Hagel Meets with U.S. Conventional, Special Ops Leaders
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, March 9, 2013 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with conventional and special operations forces leaders here today on his first full day in Afghanistan as secretary.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets with Army Maj. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., commander of Regional Command East, on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 9, 2013. Hagel traveled to Afghanistan on his first trip as the 24th defense secretary to visit U.S. troops, NATO leaders and Afghan counterparts. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The secretary’s theme was that while the fight here is tough, the transition to full security lead for Afghan forces is going well. Though challenges remain, he said, the United States and the coalition of nations working to help Afghanistan transition to a secure and stable government will “manage through it.”
“I think the biggest challenge is just the overall responsible and effective transition of our combat troops out,” the secretary said. President Barack Obama announced in February that 34,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by February 2014.
Hagel told reporters traveling with him that the security transition includes handing over to Afghan forces the lead for all the activities and mission segments that U.S. forces have been responsible for over the last 12 year.
“Those are all challenges -- of course they are,” he said. “But they’re challenges that we will manage … in partnership with our coalition partners and with the Afghan forces.”
Hagel’s visited the headquarters of Regional Command East here on his first stop. Army Maj. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., Regional Command East and U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division commander, briefed him on operations.
A senior defense official traveling with Hagel said major points of the briefing included the fact that Afghan national security forces now conduct 80 to 90 percent of operations in the command’s area of responsibility. The Afghan forces are increasingly capable of defeating roadside bombs, the official said.
The secretary also met here with Army Maj. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force Afghanistan and NATO’s Special Operations Component Command Afghanistan. A coalition special operations spokesman briefed reporters on background about the joint task force, which he said is achieving great success training Afghan special operations units.
“We are the first-ever special operations division-equivalent headquarters, … and so far, it has turned out to be a good idea,” the spokesman said.
The task force synchronizes special operations effects across the battlefield, in close cooperation with regional command staffs, the spokesman said. Various elements of the task force work closely with the Afghan local police, Afghan special police units, and Afghan army special operations units.
Hagel then traveled from here to Jalalabad Airfield, where he visited the Army 101st Airborne Division’s “Bastogne” 1st Brigade Combat Team. The 101st Division’s headquarters staff will replace the 1st Infantry Division as the command element for Regional Command East in the coming weeks.
At Jalalabad, Hagel visited Forward Operating Base Fenty, located near the airfield, and pinned two Bastogne soldiers with Purple Hearts: Sgt. Jeremyah Williams and Pfc. Harry Hikes IV. Each suffered a traumatic brain injury during a predawn Dec. 2 attack on Forward Operating Base. Both soldiers quickly returned to duty after their injuries -- Hikes four days later, and Williams 10.