By Sean Kimmons, Army News ServiceJanuary 30, 2019
WASHINGTON -- After an insider attack killed the police chief of Kandahar Province and wounded two U.S. Soldiers, the Afghan government had a defiant response, a senior Army officer said Wednesday.
The Taliban had hoped the Oct. 18 attack would deter the country's parliamentary elections, which were only a few days away.
Instead, the government carried them out and its security forces protected polling sites and delivered election material on their own in what was believed to be their first time doing so.
As a result, voter turnout in Kandahar came in higher than expected.
"They planned the security, they collaborated and they ultimately conducted it," said Col. David Zinn, commander of 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "It demonstrates the resiliency of the Afghan security forces we saw in the south following that very tragic attack."
Zinn, who also served as the deputy commander of Train Advise Assist Command-South, spoke to reporters Wednesday about his brigade's nine-month deployment that ended in November.
While deployed, he said his brigade observed Afghan security forces continually take the lead and roll out a series of improved capabilities.
The Afghan National Army, for instance, employed unmanned aerial sensors to identify targets for artillery and assist with close air support. Afghan pilots carried out missions on Afghan attack and transportation helicopters.
"Afghan security forces conduct patrols and offensive operations and are responsible for the security of their country," Zinn said. "Coalition forces have a small footprint and provide training, advising and enabler support."
Soldiers in his brigade also worked closely with coalition partners. Romanian and Bulgarian troops helped them secure Kandahar Airfield, while Australian officers filled critical roles on the TAAC-South staff.
Zinn's brigade mainly focused on advising at the corps level, he said, while the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade concentrated at the brigade level and below.
One of Zinn's battalions, however, served as a theater response force and sent groups of Soldiers to advise Afghans at outposts as part of expeditionary advisory operations.
At the same time as its Afghanistan deployment, his brigade also deployed a cavalry squadron to Kosovo as part of Operation Joint Guardian. There, Soldiers performed reconnaissance and security along the administrative border between Kosovo and Serbia.
Being able to split up its forces and still complete both missions, the colonel said, showed the effectiveness of his brigade to conduct operations in separate locations.
"It suggests that a U.S. Army brigade combat team is suited to conduct expeditionary operations [with] a mission command capability," he said.
The brigade plans to embark on another unique journey after Army leaders announced last year the unit would convert from an infantry BCT to a Stryker BCT in the spring of 2020.
The decision is part of the Army's realignment of forces to deter near-peer adversaries or, if needed, to defeat them.
Earlier in the deployment, Zinn also recalled how the Afghan government unilaterally declared a three-day ceasefire in June for the Islamic holiday of Eid.
It was the country's first cessation of hostilities at the national level, he said.
While the Taliban did not publicly agree to it, Zinn said enemy fighters could still be seen across the country celebrating the temporary peace alongside Afghan security forces and the Afghan people.
When the ceasefire ended, the Taliban resumed its attacks. The brief pause in fighting still gave Zinn and others hope.
"The Afghan army continues to improve and the summer ceasefire provided proof to the Afghan people," he said. "Even so, Kandahar remains in conflict. The environment remains dynamic and complex.
"While challenges remain," he added, "we [returned home] with a sense of cautious optimism that momentum is building for a resolution to the conflict."