FORT IRWIN, Calif. (May 4, 2012) -- Insurgents and criminal elements in Afghanistan have shifted to smuggling for illicit funds and supplies. With the trafficking of weapons and drugs across international borders, the need for border security is at an all-time high.

By donning disguises and using pack mules to simulate smuggling drugs and weapons, the troopers from the Horse Detachment, Regimental Support Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, provide training to counter the threat of smuggling for rotational training Soldiers on the fictional borders of Donovia and Atropia at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

The simulated locations replicate scenarios that the Soldiers might face while on a deployment, NTC officials said. They said new depths of realism are added to the training by incorporating live animals.

They give those Soldiers in "the box" things to look for that would likely be faced while deployed to Afghanistan, said Sgt. Jacob Irish, a trooper with the Horse Detachment. Countering the smuggling of illegal items between the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders is a vital mission to security. By conducting smuggling operations, NTC trainers provide insight into the tactics used of the enemy. Ultimately, this will prepare Soldiers to be more successful when deployed.

The smugglers have utilized native animals to climb up and down the mountains on the border in places that is difficult for military personnel to patrol. In some areas the air is too thin for helicopters and the ground is too steep and rocky for military vehicles, making it only accessible by foot or mule. These areas are considered hotbeds for insurgents and criminal elements.

"You would be surprised at what these animals can do," said Spc. Alexis D. Azevedo, a trooper from the Horse Detachment, "I remember the mule was fully loaded and we were in steep box canyon. I thought there was no way were making it up this hill, but we did."

Azevedo attended the Marine Animal Packing Course at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in order to better prepare for smuggling operations and handling animals. The course taught proper ways to load munitions and supplies onto horse, mule and donkeys.

"A lot of their livelihoods down there are farmers; they herd goats, sheep, whatever," said Azevedo. "If you're not used to seeing goats running around town you might be questioning it a little more. It's just something else to get used to."

As the enemy studies coalition forces training, tactics and procedures, coalition forces must evolve their tactics and procedures to counter the enemy, he said. Soldiers training at Fort Irwin will have a better understanding of the capabilities of pack animals and be able to respond tactically because of the Horse Detachment's mission at the National Training Center.

Page last updated Fri May 4th, 2012 at 00:00