PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Bits of debris lay scattered around the blast site, all that remained of an improvised explosive device that had just detonated.
Shredded plastic from the IED’s casing littered the road, along with mangled bits of metal, ball bearings and scraps of electrical tape.
Members of the Afghan Uniform Police and National Directorate of Security lined up along the road, pointing out bits of evidence to be photographed and collected.
They made sure to collect even the bits of tape, which may preserve fingerprints or DNA from the bomb maker.
That evidence could be analyzed and potentially lead to the bomb maker’s arrest, said Jon Hanning, chief trainer, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin – Theater Explosive Exploitation.
It was the last day of a forensic processes course, a three-day seminar at Forward Operating Bases Rushmore and Sharana that taught AUP and NDS how to process an IED site for incriminating evidence.
“We’ve never had this kind of technique,” said Staff Sgt. Ehsanullah, chief of biometrics, AUP. “The important thing for us is, there were things we couldn’t do in the past to find guilty people, but now we can find the guilty person easily, by taking fingerprints.”
The class represented another step toward the rule of law in Afghanistan as Afghans solidify a nationwide law enforcement system.
“It used to be in Afghanistan we didn’t have a [unified country],” said 2nd Lt. Mohammed Aman, Provincial Reconnaissance Company. “Different parties, different people, they had their own laws that they tried to implement on their own people. Different commanders had different visions. Right now we have a commander, and we have to follow him.”
Training the Afghans to take fingerprints, swab for DNA and collect evidence at a crime scene will aid Afghan judges and attorneys in court proceedings, said U.S. Army Capt. Ian Jarvis, second in command, CJTF Paladin TEX.
Understanding the science behind fingerprints and DNA will help them understand the significance of such evidence in court, he said.
Having that science also makes it easier to track down enemies of Afghanistan, Hanning said.
“This class helped us,” Ehsanullah said. “Now we can easily identify detainees. We can find out who the guilty person is.”
The seminar consisted of a train-the-trainer day, during which five Afghans learned fingerprint and DNA collection techniques from the TEX team. The next day, those five trained about 15 of their comrades.
The seminar culminated in an exploitation day, where the Afghans collected evidence from exploded IEDs at a controlled site at FOB Sharana.
Having basic forensic skills gives the Afghans that many more tools to use as Afghanistan solidifies their rule of law, Hanning said. It will be up to them how they choose to use them.
“We don’t try to teach them that this is the way to do it,” Hanning said. “We teach them that this is a way to do it.”
Aman said that Afghan law enforcement not only plans to use forensic processes, it’s very important for them to do so.
“For all of our forces, it’s very important to follow this so we can identify guilty people,” Aman said.
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – As mortar rounds were traded between the Afghan National Army andenemy fighters, the call came in that an ANA soldier had been injured.
Akbar Haman, medic, 3rd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 203rd Corps, took a team of five soldiers and responded to the call, crossing Combat Outpost Zerok under fire to reach the casualty.
Haman performed a rapid trauma assessment on him, checking the casualty for breathing, pain, whether he could move and whether he was fully conscious.
The casualty could talk, a good sign the airway wasn’t obstructed.
He was seriously wounded, though, and the extent of the injury couldn’t be confirmed until the casualty got to a hospital, so the team bore the casualty on a litter back to Zerok’s aid station to be airlifted out.
On several occasions during Operation Zafar, a 10-day security patrol into the Nikeh District, ANA medics took a clear lead on first response procedures for combat casualty care, with American forces working with them primarily as advisors.
U.S. Army Sgt. Tomas Martinez, medic, Green 3 Security Force Advisory Team, 2/10 Security Forces Assistance Brigade, met Haman at the aid station and rechecked the patient, but the team had already covered the basics and had the casualty nearly ready for evacuation.
Martinez helped Haman check the patient’s vital signs and administer a breathing tube to ensure the patient’s airway stayed open. Otherwise, they had done everything correctly, he said.
“The ANA are making progress,” Martinez said. “With a little more training and the right equipment, they could be very profictient.”
Martinez stood back while Haman monitored the patient for any changes. Haman talked reassuringly with the patient, making sure he was as comfortable as possible.
The care he showed was a sign of his quality as a medic, Martinez said.
“The most important thing about being a medic is caring, because if you care about somebody, you will do your best toward that patient,” Martinez said. “You’ll make sure that everything is done correctly. Otherwise you’re just checking the block.”
The ANA medics’ performance shows growing proficiency and confidence in their combat medical skills as they take the lead on combat casualty care, said Capt. Markel Hall, logistics advisor, Green 3.
Along with Haman’s quality of care, the speed at which he and his team worked was critical to the patient. The patient was evacuated in about 45 minutes, well within the “golden hour” medics aim for.
A patient who is moved from the battlefield to level two or surgical care within an hour of being injured has a better chance of full recovery, Martinez said.
“It went great,” Hall said about the medevac operation. “It showed coordination between Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces to assist and advise during combat medical operations and procedures.”
The ANA’s proficiency in first response procedures is a sign of their growing readiness to take control of medical care outside the wire, Martinez said.
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Every day, Spc. Logan Ellard buries a bit of TNT or C4 in the road at Forward Operating Base Orgun-E.
When he’s finished, he walks away for a few hours.
Later on, he comes back with Sgt. Thor, his tactical explosive detection dog.
If Thor is on top of his game, he’ll sniff out the explosive and take a seat next to it, the signal to Ellard that he found the explosive.
The training helps keep Thor sharp, said Ellard, a TEDD handler with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2/10 Security Forces Assistance Brigade.
That way, when Thor goes to work, the Soldiers patrolling with him can breathe a little easier.
In the field, Thor is a living mine detector that has been deployed three times in the past four years.
“His nose is a huge force,” said Spc. J.R. Jones, infantryman, D Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2/10 Security Forces Assistance Brigade. “You have equipment that works, but there’s no mishap with him. He’s going to find explosives, regardless. It’s what he’s trained to do.”
Training also keeps Thor accustomed to obeying commands, Ellard said. Thor works without a leash, so if something dangerous happens, he needs to respond to Ellard without hesitation.
“If he’s out and he finds an IED, I don’t want him to be on a 30-foot leash,” Ellard said. “I want to be as far back as I can. So he has to be very well trained to listen to my signals and my words.”
Thor is trained to detect 14 different scents, including TNT, C4, homemade explosives and even detonation cord that could be wired to an improvised explosive device.
He’s a single-minded professional when he’s on the job, Ellard said. But he’s just as good at boosting morale, too.
“Everybody loves it when he comes around,” Ellard said.
For 4th Platoon, Thor’s skills finding explosives are matched by his ability to lift their spirits.
“With him around, the other guys are happy,” Jones said. “When you sleep with the same guys for so long, you kind of get mad at each other. People will fight. But he stops that.”
During Operation Zafar, a 10-day security patrol into the Nikeh District in late May, 4th Platoon set up camp for several days at Combat Outpost Zerok. The Soldiers had a lot of down time, but Thor kept them enetertained by showing off his detection skills and playing games with the Soldiers.
“Boredom will get to you,” Jones said. “Not having anything to do, just having him around is great.”
More than just helping wile away the hours, Thor helps keep the troops going on long patrols, Jones said.
“When you’re walking and you think life sucks, and you look at the dog and life doesn’t suck for the dog, it makes you feel better,” Jones said.
Ellar, a former cavalry scout, has been working with Thor since November, 2012. He has gone on four missions with Thor so far and said that the dog is a good partner, and the work is very rewarding.
“I love going out there and working with him,” Ellard said. “It’s awesome to be out there in front knowing that if I find something, I’ve saved somebody’s life.”
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – At first glance, the Kushamond district of Pakitika Province, Afghanistan, seems like quiet farm land, rippled with rolling hills and small quaint villages speckled with adobe homes.
Villages named Fazilra, Hamalman, Panagir and Choray link this area of Kushamond together. Farmers cultivating crops, children playing soccer and women tending to daily chores are common scenes. This is their life, their land and their homes.
But beyond the old-world charm of these small villages’ lies something far less serene, far less humane. The residents of these villages are cloaked in oppression and fear enforced by the enemies of Afghanistan.
“The enemies of Afghanistan come into the villages and take people’s homes, their food and make the villagers work for them,” said Afghan National Army Capt. Noor Rahman, commander of 2nd Tolei, 1st Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 203rd Corps. “We will no longer tolerate this, we will not stop until our enemies are dead, defeated or we drive them out.”
Waiting to turn Capt. Rahman’s words into actions, ANA soldiers assigned to 1st Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 203rd Corps, partnered with U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Green 1 Security Force Advisory Team, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, both stationed at ANA Base, Khair Kot Garrison, staged outside of the Kushamond District Center ready to conduct a two day clearing operation, May 25-26.
Moments after sunrise, they dispersed into three groups cordoning off the villages. Dismounting their vehicles the ANA soldiers took the lead, U.S. Army advisors followed closely behind as their partners cleared from house to house.
“From a Security Force Advisory Team’s prospective, this mission was a complete success,” said 1st Lt. Brian Maginn, a forward support officer assigned to Green 1 SFAT. “The ANA developed the plan with almost no involvement from us.”
Their movements through the villages were deliberate and swift; they encountered little resistance on the first day of the ANA led operation. However, the second stage offered little of the comforts afforded by day one.
Leaving only a small element behind to establish an ambush, the small group of ANA and U.S. Soldiers dug in and waited for first light to strike.
“It was part of a feint,” said Maginn. “We wanted to see how the enemy moved, observe their infill and ex-fill routes to these towns.”
The following morning proved to be more difficult. Afghan and U.S. soldiers navigated through heavy machinegun fire, mortar rounds and improvised explosive devices. The ANA soldiers fought forward, overwhelming the enemy with superior fire power and maneuverability on the battle field.
“The ambush was set for the morning,” said Rahman. “The Taliban shot at us but, we pushed forward and drove them out.”
The complexity of the attack came as a surprise to both ANA and U.S. Soldiers.
“This was the most coordinated enemy activity I have seen at one time,” said Maginn. “The ANA can fight and win in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. We hope this operation shows the ANA what influence they can have in the area.”
For many of these ANA soldiers, the influence they wish to have is of peace. Peace for their fellow Afghans, for themselves and for their country.
“Everyone likes peace but, the Taliban does not want peace,” said Rahman. “The enemies of Afghanistan don’t respect our culture; they kill innocent people for no reason. What about the women and children they kill, we wear the uniform, they don’t.”
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – There’s a saying in Afghanistan that translates, “Don’t thank God before you eat.”
It’s better to say grace afterward, because you never know what may happen before you finish your meal, said Afghan National Army Col. Abdul Qadir, commander, 3rd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 203rd Corps.
He explained the phrase as members of Security Force Advisory Team Green 3, 14th Infantry Battalion, 2/10 Security Forces Assistance Brigade, joined him for a lunch of rice, bread, meat and tea at Combat Outpost Zerok, May 23.
Moments later, an incoming mortar round blasted into the helipad not far from the team.
Another followed it, and then another.
Seventeen rounds hit Zerok as 3rd Kandak and American Soldiers left their meals half eaten and took up defenses at the outpost.
The Americans got on the radio and called in air support. The ANA manned their own mortars and returned fire, the outgoing blasts mixing with the explosions of incoming fire.
During a brief lull in the attack, the ANA quickly left the compound to hunt down the enemy and secure the villages surrounding Zerok.
The Americans continued to monitor the skies for incoming fire.
It was the second day of Operation Zafar, a 10-day security patrol into Afghanistan’s Nikeh Distict.
Through days of fighting, the ANA engaged in long, heated battles against extremists. The ANA had not had a significant presence in the district for nearly five months. They found a lot of enemies to clear out.
Despite the resistance, the ANA cleared dozens of villages, removed improvised explosive devices from the road and secured the district with minimal intervention from American forces.
“I have very good soldiers in 3rd Kandak,” Qadir said. “Sometimes I think I need to pick up my soldiers and put them in my pocket, because they are doing a very great job.”
As American forces accompanied the kandak mainly as advisors, most of the patrols and fighting fell to the 3rd Kandak throughout the operation.
They proved very efficient at it, said 1st Lt. John Pfiester, executive officer, Green 3. “The ANA are hasty and deliberate when they react to contact,” Pfiester said. “They gain fire superiority within seconds of taking contact. This is very typical for the ANA to react in a firefight.”
Insurgents harassed the ANA almost every day of the operation, but the infantrymen of 3rd Kandak pushed them back into the mountains every time.
“They can’t stand in front of my soldiers,” Qadir said.
In each firefight, insurgents fought until the ANA gained a foothold against them, then ran back into the mountains behind the protection of their IEDs, Qadir said.
During one 4.5-hour fight in Nikeh, 3rd Kandak hit seven IEDs while battling the enemy.
They took no casualties.
Far from demoralizing the ANA, the heavy resistance only brought out the ANA’s combat prowess, Pfiester said.
“This mission has showed us that the ANA are not afraid to go into any area knowing that there will be enemy contact,” Pfiester said. “The kandak went into an insurgent stronghold, the insurents fired everything they had at the ANA and the ANA overwhelmed them with fire superiority, causing the enemy to fall back.”
While the ANA’s route clearance vehicles patrolled the roads for IEDs, the kandak’s infantrymen patrolled ahead of them on foot, clearing villages as they went.
Before the mission was half over, 3rd Kandak had already walked more than 30 km. Many of them wore sneakers, because they don’t have combat boots.
“Sometimes they walk so far you can see blood on their shoes, but they do not complain,” Qadir said. “They do not say they are tired. We should say that they are very tough soldiers.”
When they weren’t out fighting or patrolling, the ANA shared meals with the Americans, handed out water and food in the villages, and conducted shuras – town hall meetings – to gauge local opinion and assure the villagers the ANA would make the district secure.
Their dedication to making their country secure goes beyond Nikeh District, Qadir said. Even in sneakers, they are prepared to fight in mountains, caves or in the desert.
“As long as we kill the enemy, we don’t care where we fight,” Qadir said.
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