Thursday, 27 September 2012

Army leaders adjust to role as Afghan advisers

After years of taking the lead on the battlefield, Army leaders from Fort Campbell are learning how to take a backseat role when they return to Afghanistan this fall to serve as military advisers.
About 1,900 troops from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, will serve as a Security Force Assistance Brigade with a mission to prepare the Afghan security forces for the coming withdrawal of NATO troops.
It’s a much different role than during the brigade’s previous deployment during the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan. During 2010 and 2011, the brigade’s battalions and cavalry units fought in eastern Afghanistan’s mountains to root out Taliban safe havens.
With the surge troops gone, the teams will be a minority among Afghans just as insider attacks on NATO forces by Afghans have been rising this year. NATO has re-examined the vetting and training of some of the Afghan security forces and now a higher-level of approval is required for some joint patrols in an effort to protect its soldiers from Taliban infiltrators.
While the brigade partnered before with the Afghan National Army and police forces, the brigade this time will leave most of the planning and operations up to Afghan military leaders, providing support rather than leading missions.
Maj. Eldridge Browne, from the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, acknowledged it may be a challenge for some of the brigade’s leaders to step back and serve more as teachers than battle space owners.

“They are a sovereign nation and their soldiers are very capable and so we will advise them, but at the end of the day they are going to make the decisions,” Browne said. “Is it hard for our guys? Yes.”
Another big challenge is only about half the brigade is deploying, which includes mostly officers and senior noncommissioned officers. They will be organized into small 12-16 man assistance teams that can work independently or in conjunction with the brigade’s artillery support, intelligence, surveillance and other assets.
Leaders from the brigade practiced working in the small teams during live-fire training exercises at Fort Campbell this month.
Capt. John Ford, with 1st Battalion, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, said the training was the first time he worked with his new team members in a real life scenario. Whereas he would normally command more than 90 combat ready soldiers, his small team is made up of a mix of backgrounds meant for teaching rather than fighting.
“A lot of the guys are not the type I am used to deploying with. It’s a lot of senior leaders, guys that have specific job sets, like communications, personnel or logistics,” Ford said.
In the practice scenario, the teams were moving in a vehicle convoy when they were attacked with simulated roadside bombs in a complex coordinated assault. The assistance teams practiced requesting air support and mortar fire to take out enemy forces, while security detachments kept the teams safe from attacks.
Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation who has worked with U.S. Special Operations Command, said the military advisers need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Afghans, but they will be hindered somewhat, but not completely, by the recent restrictions on partnering because of insider attacks.
“It is becoming more difficult because there are growing restrictions on partnering out in the field,” Jones said.
Jones noted that Special Operations have deployed small teams to work inside Afghan villages for years and have effectively found ways to keep themselves protected from attacks.
“The secret is really embedding yourself in local communities, understanding the tribal, subtribal and clan structure and working with local Afghans and building a strong intelligence network within the local populations,” he said.
Ford said the teams are trained to keep vigilant against insider attacks while they work with the Afghans, but he is also emphasizing the team’s relationship and interpersonal skills that could help spot threats. Many of these team members have deployed multiple times and have picked up some language and cultural skills.
“I don’t think the threat of an insider attack is going to limit me in my ability to advise in any way shape or form,” Ford said. “All I can do is make sure the security measures are there to protect ourselves and that the relationship is there so you can tell when they are being sincere.”
With less control over how the Afghan units operate, Ford said the team will have to keep an open mind going into Afghanistan.
“It’s an Afghan unit with Afghan solutions. I can’t go in there with the mindset that that this is the way we did it and we are successful, now you’re going to do it my way,” he said.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...