ANSF achieves Afghan-sustainable success
February 23, 2013
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - While much of the rest of the world looks for answers to the questions that surround the fate of Afghanistan after coalition forces leave in 2014, one group of people is working to make Afghanistan a better and safer place right now and for the future: the Afghan National Security Forces.
The Afghan National Army recently led a joint operation that included elements of the Afghan Uniformed Police, the Afghan Local Police, the Afghan National Civil Order Police, and the National Directorate of Security. Not only did they conduct this operation in the winter - not the usual fighting season - they fought the enemy on its home field of Kapisa province.
With a population of approximately 393,000 and a land area of around 700 square miles, Kapisa is the smallest of all 34 provinces in Afghanistan; yet, it is one of the most strategically significant.
The terrain of Kapisa is a combination of plains, high and steep mountains, and deep river valleys. It sits approximately 50 miles northeast of Kabul, north of Highway 7, the thoroughfare that connects Pakistan to Kabul. Its proximity to Kabul, its access to Highway 7, and its deep valleys that hide insurgents gives Kapisa its significance.
The 3rd Brigade of the 201st ANA Corps just completed a week-long operation called SARBOZ VI that was designed to clear a large swath of land near Highway 7 north and into the mouth of the Bedraou Valley. Before SARBOZ VI, the valley was known to be filled with insurgents. In an interview with TOLOnews Feb.10, the provincial governor, Mehrabuddin Safi, outlined the problem:
"[Government] opposition groups and terrorists..., especially in the Tagab and Alasai districts, have gathered from every part of the world and are creating problems for the residents," said Safi.
A week later, the operational summary, as written by the U.S. advisors at the end of the fourth day of SARBOZ VI, stated the new condition: "The mouth of the Bedraou Valley has been cleared of INS (insurgent) influence and the ANSF has temporarily secured the local populace."
SARBOZ VI was part of a series of operations designed to clear several valleys in Kapisa Province of insurgents. The operations have been led by the ANA and supported by the Afghan police, intelligence agency, and special operations commandos. With each iteration of SARBOZ operations, the ANA has demonstrated a dramatically increased ability to command and control such an operation while the soldiers and police officers have demonstrated an equally increased ability to fight the enemy.
Brig. Gen. Sakidad is the new commander of the 3rd brigade of the 201st ANA Corps. Having taken command the week before SARBOZ VI, he and his brigade is responsible for clearing insurgents from Kapisa and setting the conditions for the police forces to maintain security.
Sakidad is all business. His intensity is palpable as he interacts with his subordinates.
"I'm thinking about our responsibility to bring security to the people. The enemy is weak. The coalition is leaving soon and we must make our soldiers strong. We must work together to have a strong security force," Sakidad told his staff at one point during the operation.
The brigade staff starts each morning with a battle update brief to the commander. Usually opportunities for each staff member to tell the commander about the activities of the previous day and the plan for the coming day, these meetings are often interactive and boisterous.
Not so on the first morning of SARBOZ VI. With the staff assembled around the conference room tables, Sakidad entered the room precisely at 8:00, sat down, and began speaking.
With a voice just loud enough to be heard by the 21 Afghan staff members and handful of U.S. advisors in the room, Sakidad went over the plan for the coming operation one final time.
No one else spoke; nothing was up for discussion. For 22 minutes, the commander gave final guidance to his entire staff before engaging the enemy.
When he was finished, he stood up from the table and left the room to go to his tactical operations center to command his brigade that had just begun to move.
Shortly after this demonstration of command authority, which had not been seen in the previous commander, Sakidad faced his first crisis as a brigade commander. One of his company commanders was wounded by an elevated improvised explosive device and was evacuated from the battlefield. Such a setback would have hindered, and probably stopped, any of the previous SARBOZ operations. Sakidad did not allow that to happen this time. He deftly commanded his troops as they both evacuated the injured commander and continued to push through to the objective.
As the Afghan battalions moved north through the battle space, Lt. Col. Samadi, the brigade operations officer, sat in the command center and monitored the four tactical radios and one cell phone and moved unit identification markers - small paper squares with double-sided tape on the back - along the paper map he used to track the battle.
The operations center is different from a current equivalent U.S. work space; a U.S. brigade operations center would have computers, wall-mounted monitors and encrypted tactical radios. But the four radios and paper map of the Afghan TOC are Afghan-sustainable and they are effective. Furthermore, the Afghan TOC is not unlike a U.S. TOC just a few years ago. It's been said that today's ANA is better equipped than the U.S. Army was in Operation Urgent Fury in Granada, in 1983.
Later in the morning of the first day, the report came in that the company commander who was a victim of an Improvised explosive device died of his wounds en route to the hospital. Visibly shaken by this, but still confident and in command, Sakidad ordered his charges to continue to push north.
During a lull in the battle reporting, the Afghan soldiers in the command center talked with their American partners about the places in U.S. that they had been to. Sakidad had visited Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Campbell, Ky., and Washington, D.C. The brigade command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Kallid, had visited Texas and California. Samadi said he had never been to America, but in a tangential conversation, he told the Americans that he has two daughters and four sons, the oldest of which attends a university in Afghanistan. Samadi, who is 50 years old and has been in the army for 31 years, made it clear he serves in the army in part, so his sons do not have to.
As SARBOZ VI progressed over four days, there were challenges and set-backs. Several times the force was slowed down while its engineers cleared other IEDs. One ANA soldier was killed while praying on the battlefield. While every casualty in war is tragic, Sakidad put these losses in perspective for his staff and for his units: "We have lost young soldiers and officers, but we must keep these gains."
The success of SARBOZ VI is due, in large part, to the combined effort of several different security forces. Just as it would have been the case in a U.S. military operation, before the ANA and the police forces began clearing the valley.Afghan special operations commandos were in the valley setting conditions for success by the conventional forces. Before the conventional force began movement, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Kuth, the coalition advisor to Sakidad, reminded the brigade staff that the commandos had already done their job. "It is now up to us to do our job."
And they did. In ways that are Afghan-sustainable, Sakidad and Samadi ensured that their objective was achieved: that the mouth of the valley was cleared of insurgents. Of course, they could not have done it alone. The soldiers of the ANA and the officers of the police forces did their individual duties.
People like Khier Udin, a young ANA engineer lieutenant in the 3rd brigade, who make a difference every day in Afghanistan. Udin's job is to find and disable IEDs.
"The Taliban forces were not able to fight face to face. With all cruelty, they planted IEDs along the transit roads in order to stop the Afghan National Army's successful operations. I neutralized 24 emplaced IEDs with the help of my friends," Udin said of an earlier operation in Kapisa Province.
The success of SARBOZ VI is noted by the coalition advisors.
"The 201st Corps has gained control and are making magic happen," said U.S. Army Capt. Greg McElwain, a coalition advisor to the ANA.
The results of SARBOZ VI are immediately apparent. Far more important than a statement on a U.S. operation summary slide is the opinion of the people the ANSF is charged to protect.
"We are grateful to the Afghan forces for what they have done here," a local villager in the Tagab District of Kapisa Province told the local media.
When SARBOZ VI ended, after the ANSF had cleared the six-mile stretch of villages heading north from Highway 7, killing or detaining some 55 insurgents and disabling several IEDs in the process, the soldiers and officers had to move six miles south to their foward operating base. They did so with no contact from the enemy. They returned to base after a successful operation with their heads held high having achieved Afghan success.