LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- On Forward Operating Base Shank, not too far from Kabul, four Afghan National Security Force officials and two U.S. Soldiers sit around a table. The Afghans sip Chai and converse in their native language as the two Security Force Assistance Team leaders observe, listen through an interpreter and prepare to answer questions for their meeting.
One of the Afghans, General Mustaffa, is the former police chief of Logar Province's Afghan National Police and the other is the commander of 4th Brigade, 203rd Afghan National Army Corps -- the Afghan unit leading ANA operations in Logar and Wardak provinces and working alongside 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division's Task Force Patriot.
The SFAT leaders at the conference room table are Col. Charles Van Heusen, leader of the TF Patriot SFAT who volunteered for this specific assignment, and Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Stephens, SFAT deputy chief. SFAT focuses on counterinsurgency operations and develops ANA and ANP leadership as they organize, train, equip, build, rebuild, advise and assist ANSF.
"It can be challenging working with host nation forces," said Van Heusen. "What's most satisfying is developing a relationship with ANSF leaders and helping them improve their organization to secure their country."
According to the U.S. Army's counterinsurgency field manual, successful COIN operations require the establishment of a legitimate government -- with the support of its people -- that is able to address the fundamental causes insurgents use to gain support of the population.
"Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, uphold the rule of law and provide a basic level of essential services and security for the populace," according to the manual. "Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation security force. In some cases, U.S. forces might be actively engaged in fighting insurgents while simultaneously helping the host nation build its own security forces."
The concept of SFATs is not new; however, having them working directly under a BCT is, said Van Heusen, who has been in the U.S. Army for 27 years and has worked as part of transition teams during three of his six deployments. TF Patriot is one the first brigades in the U.S. Army to have a fully manned SFAT report directly to it, he said.
As liaisons, the SFAT facilitates TF Patriot's operations, ensuring the ANA and ANP are synchronized with the coalition military within Logar and Wardak provinces. Each ANA battalion operating within Patriot's area of operation has a team of senior SFAT U.S. Soldiers to ensure that unit receives the attention it needs. SFAT leaders do not focus on the unit itself, but rather its ANA leadership and the processes they have in place. One of their roles is to improve their current procedures to maximize efficiency and timeliness.
They are like a business consultant group that goes into a corporation to survey and recommend, so it can operate more efficiently. They provide solutions and during planning phases they bring up most-likely scenarios that may happen for them to be better prepared.
"ANA, ANP and CF have great cooperation and work together like a team. When intelligence reports come in, ANSF and CF act on the report," said ANA Lt. Col. Sarda, ANA operations officer in Wardak Province. "Through cooperation with SFAT, ambushes have been exposed, improvised explosive devices have been uncovered before ... they killed or injured anyone. The SFAT has assisted with the delivery of logistics in hard-to-reach locations, transportations of ANSF who have been wounded in action and killed in action, and facilitated the rescue of local nationals during natural disasters," continued Sarda.
Working for the SFAT is a great experience, said Stephens, because coming from a combat job, he now has the opportunity to assist ANSF leaders. The most satisfying part for Stephens is to see ANSF become more competent.
Due to his background and experience with the SFAT, Stephens sees a different side of war, because his role is to give advice and this has an effect on Afghan junior leaders. He said the training he received before coming to Afghanistan has helped with key leader engagements, Afghan history and customs and courtesies that help him connect with them.
Stephens mentioned the officers they mentor are very receptive to the advice that comes from the U.S. Some of that advice entails planning, personnel and equipment accountability. One example he gave is accountability. Before, ANSF accountability procedures only reported the total number of personnel. Now, reports are broken down into who is on vacation, attending a professional development school and the number of ANSF conducting patrols.
General Mustaffa, the former ANP commander for the Logar province, said he is happy because the ANP is getting stronger day by day, due to the SFAT's role.
"They receive good training, supplies, modern weapons and receive professional police training for detectives, intelligence operations and undercover work," said Mustaffa. In addition, the SFAT is the link between his police force and the coalition forces facilitating communication between the two, he said.
Mustaffa said SFAT leaders visit him at the ANP headquarters and he visits them at the U.S. base. One day in March, at SFAT's headquarters, Mustaffa communicated with his district-level police chiefs via video teleconference.
"They (SFAT) help me communicate even with my own people," said Mustaffa. "This saves me a tremendous amount of time, so I don't have to travel all the way to their districts."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16