Security Improves in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2011 — Sev­en months after his sol­diers became the last com­bat brigade to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the troop surge, Army Col. Sean M. Jenk­ins report­ed promis­ing signs of progress in remote but strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant Pak­ti­ka province.
Vio­lence has increased as expect­ed dur­ing the spring thaw, Jenk­ins, com­man­der of the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, acknowl­edged dur­ing an inter­view yes­ter­day with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. Many ene­my lead­ers who left the region or went under­ground dur­ing the win­ter appear to have returned.

The num­ber of “sig­nif­i­cant activ­i­ties” tripled in the past week alone, from the high teens to more than 50, Jenk­ins report­ed.

Despite this increase, Jenk­ins said he has grow­ing con­fi­dence in the capa­bil­i­ty of Afghan secu­ri­ty forces in his area of respon­si­bil­i­ty, and in the work his own troops have done to estab­lish con­di­tions for their long-term suc­cess.

Of 3,200 oper­a­tions con­duct­ed since his “Cur­ra­hee Brigade” arrived in their sec­tor of Region­al Com­mand East last sum­mer, about 2,000 have been com­bined U.S.-Afghan oper­a­tions, Jenk­ins said. The Afghan mil­i­tary and police forces have con­duct­ed rough­ly 1,200 oper­a­tions uni­lat­er­al­ly, he said, demon­strat­ing not only the capa­bil­i­ty, but also the will to suc­ceed.

“You see the patri­ots in their ranks,” Jenk­ins said. “You real­ly see the ones that go out and get after it .…They want a bet­ter Afghanistan.”

Jenk­ins esti­mat­ed that at least 80 per­cent of the move­ment across Pak­ti­ka province’s 200-kilo­me­ter bor­der with Pak­istan is legit­i­mate — trib­al peo­ple trav­el­ing between the two coun­tries to vis­it their fam­i­lies, trade or seek med­ical care.

The chal­lenge is iden­ti­fy­ing illic­it trans-bor­der move­ment. To get at this prob­lem, the U.S. sol­diers and their Afghan part­ners have estab­lished check­points along the main traf­fic routes. In many cas­es, Afghan secu­ri­ty forces man them inde­pen­dent­ly.

“What this is doing is show­ing the peo­ple, ‘Look, the Afghan gov­ern­ment is here,’ ” Jenk­ins said. “And they can see that it pro­vides secu­ri­ty for the area and the region.”

In addi­tion, sen­sors like those post­ed along the south­ern U.S. bor­der are being installed along the Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der. “We have some and are get­ting more and more each day, where you can get move­ment tar­get indi­ca­tors,” Jenk­ins said. “It does­n’t mean it’s friend or foe; it just tells you some­thing is mov­ing at this point and place.”

These indi­ca­tors, along with intel­li­gence pro­vid­ed by Per­sis­tent Threat Detec­tion Sys­tem aerostats, help pro­vide a more com­plete “pat­tern analy­sis” about ene­my activ­i­ty that shapes coun­terin­sur­gent oper­a­tions, he said.

As his troops work with their Afghan part­ners to con­front ene­my forces in Pak­ti­ka province, Jenk­ins empha­sized the lengths they go to pre­vent civil­ian casu­al­ties and oth­er col­lat­er­al dam­age.

It’s an issue Army Maj. Gen. John F. Camp­bell, the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion com­man­der, rein­forces reg­u­lar­ly as he empha­sizes the impor­tance of get­ting pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tions before using force. “If you injure or harm the peo­ple you are try­ing to pro­tect, it is awful­ly hard to con­vince them … that we are here for good,” Jenk­ins said.

Since deploy­ing to Afghanistan, Jenk­ins has sent 69 4th BCT sol­diers for joint for­ward observ­er train­ing in Ger­many so they’re bet­ter able to iden­ti­fy and artic­u­late exact require­ments when they call in air sup­port.

It “makes a dif­fer­ence,” he said of the train­ing that’s devel­oped by non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers and junior artillery offi­cers. “Because if we have to be kinet­ic, we try to put the right amount of force against the tar­get and noth­ing more. And doing that can be tough in our [area of oper­a­tions].”

Jenk­ins said his troops have learned over time how to go through the com­plex deci­sion-mak­ing required make a pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. “You go through this process: ‘Is it friend­ly or is it ene­my? Is it an imme­di­ate threat or immi­nent threat or is it some­thing we can live to fight anoth­er day?’ ” he said.

“We don’t want to make a mis­take,” Jenk­ins said. “We want to pro­tect our sol­diers’ lives always. They always have a right to self-defense. But you also want to look at it from as many dif­fer­ent angles as we can.”

As his troops take every pre­cau­tion pos­si­ble to pro­tect civil­ian lives, Jenk­ins said he’s reas­sured see­ing the local pop­u­la­tion get­ting more direct­ly involved in secu­ri­ty with­in the province.

“The peo­ple are stand­ing up,” he said, not­ing that a cou­ple hun­dred local res­i­dents recent­ly joined the com­mu­ni­ty-based secu­ri­ty plan ini­tia­tive, the equiv­a­lent of a state­side “com­mu­ni­ty watch.”

In one of the more-remote areas of the province where U.S. forces haven’t dri­ven for more than two years, locals have stepped for­ward to part­ner in secu­ri­ty so they can reopen the area to human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance, med­ical sup­port and edu­ca­tion.

“They have come in and said, ‘We want to do this com­mu­ni­ty-based secu­ri­ty. We will keep the paths open and there will be no [impro­vised explo­sive devices],’ ” Jenk­ins said. “This is what they want.”

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

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