BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan, July 26, 2010 – Though the battle in Regional Command-East in Afghanistan is more difficult than expected, U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are making progress there, Army Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell said here yesterday.
Campbell, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division as well as Regional Command-East, spoke to reporters traveling with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen visited U.S. troops in Jalalabad and Forward Operating Base Joyce, before arriving here. Campbell also commands the Combined Joint Task Force 101.
Campbell’s read on the fight in his area is that there is a U.S. surge into Afghanistan, and the enemy is surging in response.
„We’ve seen an uptick in the number of [improvised explosive devices], complex attacks and small-arms attacks,“ the general said. „I can tell you the number of attacks has gone up but the effectiveness has not. Part of that is the experience we bring and the focus of the soldiers and commanders as they assume battlespace.“
RC-East is built around the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky. A French brigade and a Polish brigade also serve with the Americans. The command has 152 forward operation bases and combat outposts spread over 14 provinces.
The surge of U.S. troops into Afghanistan – while centered on Regional Command-South – also is being felt in the east, Campbell said. The extra troops, he said, will enable penetration into more areas, and this allows the command to continue partnering with Afghan security forces – especially with the Afghan police.
The enemy remains basically the same, Campbell said, as when the 101st was last deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 to 2009 – the Haqqani network in the southern part of the area and Taliban to the north. Three provinces – Bamian, Panjshir and Parwan – are seeing significant declines in violence, and Campbell believes he can transfer those areas to Afghan security forces in the near future.
The counterinsurgency strategy concentrates on protecting the population, Campbell said, noting his command has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect civilians during combat operations. In the last month, he said, there were 100 civilian casualties. Ninety percent of those casualties, he added, were caused by the insurgents. And in the past six months, the general said, no innocent civilians were killed by aerial bombings.
Campbell said the 101st division’s headquarters is based at the massive airfield here located just east of Kabul. The 1st Brigade, 3rd Brigade and soon the 4th Brigade will operate in RC-East. One of the two division aviation brigades is based in RC-South, as is the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
This arrangement, Campbell said, enables the division to tailor its training to the mission, especially the language and culture piece. Many of the 101st troopers served in Afghanistan before, he noted, and one – the 4th Brigade – will deploy to the same area they’d served in before.
There are many more resources being applied in addition to the surge in American troops, Campbell said. Training of the Afghan national security forces, he noted, has begun to pay off, with roughly 25,000 now serving alongside coalition forces.
One of the „game changers“ Campbell sees is putting more attention on the Afghan police and the Afghan Border Police.
„In Iraq, we focused on [building] the army, and the police were a couple of years behind. [It’s] the same [situation] here,“ the general said. „We put the Afghan police in the same missions as the army, but they are not manned, equipped or trained to do those missions.“
Campbell wants to change the focus and have the Afghan police concentrate on policing the district centers. Providing protection in these areas, he said, will allow the government to concentrate on the governance and development aspects of counterinsurgency – the build portion of the clear, hold, build strategy.
„So our focus is going to come off the army a little bit – we’ll maintain and sustain that – we think this will improve the effectiveness of the police,“ the general said.
Campbell also will see if the police can be bulked up while obtaining different weapons for its officers. He also is looking to get up-armored Humvees for the police. American soldiers mostly use all-terrain Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles.
„Instead of just letting them sit here, I want to get those up-armored Humvees out to the police and let them use them,“ the general said.
Leadership for the Afghan police is crucial to success and Campbell proposes taking experienced army officers and NCOs and then training them for duty with the police.
The general said his command also works closely with Pakistani army officers.
„Every time we do an operation near the border, Pakistan does a complementary operation,“ he said. „I have Pakistani and Afghan [liaison officers] in my joint operations center. We share all the information across all our partners.“
Pakistani anti-insurgent operations conducted on their side of the border are causing the Taliban to be squeezed into Afghanistan, where U.S. forces deal with them, Campbell said.
Troops are finding and disarming more and more of the insurgents‘ primitive fertilizer-based bombs, he said, and Afghan and coalition forces are getting more and more tips from the local people.
There also is a strong civilian presence in his command, Campbell said, noting that he has 165 civilians. That number, he said, is slated to rise to 275 in the near future. Campbell said there are many dedicated civilians in his command, many of whom have volunteered to extend their stays in Afghanistan.
„You don’t hear too much about that,“ he said. „They see the impact they are making and they make a difference every day.“
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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