Nov 29, 2007

Marines in Afghanistan

Training and Surging with the Afghan security forces

Although most of the military and media attention remains focused on Iraq, there is still a vicious war raging in Afghanistan. Islamic extremists from Pakistan cross the border nightly in an effort to destabilize the Karzai government by terrorizing the local populace; home-grown extremists have adapted IED and suicide bomber tactics they’ve seen so popular in Iraq, and the drug lords and local criminal element work hard in advancing their own corrupt agenda.

In the midst of all this are 24,000+ American troops and a large contingent of troops from NATO and other countries who are attempting to stabilize the country, defeat Al-Qaeda, and perhaps drag it into the 21st - or at least the 20th - century.
Col Philip Smith, USMC, currently commanding the Central Region (Kabul east to the border), took time to speak about American and Coalition efforts in Afghanistan.

COL SMITH: I command the adviser group that advises the Afghan 201st, Selab, Central Corps, and the Central Region Police command in an area that is in the central region of Afghanistan that includes Kabul and 10 other Provinces. It’s 13 million people in 300 or so districts. This is about half the population of Afghanistan.

We report to CJTF Phoenix. Underneath CJTF Phoenix there are five Regional Adviser commands for the police and army, of which I command one.

The five regional commanders are the military forces whose principal task is to conduct COIN operations that delegitimize the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and attempt to provide legitimacy to the Afghan Government by fighting alongside the Afghan forces.

The greatest challenge that I have observed in working with the Afghan
National Security Forces is not their fighting capability, or their desire to
create a national army and police. And it's not their willingness to sacrifice. The problem is the creation and sustainment of a national industrial base from which to maintain the army and the police, in the form of logistics, transportation, communications and maintenance of the equipment and weapons and vehicles and aircraft.

As you know, creating a security force during peacetime is difficult enough. Trying to create it from nothing during combat requires even more patience, diligence, money, discipline, long-term vision and communications.

We embed inside the Afghan National Security Forces to provide access to those capabilities that the Afghan National Security forces do not yet possess - things like aviation, Medevac support, medical support, fire support, artillery.

Finally, we advisers do the initial evaluation and assessment on the status of the readiness and development of the Afghan National Security Forces – we work on leadership, personnel, command and control, logistics, intelligence, operations and training.

My command consists of over 900 Army National Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marine, both active duty and reserve, civilian, French, Romanian, German, and soon some Portuguese folks.

A couple of notes about things that I’ve observed while being here since March. The Afghan people are tired of fighting, and perhaps become just a little bit impatient with our impatience. In other words, we are trying to push them towards a capability that they may or may not necessarily want to accept.

We have learned that to be effective advisors, we first must gain an understanding of how the Afghans think. They do have a system in place. They have been able to conduct warfare over the past 30 years. And we have to understand that they are not going to unlearn a lot of things in a very short period of time. It will take time to introduce them to different, improved techniques that lead them to be able to better sustain themselves.

American forces perhaps focus too much on the physical fight rather than on the long-term approach to governance and security. And as you know governance can be either imposed or it can be willingly accepted and sustained.

Q - How is the NCO Corps? Are they getting stronger? Their system is based on the old Russian system where the NCO’s were not important.

A – It’s coming along slowly, but it is coming along. It is one of our major objectives because we understand that in an effective fighting force, a commander has to be able to trust and have confidence in all of his subordinates.

Q - Could you give us an overall perspective on the enemy you face in your battle space right now? What are the engagements that you're fighting?

A - The nature of the fight in the central region is centered around Nuristan and Kunar, and some of it in the Nangarhar Province. Taliban, Hig martyr forces and anti-coalition forces seemed to be coming together in small groups, and they seem to be oriented against the coalition forces. There appears to be a tendency to gravitate towards Afghan security forces.

There does not seem to be so much of a fight when Afghan national forces are in the lead and are trying to conduct operations and trying to convince the local people in these provinces that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is something that they need and want. And of course, the objective of the Taliban and the HIG is to persuade the average Afghan citizen that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is not something that they want to follow, and they try to establish their own small local district provincial shadow government and force the local people to adhere to them.

So the actual fighting -the physical fighting - is against coalition forces. In my zone, I think it might be a little bit different than in other parts of the country. It’s small unit attacks. It's well-planned ambushes across logistical main supply routes. It's planned attacks against combat outposts.

The Taliban, anti-coalition militia, they understand that if the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as represented by the Afghan National Security Forces makes its way into the Eastern Zone and convinces the people that the government can provide security, can provide governance, can provide economic improvement in their economic lifestyle, that the Taliban and the HIG and the AGM are on their way out.

Q -It almost sounds like an outreach mission.

A- That's a good way to describe it. In fact, the coalition force has to approach it like an outreach mission that goes out and stays out. In order to be effective in countering the threats to the Afghan Government, the ANSF and Coalition force has to reach out and they have to stay in these villages so that they can provide permanent presence and permanent continued security.

Thank you Col Smith ///


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