KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - NATO-led Resolute Support and Afghan leaders throughout the Combined Joint Operation Area of Afghanistan participated in a transfer of authority ceremony, June 30, for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Lathrop, the Train, Advise and Assist Command-South outgoing commander, relinquished authority of the command to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley, the incoming commander.
"Serving as the TAAC-South commander has been the most extraordinary experience of my career," said Lathrop. "No commander can ask for more than what the team has given in bravery, compassion, and strength of character. I cannot think of a better leader to assume command than Brig. Gen. Smiley, whose experience in Afghanistan and passion to accomplish the mission will be vital to his team's success."
The command is composed of U.S. Army Soldiers from 40th Infantry Division, California National Guard and 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. The command's mission is to train and advise Afghan security forces. Its U.S. forces also assist with counterterrorism operations in southern Afghanistan.
Smiley, who will lead the second group of 40th Infantry Division Soldiers, said he is excited to continue the legacy Lathrop and his team started in southern Afghanistan and to work with NATO allies.
"It's with the deepest humility, respect and appreciation to again have the opportunity to work with our Afghan partners, shoulder to shoulder," Smiley said. "My appreciation for their bravery, honor, professionalism and warrior spirit leaves me with aspiration to call to them brother and commit the entire TAAC-South team to their full success. We will together create the conditions to end this war and achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan."
Lathrop, and his Soldiers, arrived to Afghanistan in October 2017 to form the headquarters staff of Train, Advise and Assist Command-South; however, their arrival to Afghanistan was just the beginning of a milestone to their unit's history.
The first group of 40th Infantry Division Soldiers, led by Lathrop, made history as being part of the division's first combat deployment since the Korean War.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, Resolute Support deputy chief of staff for operations and U.S. Forces Afghanistan deputy commanding general for operations, officiated the transfer of authority and thanked Lathrop and his team for their dedication to the train, advise and assist mission.
"There is no greater honor than leading troops in combat, especially with this year being the 100th anniversary of the 'Ball of Fire's' first deployment in World War I," said Poppas. "Uncasing your colors for the first time since the Korean War, you embraced the mission, adjusted it during the year, and showed incredible flexibility through the dynamic transition in mission and resourcing, which showed incredible success."
During Lathrop's time in command, Train, Advise and Assist Command-South welcomed the Soldiers of the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, secured a remote outpost to increase tactical and advisory resources, and witnessed a ceasefire between the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and Taliban forces.
Poppas remarked that the team's ability to take enemy fighters and infrastructure off the battlefield while also ensuring zero Afghan civilian causalities is a great tribute to their commitment to the mission and to the values that make the 40th Infantry Division a trusted partner of the Soldiers and citizens of Afghanistan.
Lathrop credits those successes to the help of Afghan counterparts such as the 205th Afghan National Army Corps.
"It is through shared will and determination that the Taliban is on the run across the entirety of TAAC-South," said Lathrop. "In the nine months that I have been here, not one district center has fallen, multiple [Taliban] Red Units have been suppressed or neutralized, and all this because of (the Afghan Army's) steadfast leadership through adversity."
As Lathrop prepares to take his Soldiers back to California, he said he will miss the Soldiers and partnerships made during the past nine months.