By Army Sgt. Zach Otto
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 26, 2008 - Whether it is a routine patrol or a weapons search, U.S. and Afghan forces increasingly are working together to halt the violence that has haunted Afghanistan for more than 30 years. In the early stages of winter in Afghanistan, creeks begin to freeze as the temperature drops. Everything and everyone seems to slow down and hibernate for the cold weather. But the soldiers with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, won't hibernate this winter.
Before the sunrise on Nov. 12, many of these soldiers awoke to feel the air crisp in their lungs as they prepared to set out on a foot patrol, while others loaded up in vehicles to patrol local villages. The combined operation consisted of U.S. and Afghan soldiers and Afghan National Police who searched mountainsides and local villages for weapons caches suspected to be hidden deep within the mountains of eastern Afghanistan's Paktika province.
"The [combined] operations work much better now than they did in the past," said Army 1st Sgt. Darrin Yuhn, embedded training team command sergeant major and mentor to the 203rd Kandak, an Afghan National Army unit that's the equivalent of a U.S. Army battalion. "The Afghan forces are a lot more involved with the planning of operations."
The operations aren't random; they're driven by intelligence. "Our mission changes every day," Army Spc. Walter Hresent, an Alpha Company radio transmitter operator, explained. "We get all kinds of intelligence, and we go from there."
This search near Combat Outpost Zirok was for rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms munitions. After a short convoy through a run-off canal, the vehicles came to halt near a small village.
"We disrupt the insurgents' operations in the area by doing patrols," Hresent said. "They do not like us being out there, but it is working. We have not been attacked in a while."
The soldiers split into two groups after hearing that two possible caches had been located, one near the village and the other about an hour's walk over and around mountains.
The Afghan soldiers went first into the mountains. After a half hour of walking, they realized that the cache was not where they thought it was. The patrol continued into another small village, where villagers were questioned about the whereabouts of the weapons. The soldiers then headed back to base. Although no cache was found, the patrol still had positive effects on the area.
"Most of the patrols we do are us moving out to the different areas, making our presence known and interacting," Army 1st Lt. Dan Huff, the Alpha Company executive officer, said. "We show the people that we are not scared of the insurgents and that we are here to help them."
(Army Sgt. Zach Otto serves with Combined Joint Task Force 101.)