About a third of the way into their nine-month deployment, the commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team said he likes what he saw from his soldiers’ Afghan military partners.
“They’re doing the heavy lifting at this point,” Col. Dennis S. Sullivan, the brigade’s commander, said Monday.
About 1,500 to 2,000 of the brigade’s soldiers are currently spread around Paktika Province, on the country’s eastern side, in a security force aid-and-assist-team role. The mission matches that of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, also in Afghanistan.
Col. Sullivan said the Afghan soldiers’ best work comes in route clearance and operational planning work, adding the Afghans took on about 80 percent of enemy engagements.
A few weeks ago, immediately after a large training exercise, Col. Sullivan said partner Afghan units captured three insurgent officials by coordinating intelligence with local police. One of the captured insurgents was listed as a high-value target.
“You see that, and it makes you feel good this province will be in good shape for a long time with capable soldiers and units going after the enemy,” he said.
Col. Sullivan also credited Afghan soldiers for weeding out a potential insider attack a few weeks ago.
“They took it just as seriously as we do,” he said.
The commander said his soldiers are helping the Afghan units to improve their ability to use artillery and maintain supply chains.
As one example, poor supply management left an Afghan route-clearing company with several vehicles not ready for use. Col. Sullivan said brigade soldiers had to stop themselves from providing materials to solve the problem.
“At times, there’s an instinct that says we want to help them for the short-term benefit,” he said. “Sometimes, the long-term benefit comes at the cost of short-term benefits.”
The commander said the teaching elements of their mission are critical as American forces prepare to draw down over the next year. One element of that draw-down is relinquishing control of outposts and forward operating bases in the province, a challenge requiring the removal of thousands of pounds of equipment. Col. Sullivan said the B Company of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment facilitated the first such transfer of the brigade’s deployment on Monday. The larger challenge, he said, will be transferring the brigade’s headquarters by the time they leave.
Given time to get acquainted with each other, Col. Sullivan said the brigade and their connected Afghan forces are hitting their stride coming into the summer, when enemy activity typically increases. Into the next few months, he said, it is important to keep an offensive stance against insurgent forces in the province.
“They’re not waiting for us to leave,” Col. Sullivan said. “If you don’t go out for them, they’ll be coming after you.”
He added that this may be the last summer that Afghan forces have full American numbers as support.
“They have to gain that confidence in themselves, so when next year’s fighting season comes around they’ll be able to protect themselves,” Col. Sullivan said.
The brigade will have several eyes at the top level watching their progress, including Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited brigade leadership on April 7.
Col. Sullivan said he was told by the general that the province was a microcosm of the whole country, and that their work may be a sign of what happens elsewhere.
“We take that as a responsibility and a challenge,” Col. Sullivan said. “Most of these guys wouldn’t be in the Army or the infantry if they didn’t like the challenge.”