By Maj. Steven Miller, Task Force Long Knife Public AffairsJune 25, 2013
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (June 25, 2013) -- With just eighteen months remaining before the end of coalition combat operations in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of the Army John McHugh met with U.S. and Afghan military leaders at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, June 20.
While here, McHugh met with the Security Force Advise and Assist Team, or SFAAT, that works with the Afghan National Army's, or ANA's, 201st Corps commander and staff, to assess how that mission is progressing.
"The SFAAT mission is the principal focus right now," said McHugh. "Very young Soldiers and young officers and NCOs are doing incredible work and doing it well as they train our Afghan partners"
This SFAAT is made up of Soldiers from the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, and the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based out of Fort Campbell, Ky. Each member of the team has an Afghan counterpart on the ANA corps staff. These U.S. and Afghan partners work together every day to help the Afghan staff officers identify and solve problems.
"The Afghans have the capabilities to lead this mission and are getting better every day," said McHugh. "They are developing as a military organization and display the courage and willingness to take on the fight."
McHugh met Maj. Gen. Muhammad Waziri, the commander of the ANA 201st Corps, as well.
McHugh listened intently as Wazeri chronicled several recent successful military operations that his corps has recently accomplished in the seven provinces north of Kabul without the aid of U.S. military combat forces.
"All highways are open to traffic; we pushed the enemy and insurgents from Koi-Safi. The valley we used to call Death Valley, we now call Peace Valley," said Wazeri.
In a particularly poignant moment in his conversation with McHugh, Wazeri spoke on a personal level.
"I've lost three brothers in the last four years [of the war], but I believe that the Taliban flag will never fly over Afghanistan again. I assure you," said Wazeri.
SFAATs are constructed to match U.S. military skills with Afghan needs to guide the ANA to a state of self-sufficiency. In the case of the 201st Corps it has worked as designed. The increase in abilities and confidence is unmistakable.
"Morale is very good and high. The situation is getting better, not worse," Wazeri proudly told McHugh.
McHugh left the sessions with the SFAAT and Wazeri with a better understanding of the effectiveness of the advise and assist mission, and with respect for the ANA commander.
"We are grateful for your leadership and the sacrifices you've endured," McHugh told Wazeri.
McHugh also met with the leadership of the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, to discuss other parts of their mission.
"The first challenge is to complete the mission. The fighting remains very dangerous and difficult. The other part of the mission is to physically remove ourselves," said McHugh.
As the brigade prepares to redeploy later in the summer, it has begun the process of retrograding equipment so it can be reset for use elsewhere in the Army. With the terrain, weather, and the on-going fighting season, this mission is like no other challenge the Army has ever faced.
"We had a big, big job getting ourselves out of Iraq. This is bigger still," said McHugh. "Afghanistan provides additional challenges based on geography, weather, and occasional disruptions in land routes."
After talking to the Soldiers and leaders and visiting several retrograde yards, McHugh is confident the mission will be accomplished.
Before leaving Gamberi, McHugh thanked the Soldiers for what they do every day. He emphasized the significance of their role, acknowledging the challenge of providing security, advising and assisting, while also retrograding equipment.
"You're here because there's no better way to meet this challenge," said McHugh