Brigade Commanders Provide North Afghanistan Update

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2011 — The NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s “com­bined team north” has in the last 11 months trans­formed con­di­tions for the Afghan peo­ple liv­ing in the north­ern part of the coun­try along the Uzbek­istan and Tajik­istan bor­ders, two U.S. brigade com­man­ders said today.

Army Col. Willard Burleson, com­man­der of the 10th Moun­tain Division’s 1st Brigade Com­bat Team, and Army Col. Daniel Williams, com­man­der of the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade, briefed Pen­ta­gon reporters via video uplink from Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, on cur­rent oper­a­tions in Region­al Com­mand North.

“Over this past year, sol­diers of this brigade, along with 16 oth­er con­tribut­ing nations … have expand­ed the capa­bil­i­ties and improved Afghan secu­ri­ty forces through shoul­der-to-shoul­der part­ner­ing, oper­a­tions and train­ing,” Burleson said. “These efforts have pro­vid­ed increased secu­ri­ty in a num­ber of for­mer­ly con­test­ed areas.”

Burleson said the team’s efforts in train­ing and oper­at­ing with Afghan forces, cap­tur­ing and killing insur­gents, clear­ing mines and bombs from roads and com­plet­ing human­i­tar­i­an relief projects have giv­en Afghan cit­i­zens in the region oppor­tu­ni­ties and sup­port they had been lack­ing for years — from bet­ter access to cities and gov­ern­ment ser­vices to improved schools and new street lights.

The team has estab­lished more than 16 joint com­bat out­posts where ISAF and Afghan forces live and work togeth­er “on a con­tin­u­ous basis,” he said.

Burleson cred­it­ed both spe­cial oper­a­tions and avi­a­tion forces for much of the region’s turn­around. U.S. spe­cial oper­a­tions troops are “devel­op­ing and train­ing Afghan local police to rein­force these secu­ri­ty gains,” he said.

The avi­a­tion brigade saves lives with its med­ical evac­u­a­tion flights, trans­ports infantry troops to pre­vi­ous­ly inac­ces­si­ble areas to fight insur­gents and backs those fights with with­er­ing fire­pow­er, Burleson said.

Ele­ments of the 1st Brigade Com­bat Team also work with the Afghan Bor­der Police along the Uzbek­istan bor­der, he said, not­ing the Afghans have “great­ly improved their abil­i­ty to not only secure their bor­der but also to estab­lish … an effec­tive bor­der-cross­ing point along the strate­gic north­ern trade route.”

The gains have come at a high cost, Burleson acknowl­edged: 12 men from his brigade have been killed, and many more have been wound­ed dur­ing the deploy­ment.

“I think what it shows you is the undy­ing com­mit­ment that these Amer­i­can sol­diers have, while they do oper­a­tions side by side here with their [Afghan coun­ter­parts],” the colonel said.

The Afghans sac­ri­fice as well, he not­ed.

“The blood of Afghan sol­diers and police — as well as that of Ger­man, Amer­i­can, Swedish [and] Nor­we­gian [ser­vice mem­bers] up here — is mixed,” he said. “Because these guys fight side by side, and they’re com­mit­ted to each oth­er.”

Work remains to be done solid­i­fy­ing improve­ments in the region, Burleson cau­tioned.

“How­ev­er, I’m con­vinced that our Afghan part­ners, with ISAF assis­tance, are up to the task,” he said. “Clear progress has been made in secu­ri­ty, … [but] momen­tum must be main­tained so that the insur­gency isn’t able to find its way back into these cleared areas.”

Williams then briefed reporters on his brigade’s “game-chang­ing” role as the first com­bat avi­a­tion brigade ded­i­cat­ed to the region­al com­mands in the north and west.

Since the brigade deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, in June, it has “indeed made a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence to the ground com­man­ders, allies, Spe­cial Forces and most impor­tant­ly, to the Afghans and their nation,” Williams said.

The brigade includes two bat­tal­ions of Apache heli­copters, a gen­er­al sup­port bat­tal­ion, an assault bat­tal­ion, an avi­a­tion main­te­nance bat­tal­ion and an attached Nation­al Guard mede­vac com­pa­ny, he said.

“Our pilots and our sol­diers have aggres­sive­ly [brought] our capa­bil­i­ties to iso­lat­ed areas and areas of extreme ter­rain, which pre­vi­ous­ly were con­trolled by insur­gents and sim­ply not reach­able,” Williams told reporters.

The brigade’s mis­sion tal­ly includes near­ly 40,000 hours of direct com­bat sup­port to ground forces, 500 mede­vac flights, and 61,000 pas­sen­ger move­ments, includ­ing com­bat troops, he said.

“As U.S. infantry and Ger­man forces in the north, and attack­ing forces in the west, gained ground through­out [the] region this past year, 4th CAB heli­copters pro­tect­ed the out­posts, resup­plied the out­posts, and con­duct­ed com­bat oper­a­tions in sup­port of our ground broth­ers,” Williams said.

The avi­a­tion brigade also has sup­port­ed Spe­cial Forces with dai­ly and night­ly “kinet­ic strikes,” he said, adding that many of those mis­sions also includ­ed Afghan forces.

The brigade rou­tine­ly flies along­side the Afghan air force’s Russ­ian-made MI-17 and MI-35 heli­copters, Williams said. “We assist in the train­ing of their crew chiefs, main­te­nance and med­ical train­ing,” he added.

The avi­a­tion brigade has sup­port­ed Afghan devel­op­ment, Williams said, “by fly­ing key Afghan gov­ern­ment offi­cials through­out [Region­al Com­mand North] to con­duct on-site vis­its of min­er­als, mines and oil reserves, in order to quick­ly fol­low gains in secu­ri­ty with gains in eco­nom­ic growth.”

The brigade’s heli­copters have also served human­i­tar­i­an needs, air­lift­ing crit­i­cal sup­plies to dozens of loca­tions cut off by flood waters and fly­ing tons of fire­wood and oth­er sup­plies to moun­tain vil­lages this win­ter, he said.

Many of the brigade’s women sol­diers “have vol­un­teered to par­tic­i­pate in female engage­ment train­ing with local female lead­ers and offi­cials,” he added.

“We have enabled the ground com­man­ders of … U.S., allied and Afghan units to con­duct com­bat oper­a­tions, train­ing, and gov­er­nance,” Williams said. “We have seen great strides … made this year, and have par­tic­i­pat­ed in the long sum­mer, and now win­ter, offen­sive.”

The brigade stands ready to “meet the chal­lenges of the spring that we know will come, and we’ll be part of the dai­ly improv­ing Afghan sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

Both com­man­ders thanked the Amer­i­can peo­ple for all they do for sol­diers.

“The sup­port that I’ve seen here, dur­ing this deploy­ment, is prob­a­bly the great­est that I’ve seen in my 22 years in the Army,” Burleson said. “I’d love to thank the local com­mu­ni­ties, busi­ness lead­ers and indi­vid­ual cit­i­zens who offer such great sup­port for our men and women that are over here.”

Williams echoed Burleson’s com­ments. “I’d like to thank the Amer­i­can peo­ple as we approach a decade of war,” he said. “You’re look­ing at two war vet­er­ans, and we com­mand war vet­er­ans, and it’s not with­out your sup­port.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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