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Fort Drum brigade commander praises Afghan military partners, talks operations

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As coalition forces recently transferred the lead of operations to Afghan security forces, the commander of Fort Drum’s 1st Brigade Combat Team said that change was in place with his soldiers and their Afghan partners for months.

“It’s their fight and they’re getting after it,” Col. Stephen A. Michael said.

The commander spoke about his brigade’s work in a Saturday phone interview.

The brigade is stationed primarily in Ghazni Province, in the eastern side of the country near the border with Pakistan. The brigade’s 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment is in the northern part of the province, while its 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment is in the south.

The brigade’s security force advise-and-assist role is similar to that of soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd and 4th Brigade Combat Teams and the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, which are deployed around the country.

Col. Michael said the area historically has been linked to the Taliban, and before them to the Mujahideen when Soviet forces were in the country. The brigade’s commander said the province is seen as an important place by the Taliban for their operations and movement around the country.

Even before his brigade’s arrival, Col. Michael said, Afghan forces in the province improved their operations and found more local support, as the Taliban had “overplayed their hand” with residents by mistreating elders and closing schools.

The colonel’s message to his Afghan partners: they can maintain their own security and can do so in some circumstances better than American forces.

“You have the connections to the people; you speak the language; you can tell when something’s a little bit out of place a whole lot better than we can because you’re from here,” Col. Michael said.

His other message to his counterparts was that their enemy is beatable.

“We’re not fighting some invincible enemy that’s impervious to bullets,” Col. Michael said. “You can fight this one yourself.”

He said the Afghan military forces could not lose if they worked for the locals and worked well with police forces.

“What they’ve got to do is follow through, and everything we’ve seen is they can and they are,” Col. Michael said.

While his brigade’s Afghan partners already were proficient in direct-fire situations and intelligence gathering, Col. Michael said, he has had his soldiers working with Afghan forces to improve their use of artillery.

For the next few months, Col. Michael said, his brigade is planning potential areas for further action with its Afghan partners in the Andar, Qarabagh, Giro and Gelan districts of the province.

“We think if we can turn the tides in those areas, we can change the landscape,” he said.

Asked about recent military negotiations with the Taliban, Col. Michael said it was not something he worried about.

“We know the folks above us are doing the right things to solve this problem,” he said.

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