82nd Airborne takes up training mission in Farah province
SHEWAN GARRISON, Afghanistan — The men of the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment prepared to enter an Afghan village where suspected Taliban insurgents were hiding.
Hours before sunrise, they quietly began suiting up for combat, checking weapons and radios and coordinating with a quick reaction force of fellow soldiers in case things went bad.
Ammunition? Check. Water? Check. The Afghan National Army troops who were supposed to lead it? Nowhere to be found.
It was another frustrating start to a mission for the U.S. soldiers tasked with advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces in Farah province in western Afghanistan. They’ve been here for two months as part of a policy that doubled the number of U.S. troops training Afghans by bringing in the 82nd Airborne’s 4th Brigade Combat Team. That the ANA were a few hours late on that day’s mission was almost a given, according to the troops.
Up to that point, the mission was run by one National Guard brigade combat team under the direction of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. Small teams of nine to 15 soldiers, led by a captain or major, embedded with the Afghan forces to train them.
But with the Afghan National Security Forces growing, more U.S. manpower was needed, U.S. officials said, and the 82nd Airborne was sent in. The Airborne’s 4th BCT works out of the south and west, and the National Guard’s 48th Brigade Combat Team out of Georgia now focuses on the north and east.
“In the last year and a half … we couldn’t generate enough National Guard, so the Army said, “OK, we’re going to take a … brigade combat team and give them the mission,” said 4th BCT operations officer Lt. Col. Guy Jones. “And that’s how they then began to form this two-BCT concept, as they call it.”
The 82nd Airborne runs seven battalions in Afghanistan. Five work in a full-time partnership role, and two serve as support battalions.
Lt. Col. Michael Wawrzyniak, 4-73 commander, said his 400-man battalion has spent the first two months as part of Task Force Fury building rapport with the locals and living with the Afghan army and police, conducting joint patrols.
Wawrzyniak said that with a battalion, he can, when needed, create larger teams than the 9- to 15-man units they replaced.
“We come with more of a conventional structure to our forces with platoons and troops, that allows us to expand where we can advise, and match up closer [with] the ANA and ANP forces,” he said.
But he admitted to difficulties motivating and working with the Afghans.
“Part of the challenge is realizing that the Afghan army and the way they coordinate and plan operations isn’t always going to look like the way we would coordinate and plan an operation,” Wawrzyniak said. “So you kind of have to figure out what the balance is and still effectively get things done.”
That “Afghan way” also comes into play with logistics and supplies, Jones said. U.S. troops will look at the worst-case scenario and pack accordingly. A 24-hour operation could go into a second day, for example, so the U.S. troops will pack additional food, water and other supplies.
The Afghans, however, will plan for 24 hours.
“And at the end of that, if they don’t have the stuff that they need, ‘Oh, we will get it,’ ” is the Afghan reaction, Jones explained.
“It’s inshallah,” Jones said, or God willing. “I’m just now starting to grasp that ‘inshallah.’ ”