By Maj. Gen. James C. McConville, commanding general, 101st Airborne Division, Combined Joint Task Force - 101, and Regional Command EastSeptember 18, 2013
Greetings from Afghanistan.
Having officially passed the mid-point of the Division's deployment to Afghanistan, it's worthwhile to reflect a bit on where we were and where we are now. At the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan was once a country run by the Taliban, a country that provided safe haven to al Qaeda, a country that had no real infrastructure or public services, and was a country with no security forces to protect and defend its population from the horrors of war and oppression. Since then, Afghanistan and its people have come a long way. Your Screaming Eagles continue to perform a critical role in the success of our mission, supporting the Afghan National Security Forces as they lead the effort to secure their nation for the first time since this conflict began nearly twelve years ago.
Today, in Regional Command East, there is a strong, powerful, and professional Afghan National Army of over 39,000 soldiers. There is a Uniformed Police Force of over 23,000 officers; a Border Police of nearly 8,000; a Civil Order Police of nearly 4,000; and over 8,000 more Local Police working to secure their homes and the homes of their neighbors and countrymen. All told, there are over 84,000 Afghan Patriots serving in the Afghan National Security Forces in Regional Command East, an area nearly the size of Virginia.
These forces are not just large in number. They are large in capability, and they are in the lead securing their country. Today, the Afghan National Security Forces independently employ their own mortars and artillery. They independently conduct air assault operations. They treat and evacuate their wounded. They clear their routes of improvised explosive devices. They supply and sustain themselves, often in very remote areas. Yet most importantly, they work together and conduct complex operations among the multiple pillars of the Afghan National Security Forces.
In a recent interview with members of the international and local media I was asked if I thought the Afghans were winning. My answer is that the Afghans believe they are winning; and, frankly, I tend to agree with them. Nevertheless, we remain aware of the fact that the final bell hasn't rung yet. Sustaining our momentum and the momentum achieved by the Afghan National Security Forces this fighting season, your Screaming Eagles remain on the offensive; advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces as they grow increasingly independent.
As the summer comes to a close, the 4th Brigade Combat Team "Currahee" continues to advise and assist their Afghan partners in the provinces of Khowst and Paktya. The summer produced significant rainfall in the later weeks of August causing rocks slides, road washouts, and the destruction of a bridge along the main road between the two provinces, the Khowst -- Gardez Road. The Currahees assisted by repairing a 75 meter washout and coordinating for the replacement of a 50 meter bridge span, helping to restore freedom of movement between two vital provinces.
Capitalizing on the gains from the previous month, the Currahees assisted the 1st Brigade, 203rd ANA Corps in the planning and execution of Operation Nijat III, an Afghan National Security Forces operation to clear insurgent support zones. Two of the ANA Brigade's Kandaks spearheaded the operation with little assistance, clearing areas once beyond their reach such as the Shah-e-Kot Valley (an area the Afghans had not been in 10 years); and demonstrating their increased strength, power, and professionalism to a grateful local population.
The resolve and independent capability demonstrated by the Afghan National Security Forces is a true testament to the efforts of the Soldiers of Task Force Currahee.
The 101st Sustainment Brigade "Lifeliners" continue to execute sustainment operations in support of the Screaming Eagle Division. The Lifeliners are proud to provide the "muscle movement" in the process of troop drawdown, redeployment and retrograde of equipment from Afghanistan. The Lifeliners also welcomed the 77th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion from the Puerto Rico Army Reserve, also known as the "Garitas" (Watchtower), into our formation. The Garitas will assist the brigade with continued sustainment of the force and support the retrograde and redeployment mission in Regional Command -- East, North and Capitol.
This last month also brought with it a reminder of why we are here and a moment to honor all those who served. Pausing to remember the twelfth anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, I had the honor of addressing members of Combined Joint Task Force -- 101 and Regional Command East during a ceremony here at Bagram Airfield and in front of a 9-foot tall steel beam from the World Trade Center, which stands in front of our headquarters as a constant reminder of why we are here.
As summer turns to fall, we are now looking toward the end of the summer fighting season and transition to the winter sustaining season. Without slowing, we are working with our Afghan partners to sustain the pressure on the Enemies of Afghanistan, driving them out without respite as they begin to withdraw ahead of the winter weather. We are also working alongside them to assist in developing their fall and winter campaign plans; and we continue to realign our force and effort towards improving the ability of our partners to conduct critical individual training, first-aid and casualty evacuation, and to counter the threat of improvised explosive devices. We will also focus a great deal of effort over the next several months on assisting the Afghans to improve their ability to sustain and maintain the capabilities we worked so hard to help them develop. In this effort we will focus on ensuring the Afghan National Security Forces are adequately manned, trained and equipped in critical enabling functions; and that they are able to sustain the required levels to maintain the critical capabilities they will need for the future.
This is a very decisive time for the war and the people of Afghanistan. As the Afghan National Security Forces drive the Enemies of Afghanistan out and transition to the Winter Sustaining Season, much attention is also shifting to the political arena. Of critical importance, a Bi-lateral Security Agreement (BSA) is currently being negotiated between our two countries. Also, in October, the announcement of candidates to run in the 2014 Afghan National Elections is expected and highly anticipated by all. While several of the years in this conflict have been important, this year in particular is crucial as both the BSA and the 2014 Elections will do much in determining the future of Afghanistan and the Afghan people.
In closing, and with heavy heart, I ask that we honor our fallen Screaming Eagles this month.
Staff Sgt. Octavio Herrera, Sgt. Jamar A. Hicks, Spc. Keith E. Grace Jr., all from 4th Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team 'Currahee', rendered the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation and the Afghan people while performing their duties as Fire Support Specialists during an indirect fire attack at Combat Outpost Wilderness, Paktya Province, on 11 August 2013. Please keep them, their Family and friends, and their unit in your thoughts and prayers. We will always remember them as Currahees, Screaming Eagles, and true American heroes among the few who have answered the call of duty in the service of our country.
As always, I thank you for your continued support and dedication to our Screaming Eagle family and community. It is your untiring support that allows us to focus on accomplishing our critical mission here.