By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 5, 2007 - Afghan soldiers and police are increasingly taking the lead to bolster security in their country, U.S. military commanders said today from the Afghan capital of Kabul during a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers." "The Afghans are a noble people who strongly desire to defend their own nation," said Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. "Our job is to provide the coaching, teaching and mentoring, as well as the critical resources to make that a reality."
"We're just proud of everybody," said Army Col. Bill Wenzler, commander of Afghanistan Regional Integration Command East. "We're working hard to make sure that we get Afghan National Army and police working together, and they can get some primacy here, and we can all come home."
Both officers are assigned to assist Afghan security forces from their base at Camp Eggers in Kabul. Both praised the extraordinary discipline and ferocity with which Afghan forces operate.
"Most of these young soldiers grew up in families where fighting has been a part of their lives," Cone said. "They have a great deal of endurance ... a high amount of physical strength and, in fact, make very good soldiers."
Because it has performed so well in combat, the Afghan National Army is rarely engaged by Taliban insurgents, Cone said.
"Now they're gravitating toward the police," he said. "It's our responsibility to ensure that we provide adequate protection and adjust our tactics so that they can't pick off individual police districts out on the edges and peripheries of the nation."
The Taliban is increasingly turning to improvised explosive devices to attack Afghan patrols, according to both officers.
"I would say in our area they (insurgents) feel desperate," Wenzler said. "They feel like they're actually running for their lives there. They're trying to find places that they can get a big bang for their buck."
Afghanistan's geography has worked against Afghan security personnel trying to enforce the rule of law in remote regions, Cone said.
"The pattern that this enemy uses would be to identify geographically what is an isolated location where there might be a district police center," the general explained. "They'll show up and leave a night letter that tells the police they're coming the next day in great numbers. The police, probably wisely, cannot be reinforced, so they might leave their posts. And then what happens is they'll overrun the district center, burn the district center and use it as a photo-op and say they've overrun it. And then, by the time we can reinforce this some number of hours later, they're gone."
To prevent such attacks, Cone's team is establishing a Special Forces-style Afghan army unit ready to deploy using recently-acquired MI-17, multi-role helicopters.
"This is the equivalent of a Ranger school-like experience in which we put together about 600 highly trained light infantrymen that are capable of conducting air assault operations," he said.
On the police side, a special SWAT-style unit is training to assist local police officers, Cone said. "We're getting ready right now to push those out to the field as reinforcement forces for the district police that might be in peril."
"Once we've gone in and we've taken care of business, then the bottom line is it's up to the police to stay there and enforce the law," Wenzler said. "It takes the police to connect that local community back to the government of Afghanistan, and that's critical."
"The key to our success in Afghanistan is enabling Afghans to take the lead in all aspects of their security," Cone added. "Afghans are stepping up all across this nation to the challenge of taking the lead in this fight."
(David Mays works at the Pentagon Channel.)