By Maj. Gen. James C. McConville, commanding general for 101st Airborne Division, Combined Joint Task Force 101, and Regional Command East, AfghanistanJuly 21, 2013
Just a few short days ago I had the opportunity to meet with all of the command's senior leaders to assess our current environment, share lessons learned, and determine our way ahead. With almost four full months passed since our Transfer of Authority on March 16, 2013, we have experienced a great deal of turnover. In fact, I often find that I am reminding myself, as well as my Brigade and Battalion leaders, that the most important thing leaders do is manage transitions.
The largest and most significant transition we are working through is the transition of responsibility for security operations to our Afghan partners. Secondly, we are challenged with a realignment of our forces on the ground and the retrograde of personnel and equipment as we re-posture the force to support our Security Force Advisory (SFA) mission. Lastly, with the change in mission and after more than a decade of war, we are rotating our units more frequently under a nine month deployment cycle. As a result we are already waving farewell to the great Screaming Eagles of the Bastogne Brigade, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) as well as members of my own former brigade, TF LongKnife, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Colonels JP McGee and William 'Bill' Benson and their Soldiers performed superbly and we wish them a safe return and reunion with their loved ones back home.
With the departure of TF Bastogne and TF LongKnife however, we are fortunate to bring in two new additions -- TF Patriot, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division; and, TF Black Jack, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Each of these brigades brings with them a great deal of history and capability, of which they can be very proud, and we are very glad to have them here as members of Combined Joint Task Force -- 101 and Regional Command -- East during this most recent of our Rendezvous with Destiny.
Following last month's announcement of Milestone 2013, and the formal assumption of the responsibility for security by the Afghan National Security Forces, I can confirm that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are getting the job done. With the beginning of the Islamic month of Ramadan just a few days ago, we are now at or near the mid-point of the traditional summer fighting season. Since March of this year, the ANSF consistently executed over 90% of operations in Regional Command -- East (RC-E) unilaterally; and, they are only getting better.
I find that I am consistently impressed by the dedication and patriotism the ANSF demonstrate as they face the Enemies of Afghanistan, regularly defeating their efforts to undermine peace and stability in the region. Alongside these brave Soldiers your Screaming Eagles continue to play a major role, advising and assisting the ANSF as they develop the skills necessary to ensure the enduring freedom of the Afghan people
In this last month the ANSF demonstrated a great deal of growth by conducting two Corps level operations, consisting of four brigades of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and supported by various elements of the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan Local Police (ALP), in the area south of the capital of Kabul. These operations significantly improved security along the main economic corridor, commonly known as Highway 1. In the area north of Kabul, the Afghans also demonstrated a great deal of independent capability by retaking the district of Wanat in Kunar province.
Combined Team Bastogne, of 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (AASLT), spent the last month moving from level one advising to level two advising. This involved going from day-to-day interaction with our Afghan partners to a less embedded form of advising that allows their units to have their own autonomy with periodic interaction with Bastogne Security Force Advise and Assist Teams, or SFAATs. During these less frequent meetings the SFAATs ensured that the Afghan-planned and led operations had everything they needed to succeed. Also, as part of the plan to reduce our footprint here in Afghanistan as the Afghans assume more responsibility, Bastogne was able to successfully transition numerous bases from Coalition control to the control of the ANSF. Bastogne will soon begin the process of redeploying back to Fort Campbell, as their deployment here is nearly complete. They have done an excellent job and can be very proud of all that they have accomplished.
With just over sixty days on the ground, the 4th Brigade Combat Team "Currahees" have advised and assisted their Afghan counterparts to achieve exceptional security gains in Khowst and Paktiya. The ANSF, with an emphasis on intelligence-driven operations and initiative, have taken the fight to the insurgents with remarkable results. The Afghans are confident and continue to increase their skills every day, incorporating their counter-IED, indirect fires, and medical capabilities. Most importantly, the ANSF are making a positive difference in the security situation and have the support of the people.
Task Force Lifeliner continues to sustain the warfighters in Regional Command's East, North and Capital, all while supporting retrograde operations, ensuring we safely and responsibly bring back the supplies and equipment we will need at home. The Lifeliner team spearheads the mission of ammunition retrograde for the entire theater of Afghanistan; which is a monumental task. Conducting daily sling load operations, aerial delivery operations and convoy security escort missions the Lifeliners truly demonstrate what it means to be 'Air Assault'.
On the 4th of July, we were privileged to host a naturalization ceremony during which 37 U.S. service members from 22 countries took the oath of citizenship. These inspiring U.S. Soldiers and Marines have already been serving the country that they love, while also helping the country of Afghanistan, and it was quite humbling to watch as they became American citizens. The Assistant Chief of Mission and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, David Robinson, was among other distinguished guests that attended this ceremony.
During this past month, we have also had several distinguished visitors and encounters with the media. Fox News' Lt. Col. (R) Oliver North attended the naturalization ceremony and was embedded with our troops to report from Regional Command East.
Later on the 4th of July, I conducted an interview with C-SPAN's Washington Journal. That interview may be viewed here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/313735-4
Of course, none of this progress comes without cost. This month we mourn the loss of two fellow Screaming Eagles. SGT Corey E. Garver, 26, of Company B, 1-506th Infantry, Task Force Currahee, was killed June 23rd, when he was struck by an IED while on a dismounted patrol in Paktiya Province. We also lost SGT Justin R. Rogers, 25, of non-battle related causes on June 28th at Bagram Airfield. These non-commissioned officers and their Families are in our thoughts and prayers daily.
As mentioned earlier, we are currently in the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is celebrated by Muslims around the world, including the millions of Muslim Americans in the United States. It is my hope that during this time of peace, those who are indiscriminately attacking their fellow Muslims will come to the table to talk to Afghanistan's government about peace and reconciliation. This is a time for faith, and a time to bring peace to all.
In sum, our Afghan partners are leading operations and we continue to work hard to ensure that they are successful. You can be very proud of your Screaming Eagles serving here, as they are making a real difference in the future of this country.
I tell the young infantrymen that I see during battlefield circulation that they may be disappointed that might not earn their combat infantryman's badge during this deployment. But that is ok -- that is what winning looks like. Winning means that the Afghans are in the lead, and right now, that is what we see.