Afghanistan — Commander Explains Conditions in Regional Command–East

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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