By Paul Steven GhiringhelliApril 14, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. --- During a brief trip home, the U.S. commander of forces in Afghanistan's critical southern region held a press conference at Fort Drum on April 7 to update northern New Yorkers on the war while also recognizing the community's steadfast support for its Soldiers.
"It's great to be back at Fort Drum," said Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, Regional Command South and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander. "(Many thanks) to the great North Country community out there for what you do for us in terms of supporting our Soldiers and their Families. I don't think we could do what we do without the support of the broader community."
Terry, who has commanded NATO troops in Regional Command South since November, told local and regional media that 10th Mountain Division (LI) units continue to keep pace with the tempo of operations in Afghanistan.
He reported that 1st Brigade Combat Team, which returned to the U.S. last month, did excellent work in northern Afghanistan. He said as 10th Combat Aviation Brigade continues operations in eastern Afghanistan, elements of 10th Sustainment Brigade will deploy this fall while 2nd Brigade Combat Team is preparing to deploy in 2012.
Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan, Terry said there's good news for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which began arriving last month. Coalition forces in the region now have "home-field advantage," he said, due to the heavy fighting last year that broke up insurgent strongholds in and around Kandahar.
"The number of deployments is still (high) for the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and the support units," Terry said. "But the good news is dwell time back at home is really starting to increase."
The general pointed out that during the division's 10-year history in Afghanistan, Soldiers typically received one year of dwell time for every year deployed. Looking ahead to 2012 and 2013, he said that ratio should change to better reflect the Army's goal of two years for Soldiers to rest at home for every year they are deployed.
"That's going to be welcomed," he emphasized. "I think what that means for the North Country community is you are going to see more Families accompanying Soldiers and staying for longer for all the right reasons."
In Afghanistan, Terry said NATO forces have worked hard all winter conducting counterinsurgency campaigns. A key to the progress there has been in maintaining an operational tempo that keeps insurgents off balance, he noted, while also seeking to reconnect the population back to their government.
"In addition to home-field advantage of the terrain, we also have a better government and governance structure there," he said.
Reconnecting the people to government means placing the right representation at the local level, explained Terry, adding that local governance develops at the village and sub-village levels, coalescing around mullahs, elders, mayors - and in rural areas, water officials.
"Water in Afghanistan, especially in southern Afghanistan, is very critical outside of the populated areas," Terry noted. "It really is an agrarian society."
The general said in the war with the Taliban, psychological warfare can be just as important as the battle over physical terrain.
"(Kandahar Province) really becomes decisive terrain for a lot of reasons, one of which is psychological," he said, adding that some districts near Kandahar City now under coalition control were never relinquished by the Taliban to the Russians.
"We are there," he said. "We have the home-field advantage, and that means that insurgents have to come to us. The psychological aspect of that is that we are holding that terrain now."
Known as the birthplace of the Taliban, Kandahar Province is considered by coalition leaders as a keystone to southern Afghanistan, the Pashtun people and Kandahar City.
In Regional Command South - which includes 42 districts in the provinces of Daykundi, Zabul, Oruzgan and Kandahar - Terry commands more than 23,000 troops from 16 nations. That accounts for nearly 20 percent of the total 132,000 troops currently assigned to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In addition, some 29,000 Afghan National Security Forces troops partner with NATO-led operations in the south.
Five years ago, Terry spent roughly five months in this same area during a division deployment. He said the most notable difference since then is the progress of local leadership and ANSF capabilities.
"I see (ANSF) starting to step in and step up and soldiering their security responsibilities here," the commander said, citing as an example how members of ANSF competently responded to recent riots set off in Kandahar and elsewhere by an American who burned a copy of the Quran.
Even though positive signs show promise for the country's future security, Terry said a decisive factor in any transition of forces down the road will need to be "conditions-based."
"The ANSF has to be able to control this insurgency themselves," he said. "But it will be different wherever you go in Afghanistan.
"I will not put a timeline on it," he added, "because we will know it when we get there."
Terry said Afghans he knows do not want a return to the days of the Taliban. He pointed out how, since his arrival, roughly 96 percent of civilian casualties in his area have been caused by insurgents, who many times plant improvised explosive devices on major civilian thoroughfares.
"An insurgent population that still elects to do that is pretty bad and pretty damning," he said. "It hurts the entire economy to do that."
Some insurgents suddenly realize this, and they decide to reconcile and reintegrate into society, he said.
"Reconciliation is a (part) of the political process in (which) the government of Afghanistan has to reach out to the Taliban," the general said. "There are a lot of signs of real progress here."
Terry said just in the past two weeks, 100 insurgents have expressed an interest in reconciliation.
In the case of insurgents who continue to fight, Terry said coalition forces seek a "holistic" approach in neutralizing the enemy, which includes assaulting any network that develops and uses the most casualty-producing weapon - the IED.
"Without going into a classified level, we've been pretty successful at attacking those networks," he said. "We do all that, not only in an effort to reduce the (number) of insurgents on the battlefield, but also to take care of our Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are exposed to these casualty-producing devices."
Terry finished his time with reporters by reflecting on the division's past decade of war-fighting, and the only other time in his memory that the entire division was back in garrison - a three-week period in July 2005.
"It has been a heck of a pace," he said "(But) I would tell you that without the community that (we) have here, reaching out to the Soldiers and the Families, I'm not sure that it would have been sustainable. With the broader community, it has been more than sustainable.
"I certainly appreciate the outreach and everything that folks are doing for our Soldiers and Families out there."