KABUL, Afghanistan -- A fortress dating back to the 5th century, once occupied by the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan, a focus-point for the first and second Anglo-Afghan War, and a pivotal point in the history of Afghanistan, served as the setting officially marking the next level of advising to the Afghan National Army from American forces.
Security Force Assistance Team "Strike 1" of Cross Functional Team Warrior, 10th Mountain Division and the 1st Battalion, 1st Mobile Strike Force Brigade, Afghan National Army ventured together to the Bala Hissar fortress in Kabul to mark a significant advisory transition point for American Forces operating in Afghanistan, Aug. 26.
Strike 1 have been advising the 1st MSF since April of this year.
This event signified the transition to a split-focused advisory platform. The split-focus being retrograde operations of U.S. weapons and equipment, and the other being a level-two advisory methodology.
"We still maintain contact with the kandak, while its not physical contact, its conversational contact. We monitor progress, assist in overcoming obstacles and still continue to mentor," said Maj. Kenneth Moran, Strike 1 commander. "That will transition into us serving as a conduit of information on behalf of the kandak where we can pass information onto higher levels of command, as required."
Once reaching the top of the fortress, the ANA soldiers prepared a briefing into the history of Bala Hissar and its surrounding area to share with the SFAT; showcasing the history from 5th century construction all the way through the second Anglo-Afghan War ending in 1880. "This kind of event will bring the kandak together, it's something they can display nationalism in and take pride in their country; where they have been and where they are going," said Moran. "For us, it's our citadel of transition; it was an emotional event. Emotional because the kandak and us will no longer have physical contact; but a positive event because it signifies the kandak is ready to be independent."
The MSF battalion, configured of highly-capable armored security vehicles, serves under authority of the Ministry of Defense as a national quick reaction force out of Camp Warehouse in Kabul.
"They have the ability to move into battle, lay down bases of fire with their vehicles, and then dismount infantry to maneuver on the enemy in the close fight. Their capabilities are endless," said Maj. Moran.
This ANA unit has been together for over seven years, consistently performing in some very difficult and contested locations in Afghanistan.
"They have internally developed a bond that I have never seen before in an army outside of our own, I'm very impressed with their combat record," said the SFAT commander. "It was very easy to train them because of their level of experience."
Small-talk with their counterparts led to interesting ideas outside of advising itself. They expressed an interest in earning an equivalent to the U.S. Army's Expert Infantry Badge. The kandak's operations officer, Maj. Muhammad Aslam, instantly said "that's something we have to do."
"We agreed it was something they wouldn't be able to conduct until the fighting season ended and after our SFAT departed the country," said Moran.
So, the SFAT set them up with the ability to conduct the course on their own. They levelled subject matter expertise by communicating with the infantry branch in the U.S. and from the expertise coming from within the SFAT itself, having multiple EIB holders.
"We packaged information for them, had it all translated and basically spent a day advising them on how to properly conduct the lanes, in a very specific manner," said the SFAT leader.
The team then set up lanes and ran a select group of leaders from the MSF through them.
"We didn't have enough information to conduct the EIB lanes, but this SFAT assisted us greatly in preparing us to be able to conduct them ourselves. The entire battalion is very appreciative. I have worked with a lot of different forces, I take away a lot from this SFAT particularly," said the ANA operations officer.
The intent now, after transition, is for the kandak to set up these lanes to get certified by higher level command. These soldiers will serve as the basic cadre for the skill badge event. They will push this standard up the ANA channels and eventually make it into an official ANA badge. Members of this kandak can attest that the organizational behavior of the 1st MSF is far more advanced than what they would normally see from an ANA unit; or a military organization that has been performing for hundreds of years, for that matter.
"We know that this kandak is a historical kandak. It's the first of the MSF kandaks created; my Soldiers understand they are a part of that history," said Moran.
"We built a great relationship with them. They worked hard to help our kandak with tactical training on the MSFV [Moblie Strike Force Vehicle], range training, they trained our personnel on all of our equipment and assisted us with the MDMP [Military decision Making Process]," said Maj. Aslam, the 10-year ANA veteran.
"Generally, this is a kandak that can fight and win wherever it's placed. They have special equipment and special training; it really comes down to the soldier, you could strip them of their equipment and they would still win. They're just gritty, tough soldiers that will fight for each other, themselves and their country," said the MSF's mentor.
"We have the ability and power to destroy the enemy. I can say 100 percent that we are able to defend our country and our border," said Maj. Aslam. "We are ready to fight; it's our responsibility to our country to protect our civilians."