TF Duke "Vipers" take fight to enemy
April 30, 2011
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Success in all wars, regardless of how large they may be, frequently comes down to the collective actions of individuals and small units.
Recent joint operations in eastern Afghanistan involving U.S. Army Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, and the Afghan National Army's 3rd Koy, 3rd Kandak, 1st Brigade, laid the groundwork for future missions in Afghanistan.
The recent success of Operation Maiwan in March resulted in the confiscation of large weapons caches and deprived insurgents of weaponry and supplies to use against coalition forces. That success carried over to the planning and execution of a follow-up mission, Operation Maiwan II, April 13 to 25.
According to U.S. Army Maj. Damon Harris, a native of Leland, Miss., and the brigade operations officer of the 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., TF Duke, Operation Maiwan II had two main objectives: the interdiction of insurgents and the clearance along key routes through Paktya and Khowst Provinces.
The goal, said Harris, was to not only establish long-term security along Route Alaska with the new Afghan Border Police's checkpoint, but to also increase security by reducing improvised explosive device threats.
"Route Alaska had been what we considered a 'Tier 1' site for IEDs," said Harris, meaning it was considered a road that coalition forces were most likely to encounter an IED upon.
Resolution or improvement in the situation would have to come from those closest to the problem.
The Front Line
The Company B Soldiers of the 1st Bn., 26th Inf. Regt., also known as Viper Co., are three months into a year-long deployment. Assigned to the Saberi District of Khowst Province, their mission largely focuses on helping to keep the peace in the area through joint patrols with Afghan National Security Forces.
In addition to the goals set up by Harris, the Vipers were to continue training with elements of the ANSF and interact with Afghan citizens to build trust, respect and friendships.
"If freedom of movement can increase, that will be huge, especially without any route clearance patrol being needed," said U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Tapalman, commander of Viper Company and a native of West Alexandria, Ohio.
Building and permanently staffing the new Afghan Border Police checkpoints along Route Alaska will be one measure of success, he said.
More importantly, ensuring the various elements of the ANSF are mission-capable will continue to be a high priority during the operation.
"We've put a greater focus on training the Afghan National Army," Tapalman said.
Tapalman, along with two of his Viper Co. platoons and other attached Soldiers, found themselves in the village of Yaquabi, April 14, which until 2007 had been the district center.
In addition to meeting with the villagers in the Yaquabi bazaar, the ANSF and U.S. Army Soldiers also searched shops in the area.
The ANSF led the searches to inspire trust and confidence in the villagers who saw their own countrymen taking the lead in the operation.
While the searches were being conducted in the bazaar, Viper Co. passed out candy to local children and passed out radios to gathered villagers.
The visit helped build the support and respect needed to garner information on insurgent activity, said Tapalman.
"We're looking for that one win to build on," said Tapalman, alluding to the ripple effect of citizens coming forward to inform ANSF or coalition forces of insurgent activity.
The following days of Operation Maiwan II, included joint searches of Kulats, or residential compounds, in the area.
In deference to the customs of the villagers, ANSF elements led the search of homes, while Viper Co. followed as observers.
The security forces targeted Kulats known or suspected of being used to harbor insurgents or improvised explosive device factories.
The relative morning calm of April 15, however, was disturbed by the sound of an explosion. One Viper Co. platoon on patrol was struck by an IED, injuring three personnel.
All elements searching the Kulats immediately converged on the area of the explosion and formed a security perimeter around the site.
A medevac helicopter evacuated the casualties for further medical treatment, and the Viper platoons maintained their security perimeter until an explosive ordnance disposal team completed their investigation of the site. Ultimately, the wounded were treated for minor injuries and returned to duty shortly thereafter.
The ANSF and coalition forces held a shura, or meeting, with village representatives that afternoon at a nearby school to discuss local matters and the attack earlier that day.
ANA 1st Sgt. Raza Khan, 3rd Koy, 3rd Kandak 1st Brigade and Tapalman emphasized the reasons why coalition forces are in Yaquabi.
"We're not here to stay forever, or turn you away from Islam," said Tapalman, who was frequently interrupted by applause from the villagers.
Khan said he appreciated the chance his soldiers had to spend time among their own people.
"The Yaquabi Shura gave us the chance to connect with the elders and men of Yaquabi like we hadn't been able to in the past," he said.
While the final measures of success for Operation Maiwan II have yet to be determined, the Soldiers assigned to Viper Co. said they took satisfaction not only from long, hard days of patrolling and meeting the people in and around Yaquabi, but knowing one of their primary objectives was met.
"It was a very good operation, well planned and executed," said Khan.
U.S. Army Maj. Nate Tagg, a native of Butler, Pa., and the daytime chief of operations for TF Duke, watched the events of Operation Maiwan II unfold. He said he liked what he saw.
"The ANSF was really taking the lead," said Tagg.
"The joint efforts led to the unit's largest seizure of dangerous materials in months," he added. "They confiscated more than 10 tons of ammonia nitrate and other materials and established a permanent checkpoint for Afghan Border Police."
Harris also found much to be proud of.
"It (Operation Maiwan II) caused significant positive effects," he said, citing the successful installation of 'Salerno Boxes' near culverts along Route Alaska. The boxes are designed to deny insurgents access to the culverts, where IEDs might be installed.
According to Harris, the checkpoint seemed to make the enemy re-evaluate Route Alaska as a thoroughfare.
"All accounts of the operation thus far have been extremely positive," he said.