Fort Carson leaders say Afghans working hard to take over country's defense
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Four years after the Afghan allies of Fort Carson soldiers disappeared during an epic firefight, things have changed, leaders say.
The 4th Infantry Division headquarters and hundreds of local troops returned to Afghanistan last month in a role that will see them wrap up American efforts there. And the Afghans aren't just joining Americans in battle now. They're fighting on their own, Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Stall said in a phone interview from Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"They are a force to be reckoned with and the Taliban aren't strong enough," said Stall, Fort Carson's top enlisted soldier.
On Oct. 9, 2009, a Fort Carson cavalry troop faced a Taliban assault alone after Afghan troops fled. Eight soldiers from the Colorado Springs post died and two, Staff Sgt. Ty Carter and former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, earned the Medal of Honor in the successful defense of a remote outpost near the Pakistan border.
Now, Stall said, American troops aren't seeing combat in Kandahar, once the stronghold of the Taliban.
There's still fighting, but it's being handled by local troops.
"The confidence level of the Afghan national security forces is incredible," Stall said. "They really aren't asking much at this point. As long as they are confident in their abilities we're not getting in their way."
The Carson division is responsible for American efforts across a wide swath of southern Afghanistan centered on Kandahar, a city with an estimated population of 500,000.
The biggest job for Fort Carson troops now is packing up and ensuring the Afghans can stand alone.
The United States once had as many as 80 combat outposts and bases in the region. In recent months, that number has dropped to 20 as Americans prepare to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
More of those bases are expected to close in the coming months.
Commanders are working to ensure soldiers get three hot meals a day until the bitter end, but soldiers will be roughing it in other respects.
On-base luxuries such as ice cream shops and coffee stands will disappear.
Stall said soldiers in the region, fewer in number these days, are working at a furious pace.
"Morale is incredible," he said.
In the headquarters, morale was buoyed by news that Carter would be awarded the Medal of Honor -- the second 4th Infantry Division soldier given the honor this year.
"I'm ecstatic that young man is getting recognized for his actions," Stall said. "A living recipient is good news all around.
"I'm hoping that young man will visit Fort Carson in the future."
And, after a dozen years, it appears the Afghans are ready to lead.
"Every day they're telling us 'We've got this'," Stall said. "They want to be in charge."