces that eventually will assume full security responsibility for the province.
“Nothing we do today in Paktika is done alone,” Jenkins said. “There are no independent U.S. operations in Paktika. Everything we do is with a partner.”
Since arriving in Afghanistan, Jenkins’ troops have conducted seven air-assault operations with the Afghan National Army in support of security operations throughout the province. In partnership, they have captured 19 mid-level enemy leaders and more than 56 lower-level insurgents.
Throughout the operations Jenkins’ soldiers teach by example, he said, involving lessons such as how to apply the rules of engagement and how to treat the local population, as well as detainees.
With a continuing focus on putting Afghan national security forces in the forefront, Jenkins said, the 4th Brigade troops are seizing opportunities to play a supporting role to their Afghan comrades. The Currahees provided an important, but low-visibility presence at 189 polling stations throughout the province during the Afghan national elections, and during two peace jurgas that attracted nearly 2,000 provincial elders.
The mentorship relationship with the Afghans continues, Jenkins said, with his soldiers also helping the Afghans to build leadership capability within their ranks while instilling discipline, accountability and a sense of ethics.
Army Lt. Col. Ivan Beckman, whose Special Troops Battalion is mentoring the Afghan uniformed police, said he was struck when arriving in Afghanistan by the professionalism and spirit of nationalism within the Afghan police force.
“They are proud to be police and want to serve the people,” he said.
Beckman said he hopes to see the Afghan police gain a new level of respect from the people they serve.
“We try to have them act in an honorable, professional manner,” he said. “We want the Afghan children to grow up wanting to be patrolmen.”
Meanwhile, Army Lt. Col. David Womack, whose 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment troops are training Afghan National Army soldiers, reported steady progress in building that force.
Womack said it’s too soon to know when the Afghan soldiers will be ready to assume full security responsibility for the province. “I would love to tell you that across the board, they are ready to go, but they are not,” he said. “But there are instances and cases where the Afghans exceed expectations. Our trick is to get everybody on that level.”
Recognizing the close relationships being forged between his troops and their Afghan comrades, Womack also noted the shared sense of mission and, too often, the shared sense of loss.
“Ultimately, we are after the same thing, and each day, they get better and we get better at working with them,” he said.
As they help the Afghans build capability and capacity, Womack said his soldiers recognize the importance of their mission within the broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.
“We are working toward empowering them and building them,” he said. “We know that is our exit strategy.”