By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 16, 2008 - The National Guards' 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team based in New York is part of a task force sent to Afghanistan to train and mentor the Afghan national security forces, a military official said yesterday. "Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix 12 consists of active, Guard, reserve, all services, components, coalition partners -- for a total of 8,500-plus soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen," Army Col. Brian Balfe, commander of the U.S. Army National Guard's 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, told online journalists and "bloggers."
While Task Force Phoenix is only on a nine-month tour as opposed to the standard 15-month tour, Balfe said he thinks there is ample time to complete their goals.
"After speaking with a number of our coalition partners, many of which do four-month tours, six-month tours and some nine months, ... I do think a nine-month tour is a very good compromise, both from a National Guard point of view and a personal point of view," Balfe said. "I do believe, in the final analysis, we're going to get an awful lot done toward our mission in those nine earnest months of training and mentoring the Afghan national security forces."
More than one third of 27th Infantry Brigade soldiers have served in Iraq, and some also served at Ground Zero following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Balfe said.
Although 27th Infantry Brigade has only been in Afghanistan for a little more than a month, Balfe said, the unit has already greatly increased the number of forward operating bases.
"We've done that by continuing to remain in some of the winter camps that were formerly only summer camps," Balfe said. "While we have an ever-increasing number of forward operating bases and our people are out there, so too are the Afghan National Army and National Police."
Because there is a severe shortage of mentoring personnel in Task Force Phoenix, Balfe said, officials have sent 700 of the 900-plus New York soldiers "downrange" to work with their Afghan National Army and police counterparts.
The 27th Infantry Brigade has been fortunate to have 1,100 U.S. Marines working with them, Balfe said.
"We're in the process of building out forward operating bases for (the Marines') use, so that they can operate in nine or 10 different districts in both the south and the west and supplement our forces that are currently on the ground with regard to police mentoring," Balfe said.
"We've done everything we possibly can to push as many resources -- personnel, equipment, etc. -- as far forward or as far downrange as possible," Balfe said.
As much success as 27th Infantry Brigade has had so far, Balfe said, there still are a lot of challenges that lay ahead.
Because the Afghans have lived in a state of war for the past 30 years, the country's industry and economy are weak, Balfe said.
Another challenge Afghans face is corruption in the national police force, Balfe explained.
"While they have a fighting tradition, they are not used to a national police force," he said. "That is a new concept. We are building one with them, and it's based on the rule of law."
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)