Intelligence roundtables bear unexpected fruit
July 31, 2013
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The saying goes "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime."
"We taught them how to fish," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class David Rivera regarding his work with the Afghan Border Police.
Rivera, of Honolulu, Hawaii, is the intelligence adviser/S2 for Security Forces Advisory and Assistance Team-ABP Zone 1, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. He has worked for the last nine months with the ABP in Zone 1, which is comprised of the Nangarhar, Nuristan and Kunar provinces in eastern Afghanistan.
The relationship between the ABP and U.S. forces has developed into a true partnership, and the ABP's achievements in Zone 1 - from monitoring enemy activity, to responding to threats - has progressed by leaps and bounds.
The secret to the ABP's success is something Rivera said he attributes to the particular emphasis he and other advisers have placed on sustainment.
"Because they can order bullets, they're not afraid to shoot," he said. "Because they know they can get fed, they're not afraid to go [to a remote outpost]. Because they know how to get fuel, they're not scared to go out on patrols and drive."
Sustainment practices enable the ABP to maneuver within Zone 1; smart intelligence gathering and interpretation tells them where to go.
"What we've been trying to do as coalition forces is to get the Afghans to conduct intelligence-based operations, intelligence-driven operations, instead of just information based," said U.S. Army Maj. Michael O'Meara, brigade intelligence/S2 officer, 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Division of Clarksville, Tenn. "Now they're starting to put the intelligence together and paint a picture for the commander. The commander makes a decision of where to conduct the operation."
The intelligence side of the house has recently been coming into its own.
In the Afghan culture, parties are introduced to one another by a mutual acquaintance, and relationships don't get started without one party meeting another face-to-face first. Rivera arranged such a meeting between O'Meara and the ABP and Afghan National Civil Order Police intelligence leaders at the ABP Zone 1 headquarters in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, June 10. This gathering was the first of its kind in the region, and brought the American S2 and Afghan intelligence counterparts (G2) together on equal footing.
Since that crucial first meeting, subsequent roundtables have developed into a regular, weekly series of meetings hosted by coalition forces at Forward Operating Base Fenty, Nangarhar province, the most recent of which occurred, July 22.
As the U.S. and Afghan personnel communicate intelligence reports to each other, the partnership - and the Afghans' role in it - continues to grow.
For instance, in the second meeting and the first at Fenty, the ABP intelligence director, Col. Muhammad Sadiq, said he thought it would be a good idea to include his counterpart from the Afghan National Army in future gatherings. Security in Zone 1 often relies on missions where the Afghan army and police forces work alongside each other; sharing intelligence in an open forum would make joint operations go more smoothly.
In the past, ANA, ANCOP and ABP guys have often had an uneasy relationship, Rivera said. That they would want to work together of their own accord, and then do so in a respectful and professional manner, is a very important milestone.
The discussions have brought to light another development: the changes in the relationship between officers and enlisted personnel within the Afghan National Security Forces.
In the weekly roundtables, O'Meara had two of his analysts, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sean Morris, of Albuquerque, N.M., and U.S. Army Spc. Victor Valdez, of San Bernardino, Calif., give portions of the briefing. At first, only ABP and ANCOP officers would respond with their own intelligence; all enlisted Afghan personnel would defer. At the most recent gathering, however, ANCOP 1st Sgt. Agha broke into the conversation. The reception given to Agha's comments was the same given to his commissioned colleagues: attentive, respectful.
Because of encouragement from U.S. forces to the Afghan police to imitate the way American noncommissioned and commissioned officers interact, Rivera said, something like this is able to happen. The interagency intelligence sharing is not stymied by rank.
One last fruit the meetings have borne is how sharing intelligence has broadened the collective understanding of events.
On account of their local and cultural knowledge, the Afghans have a much better idea than the Americans of why the enemy is acting in such and such a way, O'Meara said. Their home turf perspective is invaluable, not only when their input confirms a report, or when it adds clarity and motive, but also when that perspective opens up a new line of thought not yet considered.
To ensure these subtle - yet tremendous - strides do not stutter to a halt when one U.S. SFAAT hands the reins over to the next, O'Meara played the go-between for his successor, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Andrew Pekala, commander, Provincial SFAAT, 4th BCT, 10th Mountain Division, of Edgewood, Md., and the Afghan G2s, July 22.
When the introductions were finished, business continued as usual.
"They see themselves now as almost like partners, versus us the teachers," Rivera said. "[The] things that they're gaining is confidence, and through confidence, capability."
In the coming months, Pekala and his team will have a capable, professional force to work with, in their Afghan partners.