By Sgt. Francis O'Brien, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat TeamOctober 3, 2011
ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 3, 2011 -- U.S. Soldiers took part in Operation Fairbanks, a route clearing and base building mission, in collaboration with Afghan National Security Forces in Zabul province Sept. 17-21 to reclaim a road between Qalat, the provincial capital, and Mizan, the Mizan district capital, held by the Taliban for the past year.
Operation Fairbanks, five months in the planning, was led by Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division from Fort Wainwright, Alaska. The mission was to clear and secure Route Chicken, the primary road between Qalat and Mizan, of any improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and build four checkpoints for Afghan National Army soldiers.
Once built, ANA soldiers will be stationed at the checkpoints for a nine month tour of duty patrolling the area and providing security.
"Our goal is not only to show the Afghan police and army that the route is open," said Capt. Jeremy S. Medaris, Charlie Company, 1-24th commander, "but also to show the populace and the insurgents that the route is open to daily traffic."
The 1-24th has kept one platoon stationed at Mizan that was previously supplied by air drops with troops rotated in and out by helicopter. Because the road was considered too dangerous, the Mizan district governor had been flown to Qalat for governmental meetings.
"With the route open, we'll be able to do convoy resupply to our Soldiers in Mizan," said executive officer of Charlie Company, 1-24th, Capt. Joseph M. Lapointe.
"It's a big win for the GIRoA," said Sgt. Michael McAllister, vehicle commander for Stryker vehicle 65, who provided security for troops working on base construction, referring to the acronym for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The reopening of the road gives the GIRoA direct access to Mizan and increases the visibility and legitimacy of the local government. Reopening the route will create economic activity in Mizan and an economic corridor between Mizan and Qalat. Route Chicken had been closed for over a year because of IED activity.
"The road hadn't been an option for the people because they were either taxed by the Taliban along the road, forced to take a Taliban-owned taxi, or just taking a risk," said McAllister.
The goal of the U.S. is to give Route Chicken the same level of security as Highway 1 -- part of the main ring road that connects Zabul to Kandahar and Kabul.
Using heavy earth-moving equipment and supplies transported as part of a convoy, U.S. and ANA troops built one base every day approximately every five miles along the road.
Forward Operating Base, or FOB, Massoud was used as the lead support area for the mission. All supply runs, staging of vehicles and equipment, and any needed repairs were coordinated out of FOB Massoud. Assembled there were Task Force Legion and the 59th Mobility Augmentation Company.
Platoon Sgt. Ataqalla from the ANA 2nd Battalion in Zabul was responsible for five to six Humvees, providing security for the engineering vehicles, bucket loaders and bulldozers, without which Operation Fairbanks could not have happened.
"I'm happy to serve my people by making these checkpoints," said Ataqalla. "We expect many more vehicles along the road with the checkpoints up. We're very glad you guys are helping."
A formal ceremony celebrating the reopening of Route Chicken is scheduled for Sept. 27 in Mizan.