Troops Expand Security in Eastern Afghanistan

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, March 10, 2011 — Region­al Com­mand East forces are focused on expand­ing secu­ri­ty around the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul and pro­vid­ing a lay­ered defense along Afghanistan’s bor­der with Pak­istan, their com­man­der said here this week.
“We’ve real­ly stayed on the offen­sive with our coun­ter­parts this win­ter,” Army Maj. Gen. John F. Camp­bell said in a March 7 brief­ing for reporters trav­el­ing with Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates. “We’ve changed the bat­tle­field geom­e­try.”

Region­al Com­mand East cov­ers 14 provinces and 43,000 square miles around Kab­ul, includ­ing 450 miles of bor­der with Pak­istan. Based around the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion, which Camp­bell also com­mands, the com­mand includes some 30,000 coali­tion forces made up of sev­en maneu­ver brigades, an avi­a­tion brigade, and French and Pol­ish task forces.

Camp­bell said his oper­a­tional focus as spring approach­es will include expand­ing the Kab­ul secu­ri­ty zone along High­way 1 into War­dak and Loghar provinces, and up High­way 7 into Jalal­abad.

The gen­er­al said he’s also focused on lay­ered defense along the bor­der, posi­tion­ing troops to pre­vent insur­gents from enter­ing Afghanistan in large num­bers or with loads of weapons.

The lay­ered defense includes Afghan bor­der police, infor­ma­tion-shar­ing cen­ters where coali­tion and Afghan forces coor­di­nate cross-bor­der tar­get­ing with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary, and a con­cen­tra­tion of coali­tion and Afghan forces in areas near the bor­der, Camp­bell explained.

“We do not cross the bor­der,” he said, adding that in many cas­es, artillery or mor­tar rounds com­ing from insur­gents on the Pak­istan side of the bor­der are tar­get­ed by Pak­istani forces, based on coali­tion coor­di­na­tion.

Cross-bor­der indi­rect fire has increased in recent weeks, Camp­bell said.

“Based on the num­ber of inci­dents when [the ene­my is] throw­ing artillery, they’re try­ing to clear the way so they can bring more peo­ple over,” Camp­bell said. “I think [the ene­my is] frus­trat­ed, because [Afghan secu­ri­ty forces], along with the coali­tion forces have real­ly iden­ti­fied, now, the places they can come in through.”

Ene­my forces who do make it across, Camp­bell said, will find their weapons caches gone. In Novem­ber, Decem­ber and Jan­u­ary, his com­mand found and destroyed almost three times as many caches of mor­tar and artillery rounds and bomb-mak­ing mate­ri­als as in the same peri­od the pre­vi­ous year.

Camp­bell refut­ed reports that the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force is depart­ing the Pech Riv­er Val­ley.”

“Everybody’s say­ing, ‘You’re aban­don­ing the Pech.’ … That’s absolute­ly false,” he said.

Region­al Com­mand East is realign­ing its forces, he said, and for the last six months has been work­ing to increase its capa­bil­i­ty along the bor­der in Nan­garhar, Nuris­tan, Kunar and Lagh­man provinces.

“We’ve added about 6,100 coali­tion and Afghan forces in those four provinces since I’ve been here, and adjust­ed com­mand and con­trol” he said, not­ing that Lagh­man now is assigned to a sep­a­rate brigade, where­as one brigade used to cov­er all four provinces.

“We’re real­ly look­ing hard at Lagh­man, because if you come from Nuris­tan, you have to come through Lagh­man to get to Kab­ul,” he said.

Four com­bat out­posts dot the Pech Riv­er Val­ley, most with both coali­tion and Afghan forces assigned. Rein­forced Afghan forces now sole­ly man one of them, Camp­bell said, and the coali­tion troops for­mer­ly based there can be reas­signed to more active oper­a­tions clos­er to the bor­der.

“If they’re sit­ting at these [com­bat out­posts in the Pech Riv­er Val­ley] … they’re very sta­t­ic,” he said. “A large per­cent­age of what you have in there has to be force pro­tec­tion.”

While reas­sign­ing some troops out of the val­ley has giv­en the com­mand need­ed flex­i­bil­i­ty for offen­sive oper­a­tions, it does­n’t mean the com­mand is ignor­ing the area. “We’re still in the Pech, [and] we’ll remain in the Pech,” he added. “I’ll keep some coali­tion forces at some of those loca­tions.”

Afghan army strength is increas­ing both in num­bers and capa­bil­i­ty, Camp­bell said, not­ing 11 new army kan­daks, or bat­tal­ions, have been trained since his divi­sion arrived. ISAF offi­cials rate Afghan Nation­al Army effec­tive­ness every month, he added, and it con­tin­ues to improve.

“We’re see­ing great growth in the lead­er­ship,” he said, though he acknowl­edged that progress of the Afghan Nation­al Police has been slow­er.

ISAF is focus­ing more coali­tion senior offi­cers and non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers on Afghan police train­ing, Camp­bell said, and “that is real­ly start­ing to show div­i­dends on their plan­ning and on their lead­er­ship.”

Schools open­ing, num­bers of stu­dents, jobs cre­at­ed and oth­er indi­ca­tors in Region­al Com­mand East show a pos­i­tive trend, Camp­bell said. Gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment are increas­ing, he added, and rule of law is tak­ing hold.

“In Khost and in Jalal­abad, we have rule-of-law cen­ters now,” he said. “The num­bers of pros­e­cu­tors and … judges con­tin­ue to go up.”

Pub­lic tri­als also are increas­ing in Khost, Nan­garhar, War­dak and Ghazni, Camp­bell said, and Afghan offi­cials are reas­sured by the coalition’s pres­ence through 2014, as agreed upon in Novem­ber at a NATO sum­mit meet­ing in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal.

“At my lev­el, … work­ing with [Afghan forces] and the gov­er­nors, they know we’re here,” he said. “In the past, many of them were on the fence; they hedged their bets. Now they know we’re in it for the long haul.”

Gates told Region­al Com­mand East troops dur­ing his vis­it that the com­ing weeks and months will bring more chal­lenges.

“It was a tough win­ter, and it’s going to be a tougher spring and sum­mer,” the sec­re­tary said, “but you’ve made a lot of head­way.”

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

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