KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Elements from Security Force Advisory and Assistance Team 13 trained Afghan National Army soldiers on the M2 .50 caliber machine gun weapons system at Forward Operating Base Tagab, May 18.
The SFAAT 13 advisors met with their Afghan counterparts at the motor pool on FOB Tagab to perform the hands-on training with ANA soldiers assigned to the 2nd Kandak, or battalion, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps. The outdoor training was to familiarize the ANA noncommissioned officers with the headspace and timing of the .50 caliber machine gun mounted on ANA vehicles.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joshua Lakey serves as advisor to ANA Maj. Ullah Aziz, the executive officer and acting kandak commander. The native of Atlanta, Ga., also serves as operations, or S3, advisor for SFAAT 13.
Lakey said they meet with their ANA counterparts individually to discuss any projects they are working on. The advisors visit their counterparts regularly to provide ANA leadership with solutions for any issues they might have.
During a recent joint operation, Lakey said, there was an incident, when under fire, an ANA soldier’s .50 caliber machine gun jammed, rendering the weapon inoperable. Unfortunately, the soldier did not know how to make the weapon fully operational again.
“They were familiar with some [.50 caliber machine gun] training, but they weren’t trained well enough to where they could execute it under fire,” said Lakey. “So that is what brought up today’s training event.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Terrette, a signal support systems specialist, provided the ANA noncommissioned officers with the knowledge so they can return to their platoons and train their soldiers on the weapon system.
Terrette is the SFAAT 13, communications noncommissioned officer-in-charge and serves as the ANA communications, or S6, advisor. He is assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Regiment, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
The morning began with the U.S. Soldiers walking to the ANA side of the FOB and meeting with their ANA counterparts. The .50 caliber machine gun was removed from the turret of an ANA Humvee and used for the class.
Under the mid-morning sun, the SFAAT advisors showed the soldiers how to safely take the weapon apart and reassemble it. The group of noncommissioned officers encircled Terrette and listened close to what the advisor had to say.
Through the use of an interpreter, the advisors answered questions the ANA soldiers had about the weapon system. With the machine gun on the floor, Terrette showed them how to safely disassemble it.
ANA Sgt. Nemullah, like many Afghans who go by one name, has been in the army for more than three years. He said he is a platoon sergeant and enjoys being a noncommissioned officer.
“I have to educate and train my soldiers how to use this weapon, that is my job,” said Nemullah.
After a familiarization with the components of the M2, the ANA soldiers removed the barrel, picked it up from the motor pool floor and repositioned on its mount atop the Humvee.
Next, the advisors instructed and supervised the ANA soldiers on the headspace and timing of the .50-caliber machine gun. The adjustment procedures must be performed each time the barrel is installed. Firing a weapon that has improperly set headspace and timing could damage the machine gun, or cause injury to the gunner.
With the use of a headspace and timing gauge and a translated version of an M2 machine gun technical manual, the ANA soldiers took turns removing and reinstalling the barrel and properly checked the headspace and timing of their weapon. They followed the steps by-the-book and each of the soldiers practiced performing a functions check on the gun.
“Today’s training was very good, we’ve had this training a long time ago and right now they refreshed our mind. We are very happy with the training from our advisors,” said Nemullah.
The ANA platoon sergeant said it is important for his soldiers to know how to use every weapon in his kandak.
“I tell my soldiers this is our country, and we have to defend it from whoever is trying to be against our country,” said Nemullah.
Terrette is a native of Phoenix, Ariz., and said the SFAAT team does not visit the ANA side of the camp as often as they have in the past when they first arrived at FOB Tagab.
“We advise every other day so they can grow on their own, and we can check on their progress,” said Terrette. “We train the NCOs so they can be self-reliant, and spend time training their soldiers.”
“The XO does a wonderful job listening to our recommendations and understands what we are trying to accomplish,” said Terrette, speaking of the new leadership in the kandak.
Aziz said Coalition Forces do not provide the support they used to and that is not a bad thing. He said they helped the ANA in many ways from providing literacy classes to weapons training.
“Right now the SFAAT teams are allowing us to stand up on our own two feet,” said Aziz.
As the acting commander, Aziz said he holds officers and senior noncommissioned officers accountable for their soldiers and said he makes sure they do their jobs.
“In the past, the U.S. Soldiers did a lot for the ANA, and that allowed some soldiers to become lazy,” said Aziz. “Now the ANA will have to remember all of their previous training so they can do their jobs by themselves.”
Terrette said the ANA soldiers maintain constant communication with the check points and combat outposts near the base.
“They have gone from checking on things every once in a while to checking on things every day,” said Terrette.
Lakey, a native of Atlanta, Ga., said he has witnessed the vast improvements the ANA have made during his time as an advisor. He said his mission as an advisor has been full of challenges.
“These guys know how to fight, but they don’t always have the tools available,” said Lakey. “I hope they can get their supply system fixed sooner than later so that it will allow resources get to where they are needed.”
As his redeployment back home draws closer, he said he hopes the ANA will continue to grow and make the mission their own, not only for themselves but also for their country.
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The mission of Security Force Assistance Advisory Team 15 is to advise Afghan National Army soldiers on field artillery, reconnaissance, engineering and other operations at Forward Operating Base Naghlu High.
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to SFAAT 15 advise ANA soldiers of the 4th Kandak, (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps, during their missions as they conduct independent operations and prepare to assume responsibility for the security of their country.
“Working together every day, it’s really rewarding to see them progress, and conduct independent operations,” said U.S. Army Capt. Zhuoyi Gu, SFAAT 15 reconnaissance company advisor.
He and the rest of his team replaced French army reconnaissance advisors over 6 months ago. Gu is assigned to 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
In his opinion, the ANA’s main challenges are dealing with maintenance and logistics issues. Gu said there is a logistics advisor assigned to SFAAT 15 and works with his ANA counterpart to deal with those issues.
“But as far as going out and being able to conduct independent operations, providing security in an area and being able to engage insurgent elements, they are very successful with that,” said Gu.
The native of Gaithersburg, Md., said his advisory role has been a worthwhile experience.
“We interact with our ANA counterparts frequently,” said Gu. “In Afghanistan, your word means a lot. Being able to build that close personal relationship and establish trust is really important.
When SFAAT 15 arrived at FOB Naghlu High, Gu said the French had a more direct role in training and supporting the ANA.
“Our strategy was more hands-off, and see where they are at,” said Gu. “We advised them when necessary, allowing them to operate.”
Gu said SFAAT 15 interjects to make improvements, if and when the ANA makes mistakes.
“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the ANA can do what they need to do independently of advisors, and they do it all the time,” said Gu.
In his opinion, the ANA noncommissioned officers are no different than U.S. NCOs. He has seen them take the initiative to train soldiers on primary weapons instruction and later that week, go to the firing range to familiarize the ANA soldiers on their weapon systems.
SFAAT 15 senior advisor, Maj. Demetrius Perry, is on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He has experience serving as an advisor with the special police transition team during one of his two deployments to Iraq. Perry serves with 1-9th Cav. Regt., 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
Perry said the ANA have their own way of conducting business. If U.S. forces come to Afghanistan and try to teach our way of thinking, the ANA forces will not listen.
He emphasized the importance of building a relationship with his ANA counterpart to the other advisors.
“If you don’t have good rapport with them, they will keep all their knowledge a secret,” said Perry. “They will listen to you offering advice and let you give classes, and when you are done they will tell you, ‘Hey, I ran the Russians out of Afghanistan, you aren’t teaching me anything new.’”
Perry said the best part of his advisory mission is the informal interactions he has with the kandak commander, ANA Col. Gul Aqa Shirzard. He said whenever they meet, they talk business but then they talk about other things. For example, over a cup of tea at the ANA base at FOB Naghlu Riverside, he gets to know the colonel by asking casual questions like what it was like growing up in Afghanistan.
The two leaders have developed such a close bond, Shirzard told the soldiers in his kandak, whenever he is out of town on business, Perry is in charge.
“I’ve learned a lot just from talking to the ANA leadership in a relaxed way,” said Perry. “I’ve found out more by having those informal conversations than you will find in a class or in any book. It is those interactions that I will carry with me forever.”
Perry acknowledged that being an advisor takes a special skill set, and even called the mission fun.
“The ANA is good; they are very capable of securing their country,” said Perry. “They take care of soldiers and their families; they just don’t do it exactly the way we do it. Once you understand that, your advisory mission will be very rewarding.”
The native of Houston, Texas, said once that relationship and rapport is established the advisory mission will be something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Perry said he is still in contact with soldiers he worked with while working as an advisor in Iraq.
“There are guys that I met and worked with in Iraq that are now Facebook friends of mine,” said Perry.
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan National Army vehicle hit an improvised explosive device during a patrol. Every soldier survived but an M-16 rifle inside the vehicle received damaged to its barrel.
United States Army small arms/artillery repairers are training ANA soldiers on the maintenance and repair of M-16 rifles at Forward Operating Base Naghlu High, so they can repair damaged weapons and put them back in the fight.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gary Ramosnunez and Pfc. William Eldridge’s mission is to visit forward operating bases in Regional Command-East and make sure Soldiers’ weapon systems work.
Eldridge said they are trained to fix various weapons systems, from the “triple sevens,” [M777 howitzer], to mortars, all the way down to pistols.
The weapons experts work at Bagram Airfield and are responsible for keeping their brigade’s weapon systems fully mission capable. Both serve as small arms/artillery repairers assigned to Company A, 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Eldridge, a native of Boise, Idaho, said he has been busy since arriving in Afghanistan because some weapons he encountered in-country were overdue for services. He has visited FOB Naghlu High, FOB Gamberi, FOB Xio Haq, and FOB Tagab. Basically, anywhere there are 4-1 Soldiers with weapons needing repair or service, he has been there.
“When any [weapons system] is broken we travel to the FOB and fix it,” said Ramosnunez.
“We have people going in and out of the FOBs on convoys, we want to make sure every weapon system works, in case they ever have to use it,” said Ramosnunez.
Another aspect of his job is training the ANA on various weapon systems. He trains Afghan soldiers into becoming instructors. Once qualified they can train fellow soldiers in their units how to properly maintain and repair their weapons.
“It’s a pretty fulfilling job,” said Eldridge. “I enjoy it because I like to repair things.”
He said the plan is to teach them day-by-day so the ANA soldiers are not overwhelmed. Eldridge said they will eventually train the ANA on the M249 light machine gun and .50-caliber machine gun.
Ramosnunez, a native of Cidra, Puerto Rico, said he loves his job and enjoys interacting with ANA soldiers during the weapons instructor course. He says the ANA he trains are very motivated, and want to do their job. In his opinion, training them how to fix their weapons systems will give them an edge in the fight.
Ramosnunez has three previous deployments to Iraq; this is his first deployment to Afghanistan.
For the ANA, the role of weapons maintainer is vital. They will act as first-line maintainers on their unit’s weapon systems.
“It is important for their force protection, so when we leave, they will be self-sustained,” said Ramosnunez.
Most of the ANA soldiers have experience from previous weapons training, so for some it was a refresher course.
Ramosnunez said the class is driven by the ANA, noting that they are quick to learn and learn faster by working hands-on.
“Yesterday they asked me if we could teach them how to change a barrel on an M16, so today we showed them how to do it with the correct tools,” said Ramosnunez. “We do whatever they want to do or whatever they want to know about a weapon.”
The informal class demonstrations are supposed to familiarize them with the mechanics of an M16; they take it apart and put it back together again. During the weapons instructor course, the ANA soldiers are encouraged to ask questions to make sure they understand each step. A translator is there to facilitate communications between them.
The two weapons specialists showed the ANA soldiers how to properly change the barrel of the M16 damaged in a vehicle hit by an IED. With the proper tools he made sure the ANA soldiers had a chance to do it, not just watch.
Once the ANA soldiers have completed the weapons instructor course they should be experienced and confident enough to instruct their fellow soldiers in proper weapons maintenance and repair.
“We provide the tools, technical manuals and instruction,” said Ramosnunez. “So that when we leave they should be able to fix their own weapon systems.”
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – As the Soldiers of Headquarters Company 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment begin to wrap up their rotation to Afghanistan, they can look back over some of the defining moments of the deployment. Some of those are moments of happiness, some of terror, and some are both.
Though they don’t happen as often as they used to, rocket attacks are still a tool of choice for insurgents. Once the rocket reaches its target, shrapnel flies everywhere, ripping through whatever or whoever is near.
Indirect-fire drills are conducted on military bases throughout Afghanistan and serve as a reminder that the threat is real. Soldiers learn how to respond to indirect fire attacks by practicing techniques and procedures designed to protect them and their fellow Soldiers.
On December 23, 2012, a few minutes after noon, Staff Sgt. Gregory Roush and Sgt. Margaret Hammond were working in Forward Operating Base Naghlu High’s dining facility. Hammond stepped out of the room for a moment, when less than a minute later a rocket pierced through the ceiling, narrowly missing Roush. It then continued on breaking a hole through an adjoining wall before detonating in the kitchen.
Roush serves as noncommissioned officer-in-charge of FOB Naghlu High DFAC. He was in his office when the rocket fell through the ceiling and exploded in the next room.
“I was sitting behind the computer, when next thing I knew I’m on the floor next to the desk,” said Roush. “I got up and grabbed my flashlight because the lights had gone out.”
The rocket hit a water heater in the corner of the kitchen. Roush said water was everywhere and he tripped over the mess on the floor trying to find the water cut-off valve.
The West Milford, N.J., native said he felt lucky that the wall the rocket had gone through was made of inexpensive materials.
“If it hadn’t been for that wall, the rocket would have exploded in the office, then, I’d have been screwed,” said Roush.
Hammond recalled stepping out of the back office when twenty seconds later she heard the explosion. “I got really worried because it was a loud sound,” said Hammond, a native of Lihue, Hawaii. “I wondered if Staff Sgt. Roush was alright.”
Another Soldier, Spc. James Young, a native of Coquille, Ore. was also in the building at the time. “At first I heard a loud click sound,” Young said. “Next thing I knew I felt a force hit me on my left shoulder, pick me up and toss me up against the wall.”
His immediate thought was that a water heater blew up in the kitchen. He got up and proceeded to shut off all the kitchen equipment. Young said he was initially confused when he noticed the kitchen walls and ceiling were black and the door had a lot of damage to it.
Young said he is a big guy and can really take a hit. “But after the blast knocked me off of my feet, I was pretty shaken up.”
“My first instinct was to get everybody out of the DFAC and into the bunker,” said Hammond. “After we all were inside the bunker, we heard another rocket hit.”
A short while later, the “all clear” message was announced over the loudspeakers and everyone emptied the bunkers and some Soldiers walked to the troop medical clinic for medical check-ups.
While Hammond was being treated at the aid station, she said another rocket hit the FOB and everyone immediately returned to the bunkers. It was inside the bunker that she rememberd telling her fellow Soldiers, “Wow, I get fireworks on my birthday.”
Everyone in the bunker sang her their best rendition of “Happy Birthday”.
“I thank God I’m alive, he protected me that day,” she said. “I think about the incident at least once a day. It is pretty memorable, I will never forget it.”
The incident brought the cooks and DFAC workers closer together. They even have nicknames for each other. Hammond calls Staff Sgt. Roush, “Grandpa Roush.”
Following the rocket attacks in which no one was seriously hurt, the cooks were given 24-hour quarters and a chance to rest in their rooms. Roush, a self-proclaimed work-a-holic and said he tried to go back to the DFAC but was sent back to his room. He couldn’t help but think about all the preparation that needed to happen prior to the Christmas meal, just two days away.
After being cleared to return to duty and after eight hours of work replacing lights, mopping the floor and changing out tables, the DFAC was again up and running.
Hammond says everyone on the FOB loves the cooks. “I love to see everybody smile when they eat here,” said Hammond. “I love what I do, I love cooking.”
Two days after the attack, with information provided by local residents, Coalition Forces captured an insurgent believed responsible for the rocket attacks.
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — While much of the rest of the world looks for answers to the questions that surround the fate of Afghanistan after coalition forces leave in 2014, one group of people is working to make Afghanistan a better and safer place right now and for the future: the Afghan National Security Forces.
The Afghan National Army recently led a joint operation that included elements of the Afghan Uniformed Police, the Afghan Local Police, the Afghan National Civil Order Police, and the National Directorate of Security. Not only did they conduct this operation in the winter – not the usual fighting season – they fought the enemy on its home field of Kapisa Province.
With a population of approximately 393,000 and a land area of around 700 square miles, Kapisa is the smallest of all 34 provinces in Afghanistan; yet, it is one of the most strategically significant.
The terrain of Kapisa is a combination of plains, high and steep mountains, and deep river valleys. It sits approximately 50 miles northeast of Kabul, north of Highway 7, the thoroughfare that connects Pakistan to Kabul. Its proximity to Kabul, its access to Highway 7, and its deep valleys that hide insurgents gives Kapisa its significance.
The 3rd Brigade of the 201st ANA Corps just completed a week-long operation called SARBOZ VI that was designed to clear a large swath of land near Highway 7 north and into the mouth of the Bedraou Valley.
Before SARBOZ VI, the valley was known to be filled with insurgents. In an interview with TOLOnews Feb.10, the provincial governor, Mehrabuddin Safi, outlined the problem.
“[Government] opposition groups and terrorists..., especially in the Tagab and Alasai districts, have gathered from every part of the world and are creating problems for the residents,” said Safi.
A week later, the operational summary, as written by the U.S. advisors at the end of the fourth day of SARBOZ VI, stated the new condition: “The mouth of the Bedraou Valley has been cleared of INS (insurgent) influence and the ANSF has temporarily secured the local populace.”
SARBOZ VI was part of a series of operations designed to clear several valleys in Kapisa Province of insurgents. The operations have been led by the ANA and supported by the Afghan police, intelligence agency, and special operations commandos. With each iteration of SARBOZ operations, the ANA has demonstrated a dramatically increased ability to command and control such an operation while the soldiers and police officers have demonstrated an equally increased ability to fight the enemy.
Brig. Gen. Sakidad is the new commander of the 3rd brigade of the 201st ANA Corps. Having taken command the week before SARBOZ VI, he and his brigade is responsible for clearing insurgents from Kapisa and setting the conditions for the police forces to maintain security.
Sakidad is all business. His intensity is palpable as he interacts with his subordinates.
“I’m thinking about our responsibility to bring security to the people. The enemy is weak. The coalition is leaving soon and we must make our soldiers strong. We must work together to have a strong security force,” Sakidad told his staff at one point during the operation.
The brigade staff starts each morning with a battle update brief to the commander. Usually opportunities for each staff member to tell the commander about the activities of the previous day and the plan for the coming day, these meetings are often interactive and boisterous.
Not so on the first morning of SARBOZ VI. With the staff assembled around the conference room tables, Sakidad entered the room precisely at 8:00, sat down, and began speaking.
With a voice just loud enough to be heard by the 21 Afghan staff members and handful of U.S. advisors in the room, Sakidad went over the plan for the coming operation one final time.
No one else spoke; nothing was up for discussion. For 22 minutes, the commander gave final guidance to his entire staff before engaging the enemy.
When he was finished, he stood up from the table and left the room to go to his tactical operations center to command his brigade that had just begun to move.
Shortly after this demonstration of command authority, which had not been seen in the previous commander, Sakidad faced his first crisis as a brigade commander. One of his company commanders was wounded by an elevated improvised explosive device and was evacuated from the battlefield.
Such a setback would have hindered, and probably stopped, any of the previous SARBOZ operations. Sakidad did not allow that to happen this time. He deftly commanded his troops as they both evacuated the injured commander and continued to push through to the objective.
As the Afghan battalions moved north through the battle space, Lt. Col. Samadi, the brigade operations officer, sat in the command center and monitored the four tactical radios and one cell phone and moved unit identification markers – small paper squares with double-sided tape on the back – along the paper map he used to track the battle.
The operations center is different from a current equivalent U.S. work space; a U.S. brigade operations center would have computers, wall-mounted monitors and encrypted tactical radios. But the four radios and paper map of the Afghan TOC are Afghan-sustainable and they are effective. Furthermore, the Afghan TOC is not unlike a U.S. TOC just a few years ago. It’s been said that today’s ANA is better equipped than the U.S. Army was in Operation Urgent Fury in Granada, in 1983.
Later in the morning of the first day, the report came in that the company commander who was a victim of an Improvised explosive device died of his wounds en route to the hospital. Visibly shaken by this, but still confident and in command, Sakidad ordered his charges to continue to push north.
During a lull in the battle reporting, the Afghan soldiers in the command center talked with their American partners about the places in U.S. that they had been to. Sakidad had visited Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Campbell, Ky., and Washington, D.C. The brigade command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Kallid, had visited Texas and California.
Samadi said he had never been to America, but in a tangential conversation, he told the Americans that he has two daughters and four sons, the oldest of which attends a university in Afghanistan. Samadi, who is 50 years old and has been in the army for 31 years, made it clear he serves in the army in part, so his sons do not have to.
As SARBOZ VI progressed over four days, there were challenges and set-backs. Several times the force was slowed down while its engineers cleared other IEDs. One ANA soldier was killed while praying on the battlefield. While every casualty in war is tragic, Sakidad put these losses in perspective for his staff and for his units: “We have lost young soldiers and officers, but we must keep these gains.”
The success of SARBOZ VI is due, in large part, to the combined effort of several different security forces. Just as it would have been the case in a U.S. military operation, before the ANA and the police forces began clearing the valley. Afghan special operations commandos were in the valley setting conditions for success by the conventional forces.
Before the conventional force began movement, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Kuth, the coalition advisor to Sakidad, reminded the brigade staff that the commandos had already done their job. “It is now up to us to do our job.”
And they did. In ways that are Afghan-sustainable, Sakidad and Samadi ensured that their objective was achieved: that the mouth of the valley was cleared of insurgents. Of course, they could not have done it alone. The soldiers of the ANA and the officers of the police forces did their individual duties.
People like Khier Udin, a young ANA engineer lieutenant in the 3rd brigade, who make a difference every day in Afghanistan. Udin’s job is to find and disable IEDs.
“The Taliban forces were not able to fight face to face. With all cruelty, they planted IEDs along the transit roads in order to stop the Afghan National Army’s successful operations. I neutralized 24 emplaced IEDs with the help of my friends,” Udin said of an earlier operation in Kapisa Province.
The success of SARBOZ VI is noted by the coalition advisors.
“The 201st Corps has gained control and are making magic happen,” said U.S. Army Capt. Greg McElwain, a coalition advisor to the ANA.
The results of SARBOZ VI are immediately apparent. Far more important than a statement on a U.S. operation summary slide is the opinion of the people the ANSF is charged to protect.
“We are grateful to the Afghan forces for what they have done here,” a local villager in the Tagab District of Kapisa Province told the local media.
When SARBOZ VI ended, after the ANSF had cleared the six-mile stretch of villages heading north from Highway 7, killing or detaining some 55 insurgents and disabling several IEDs in the process, the soldiers and officers had to move six miles south to their foward operating base.
They did so with no contact from the enemy. They returned to base after a successful operation with their heads held high having achieved Afghan success.
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