By Jon Connor, DCOM-Regional Support/NTM-A Public Affairs OfficerMay 24, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Commanders from the six Regional Support Commands in Afghanistan concluded their three-day conference May 19 with recommendations that they believe will allow them to transition into the mid-term future.
The six RSCs report to the Deputy Commander-Regional Support, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, headquartered at Camp Eggers, Kabul. Brigadier General Tom Cosentino leads the command.
"That's very good," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commanding general, NTM-A /CSTC-A, to participants on the recommendations made at the out briefing.
The Regional Support Commands serve to integrate the capabilities of the NTM-A to address the Afghan National Security Force and Regional Command requirements.
Conference topics included transition, lessons for the future, logistics, training, security and personnel accountability.
"I think we're all searching for clarity and what's our final mission...it's a complex environment and makes it tough to do our jobs," Air Force Col. Bob Wicks, RSC-Capital commander said during a session.
Colonel Howard Arey, DCOM-RS chief of staff, led the out briefing. He pointed out three "big ideas" or key themes covered at the conference - the fielding of specialty units and institutions, partnering, and synchronizing transition.
The institutions referred to include the logistics functions of the Police and Army, and the fielding of speciality units like military intelligence, engineering, and signal battalions to complement the force, he said.
"These [specialty battalions] are the ones that are going to cement the Afghan National Security Force for sustainment," Arey said.
RSC commanders believe effective partnering is needed to ensure the specialty units' capabilities are established and "take root." This partnering is seen as an enabler and the keystone to the Afghan National Security Force's (Police, Army, and Air Force) ability to self-sustain, Arey said.
This partnering also recognizes the joint relationship between NTM-A, IJC (ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) Joint Command (NATO), and USFOR-A (United States Forces-Afghanistan) to ensure successful integration, utilization, and stewardship of the new capabilities.
But, because commanders recognize that "gaps" exist based on different region needs in Afghanistan, a "gray band" exists between the aforementioned units and contractors in support of missions.
"There is no thin black line" between NTM-A and IJC. "We all exist in the gray band," Arey said. Hence, synergy between these partners must take place in shared functions at the national and smaller unit levels, he explained.
To that end, commanders recommended that short- and long-term partner gap assessments be conducted between NTM-A and IJC regarding partnering strategy for each regional area.
Additionally, NTM-A should review its transition plan with expected geographic-based transition tranches. These tranches are essentially groups of Afghan provinces that are expected to transition. And, that NTM-A develop a personnel reinvestment plan to identify available personnel that can cover partnering gaps should they exist.
With synchronization, commanders recognized the collaborative processes must be improved to reinforce a common effort for all including the civilian government - having the right people, the right sources, at the right time.
To achieve this it was recommended that future NTM-A tasks be identified to meet needed unit sourcing for the RSCs for various transition structures. And to conduct forward support requirements inventory for these tasks so USFOR-A can account for NTM-A needs in its own transition plan, Arey said.
On the first day, Maj. Gen. James B. Mallory, deputy commanding general, NTM-A/CSTC-A, said the command was at a "pivotal point" regarding the future with the NTM-A mission.
Mallory said engaging with IJC was vital explaining that NTM-A and IJC are "joined at the hip." Both commands are converging in various areas and must "candidly share what you see out there" referring to the regions.
He added that issues shared must be "unvarnished" and "politically incorrect" that must be dealt with at the senior level.
Likewise, Caldwell pointed out the huge change in personnel that will take place this summer. "Think ahead, build ahead, and build continuity books," he said.
Caldwell also announced then that the Afghan Basic Patrolman Course will increase two weeks for a total of eight weeks of training.
Following evaluation of three pilot courses beginning in early July, the eight-week course is expected to begin nationally in October.
The overall transition to Afghan control, Caldwell said, is going to be both "institutional and geographical."
It is also important to reassure the ANSF that "we're not going to leave them," he said. "It would be very counterproductive" if we don't assure them.
Regarding money, Caldwell told commanders to "use it the best way possible" anticipating that funding will be reduced in the years ahead.
"We have to be judicious today," he said, predicting that in three years there won't be as much. "It starts now."
Also during the first day, the RSC senior enlisted leadership consisting of command sergeants major, sergeants major and their NTM-A peers held a two-hour meeting to discuss concerns. The meeting was chaired Command Sgt. Maj. David Vincent, DCOM-RS sergeant major.
Some of the issues discussed included enforcing the standards of training by having advisers/mentors communicate to the Afghans trainers to not deviate from established doctrine; the need for more training aids like protractors and compasses for map reading;' incorporating more Afghan suggestions to the program of instruction of training; emphasizing the role, function, and importance of Afghan sergeants major in the chain of command; and overall security concerns, on a training site and off.
"Take all the precautions you can," Vincent told the group. "Be vigilant, be hyper-vigilant. Comfort is the last thing we need to worry about."
Perhaps Col. Ron Metternich, RSC-East commander, put it best regarding the way forward when he said: "I'm a manager; I'm a leader; I'm a commander. I can make that mission happen."