Shaheen XI: Safeguarding Afghan economy
June 21, 2013
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The Highway 7 corridor running through eastern Nangarhar isn't like any other in the province, maybe even the country. Sure, the two- to-three-lane asphalt road doesn't look like much. It winds through mountains and tree-lined villages and shoots across broad, arid spaces the same as any other paved road in the region.
What makes it special is the traffic that runs along it. Approximately two-thirds of Afghanistan's gross domestic product is attributed to import/export travel on Highway 7, making the roadway's functionality and safety critical to the wellbeing of Afghanistan's economy.
Unfortunately, enemies of Afghanistan know this as well as anyone.
In order to protect and preserve this vital roadway, Afghan National Security Forces, assisted by U.S. troops out of Forward Operating Base Shinwar, have been methodically pushing enemy forces out of the Bati Kot district during the last few weeks.
On June 15, ANSF personnel and U.S. soldiers from Security Forces Advisory and Assistance Team Archangel, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, and the integration platoon from Charlie Company, 1st Bn., 327th Inf. Reg., 1st BCT, 101st Abn. Div., cleared and secured the village of Takiya Khana just north of Highway 7.
"What we're trying to do is to prevent insurgent activity from influencing the highway," said U.S. Army Capt. Nicholas Drake, commander, SFAAT Archangel, of Calabasas, Calif.
Designated 'Shaheen XI,' the Afghan-led mission was the third major operation the Afghan National Army has conducted in the area in as many weeks.
On June 14, ANA Lt. Col. Mohammad Bashir, commander, 2nd Kandak, 4th Brigade, and his staff met with U.S. forces and leaders from the Afghan Border Police, Afghan Uniformed Police, National Defense Service, and assorted local government officials, to outline the plan for the next day's mission.
This operation, start to finish, was ANA-planned and ANSF-coordinated, Drake said. The U.S. had very little input besides minimal spot-checking.
Well before dawn on June 15, ANA forces began route clearance to search for and disable any improvised explosives that may have been placed along the route.
With the highway cleared, the ANA secured the perimeter of Takiya Khana so AUP and ABP officers could clear the village of insurgents. Bashir and the main body of U.S. troops stayed approximately a quarter-mile back from the action, supervising from the rear.
The SFAAT remained with the ANA commander to monitor how he was working with and leading his soldiers, said U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Christopher Carey, first sergeant, SFAAT Archangel, of Springtown, Texas. If Bashir needed any advice, the SFAAT commander was available.
The operation progressed quietly: enemy contact was minimal, and the result was a success, albeit a subdued one.
"The ANA like to see achievements," Drake said. "When it's an intangible thing like this, they know it's a good thing, but it's not as sexy as going in and capturing a cache of weapons."
The victory came primarily in the interaction between the ANA, AUP and ABP, and the inhabitants of Takiya Khana.
"The locals see the ANSF in the village, and some of these villages they haven't been in in a really long time," Carey said. "So just their presence alone can equal mission success."
In addition to this, enemy forces tend to flee when they learn ANSF personnel are performing operations in an area, which they did on June 15.
When enemies of Afghanistan, who once had a sort of 'bogeyman' persona of big, bad and unstoppable, run in the face of the larger, better-trained, better-equipped ANSF, locals see this and begin to think less of the insurgents, Drake said. So when the ANSF chase the enemy out of an area and interact with the local population, the enemy's toehold loosens. This, in turn, paves the way for future operations.
In the eyes of some, though, the greatest achievement was the involvement of U.S. forces in the mission.
"We could have been completely pulled out of the equation - 100 percent, not even there," Drake said. "The operation still would have been successful."