KUNDUZ PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Jan. 4, 2012) -- In order to build an independent Afghanistan, one of the key objectives of North Atlantic Treaty Organization is achieving freedom of movement by the Afghan National Army. In northern Afghanistan, they became one step closer to meeting that goal when the 2/209th Route Clearance Company, Afghan National Army, or ANA, conducted its first route clearing mission in December.

The Afghan people witnessed the transfer of security take place on their roads. For years, specialized U.S. route clearing vehicles patrolled the roads in search of improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, and now highly trained Afghan engineers are performing that job.

"Developing independent and competent ANA units is the foundation of nation building in Afghanistan," said 1st Lt. Eric Madison with the 190th Engineer Company, Task Force Sword, 2nd platoon leader. "Handing off roles and responsibilities from American or coalition forces to ANA is the end state for Operation Enduring Freedom. It's been an honor to have contributed in training these Afghan soldiers."

The 2/209th RCC started their training at the Consolidated Fielding Center, or CFC, on Forward Operating Base White Horse, near Kabul. There, Madison and 1st Lt. Jose Hernandez with the 1014th Sapper Company, TF Roughneck, platoon leader, worked as a team to instruct, mentor and supervise the Afghan soldiers.

"The soldiers' eagerness to learn and their commitment to Afghanistan resulted in intense training," said Hernandez. "They demonstrated incredible performance and development in both individual and collective route clearing tasks. They were open to feedback and instruction and improved on every mission."

After six months of training at the CFC, the 2/209th RCC got their assigned area of operation in Kunduz province. Madison's unit was also located there and was able to support the RCC.

"We trained with them for two to three months before their first mission," said 1st Lt. Marc Lawson with the 190th Engineer Company, the Kunduz province partnership training officer. "We tailored our training to the specific needs of their commander. He felt there were areas his company could improve on, so we met those needs."

The areas included proper operating and maintenance of their assigned equipment. Vehicles and radios are critical during missions, and the ANA used the U.S. Army's preventive maintenance checks and services as their model. A lot of the training required instruction and explanations which presented the 190th Engineer Company with their first challenge.

"I remember one sergeant, who wasn't their first sergeant but who sure acted like one," reflected Lawson. "He would organize and push his troops through the different phases of training. He really helped us out a lot during that period."

Lawson mentioned during the last training exercise, a fake IED was planted on a planned route to see how the Afghan patrol would perform. He said they not only found the device but also conducted all their tasks to ensure safety of men and equipment and then properly disposed of the device.

"Their leaders took charge," said Lawson. "They used all their equipment correctly and their tactics, techniques and procedures met our standard. There was excitement in the air. They were ready for their first mission."

Soon after, the 2/209th RCC successfully accomplished their first route clearing mission in an insurgency stronghold west of Forward Operating Base Kunduz, Dec. 10. The mission, named Operation Desert Dragon, was the first ANA led route clearing and show of force mission into the Chahar Darah District as the 190th Engineer Company accompanied them by playing only a secondary support role.

"The ANA went into an area where no ANA had been before," said Capt. Thomas Gilley, commander of the 190th Engineer Company. "The Afghan villagers seemed surprised but very happy to see the ANA. There were times we had to dismount and walk to conduct clearing and security tasks. As we went through those small villages, the people came out and welcomed the ANA soldiers."

For months, the 2/209th RCC trained with the 190th Engineer Company to develop and strengthen the RCC's tactics, techniques, and procedures. According to Gilley, the RCC's professionalism and performance, during Operation Desert Dragon, was proof that the partnership program works.

Gilley said the RCC conducted several interrogations for possible improvised explosive devices during the operation and their show of force was impressive.

"The RCC did an excellent job," he explained. "They followed their training and conducted their operations by the book. They proved to me that they're capable of conducting operations on their own. I look forward to being able to do some more joint operations with them in the future."

"In the upcoming months, we will see more and more ANA route clearance units conducting clearing operations for their country, and we will continue our partnership training and mentoring with them," said Capt. Neal Litton, liaison officer with TF Roughneck.

"The effects of Operation Desert Dragon were critical," explained Litton. "It now shows the face of the ANA wanting to do route clearance missions, oppose to what has been U.S. and coalition forces previously."

The operation was confirmation that the hand off from coalition to Afghan forces is becoming a reality for the people of northern Afghanistan and the coalition.

Page last updated Thu January 5th, 2012 at 07:09