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Gates Visits New Afghan Commando Training Site

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 4, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited a former Taliban training ground near here today to get a firsthand look at how it's been transformed to train Afghan army commandos.

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Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, left foreground, receives a tour of Morehead Commando Training Camp by Afghan National Army Lt. Col. M. Farid Ahmadi in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 4, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gates arrived at the new Morehead Commando Training Center, about six miles south of the capital, to see the first Afghan commando candidate class during its fourth week of training.

Gates met with Gen. Bismullah Khan, the Afghan army’s chief, and U.S. Special Forces trainers to assess progress in the 12-week program that includes intensive individual and small-unit tactics and movement techniques while under fire.

The center is named for Army Master Sgt. Kevin Morehead, a 5th Special Forces Group soldier killed in Ramadi, Iraq, in September 2003. Morehead earned distinction here for his efforts in rounding up terror suspects, along with a handshake of thanks from President Bush.

While developing Ranger-like skills in the commando candidates, the center's program aims to achieve much more, explained Army Maj. Dean Cuzick, the garrison’s operations officer.

“We’re building a battalion from the ground up,” he said. “We’re training not just the trigger-pullers but also the staff to support them.”

That includes everything from medical training to developing command and control, which Cuzick called “the biggest piece here.”

“It doesn’t do any good to have a lot of guys good at platoon ops if you don’t have good command and control,” he said.

Khan hailed the school as “a great success for us” and a milestone as Afghanistan builds a professional Army.

A 30-year military man who’s seen action against both the Russians and Taliban, Khan said he recognizes the importance of developing a strong commando force.

When candidates in the first commando class graduate in less than two months, they’ll bring expertise and elite skills needed for the army Khan expects to grow to 70,000 members by December 2008.

Khan said he recognizes that even this number won’t be enough in light of the threats Afghanistan faces, but he said he also knows that “without quality, quantity is not as important.”

Army Lt. Col. John Davis, who serves as Khan’s day-to-day advisor, mentor and direct liaison to the NATO International Security Assistance Force, said he’s impressed by the training that will prepare Afghan troops for reconnaissance, deep strike and other Ranger-type missions.

Davis said the program is likely to evolve over time. “For now, we’re only at the baby stages,” he said.

After being recalled to active duty from retirement to serve here, Davis said he’s optimistic about progress being made and Khan’s ability to take the Afghan Army in the right direction. “He’s a natural-born leader,” Davis said of the Afghan general.

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Photo Essay: Gates in Afghanistan, Part 1
Photo Essay: Gates in Afghanistan, Part 2

Related Articles:
Gates, Karzai Share Optimism About Afghanistan’s Course
Gates Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Progress


Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, center, takes a photo with Army soldiers at Morehead Commando Training Camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 4, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby   
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