Troops Expand Security in Eastern Afghanistan
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, March 10, 2011 Regional Command East forces are focused on expanding security around the Afghan capital of Kabul and providing a layered defense along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, their commander said here this week.
“We’ve really stayed on the offensive with our counterparts this winter,” Army Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell said in a March 7 briefing for reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “We’ve changed the battlefield geometry.”
Regional Command East covers 14 provinces and 43,000 square miles around Kabul, including 450 miles of border with Pakistan. Based around the 101st Airborne Division, which Campbell also commands, the command includes some 30,000 coalition forces made up of seven maneuver brigades, an aviation brigade, and French and Polish task forces.
Campbell said his operational focus as spring approaches will include expanding the Kabul security zone along Highway 1 into Wardak and Loghar provinces, and up Highway 7 into Jalalabad.
The general said he’s also focused on layered defense along the border, positioning troops to prevent insurgents from entering Afghanistan in large numbers or with loads of weapons.
The layered defense includes Afghan border police, information-sharing centers where coalition and Afghan forces coordinate cross-border targeting with the Pakistani military, and a concentration of coalition and Afghan forces in areas near the border, Campbell explained.
“We do not cross the border,” he said, adding that in many cases, artillery or mortar rounds coming from insurgents on the Pakistan side of the border are targeted by Pakistani forces, based on coalition coordination.
Cross-border indirect fire has increased in recent weeks, Campbell said.
“Based on the number of incidents when [the enemy is] throwing artillery, they’re trying to clear the way so they can bring more people over,” Campbell said. “I think [the enemy is] frustrated, because [Afghan security forces], along with the coalition forces have really identified, now, the places they can come in through.”
Enemy forces who do make it across, Campbell said, will find their weapons caches gone. In November, December and January, his command found and destroyed almost three times as many caches of mortar and artillery rounds and bomb-making materials as in the same period the previous year.
Campbell refuted reports that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is departing the Pech River Valley.”
“Everybody’s saying, ‘You’re abandoning the Pech.’ … That’s absolutely false,” he said.
Regional Command East is realigning its forces, he said, and for the last six months has been working to increase its capability along the border in Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman provinces.
“We’ve added about 6,100 coalition and Afghan forces in those four provinces since I’ve been here, and adjusted command and control” he said, noting that Laghman now is assigned to a separate brigade, whereas one brigade used to cover all four provinces.
“We’re really looking hard at Laghman, because if you come from Nuristan, you have to come through Laghman to get to Kabul,” he said.
Four combat outposts dot the Pech River Valley, most with both coalition and Afghan forces assigned. Reinforced Afghan forces now solely man one of them, Campbell said, and the coalition troops formerly based there can be reassigned to more active operations closer to the border.
“If they’re sitting at these [combat outposts in the Pech River Valley] … they’re very static,” he said. “A large percentage of what you have in there has to be force protection.”
While reassigning some troops out of the valley has given the command needed flexibility for offensive operations, it doesn’t mean the command is ignoring the area. “We’re still in the Pech, [and] we’ll remain in the Pech,” he added. “I’ll keep some coalition forces at some of those locations.”
Afghan army strength is increasing both in numbers and capability, Campbell said, noting 11 new army kandaks, or battalions, have been trained since his division arrived. ISAF officials rate Afghan National Army effectiveness every month, he added, and it continues to improve.
“We’re seeing great growth in the leadership,” he said, though he acknowledged that progress of the Afghan National Police has been slower.
ISAF is focusing more coalition senior officers and noncommissioned officers on Afghan police training, Campbell said, and “that is really starting to show dividends on their planning and on their leadership.”
Schools opening, numbers of students, jobs created and other indicators in Regional Command East show a positive trend, Campbell said. Governance and development are increasing, he added, and rule of law is taking hold.
“In Khost and in Jalalabad, we have rule-of-law centers now,” he said. “The numbers of prosecutors and … judges continue to go up.”
Public trials also are increasing in Khost, Nangarhar, Wardak and Ghazni, Campbell said, and Afghan officials are reassured by the coalition’s presence through 2014, as agreed upon in November at a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon, Portugal.
“At my level, … working with [Afghan forces] and the governors, they know we’re here,” he said. “In the past, many of them were on the fence; they hedged their bets. Now they know we’re in it for the long haul.”
Gates told Regional Command East troops during his visit that the coming weeks and months will bring more challenges.
“It was a tough winter, and it’s going to be a tougher spring and summer,” the secretary said, “but you’ve made a lot of headway.”