Afghan National Army is a promising ally — when it tries to be
July 24, 2006
The following clarification to this story was posted July 24: A July 23 story about American troop interactions with Afghan National Army units contained a unit designation that was incomplete. The American unit in the story is the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LANE, Afghanistan — In less than 24 hours Lt. Col. Frank Sturek got to see the best and the worst the Afghan National Army has to offer.
On Friday morning, Sturek, the commander of Task Force Warrior, scolded an ANA battalion commander for failing to keep his troops in line and on the front during a firefight between U.S. troops and more than 100 Taliban fighters the night before.
On Saturday morning he visited and praised a unit of Afghan soldiers who have manned an outpost outside Gaza without American assistance since May, and have successfully cut off a well-used supply route for the Taliban.
On Friday, Sturek called the foreign troops before him cowards and liars. On Saturday he called the others true patriots and heroes.
Troops working in northern Zabul province say they routinely see both sides of the new Afghan Army as well. Some days they show great courage and promise. On others, U.S. soldiers would rather fight without them.
“The first thing they told us when we got here was to send the ANA troops first, because if we went in front they would probably shoot us in the back,” said one U.S. soldier, who wished to remain anonymous.
Sturek said that particular battalion has been a recurring problem, and demanded that the local ANA general be on hand when he confronted the battalion commander.
“Most of the (Afghan) soldiers we work with are great,” he said, “but this one is always a problem, because of that guy.”
Friday night was another example of the ANA’s inconsistency. As U.S. troops prepared to spend the night in the Chalcor Valley defending a disabled vehicle, Sgt. Maj. Joseph Montour asked his accompanying ANA troops to provide intelligence reports on the ridgeline above to help secure the area.
A local commander agreed, and sent several men out. About an hour later, Montour received word that the unit had left, leaving his men without any backup. About an hour later a different ANA unit arrived, this one with gun trucks and the intention to spend the night.
Gaza has been one of the consistent success stories for the Afghan troops. The outpost is one of five the U.S. fighters established and almost immediately handed over control to the local troops.
Sturek said the Afghan commanders here were reluctant to take charge of the outpost at first, but have flourished since. They’ve repelled several Taliban attacks before U.S. forces could offer assistance, and performed regular patrols to keep the nearby villages under coalition control.
Local villagers who met with U.S. officials at the outpost on Saturday said the ANA presence has made the area safer. They voiced some complaints about harassment of locals during security patrols, but added that they have not seen Taliban fighters in the area for weeks, thanks to those same patrols.
As Sturek and the U.S. forces prepared to leave, one village elder who missed the call for Saturday’s meeting came storming up to the outpost, worried that his son had been detained by the American troops.
When he saw the Afghan fighters speaking with his son and other local villagers, his demeanor changed from terrified to jovial almost instantly.
“We are happy with what (the ANA) does here,” he said through a translator. “They have kept us safe.”