By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 6, 2009 - A key strategy of enemy efforts in Afghanistan seems to entail taking advantage of the porous border region between that country and Pakistan, a senior U.S. military officer said today. For example, much of the insurgents' planning for strikes inside Afghanistan "occurs in Pakistan," Army Col. John P. Johnson, commander of Combined Task Force Currahee, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.
Most enemy fighters in his area, Johnson said, are not native Afghans, but rather foreigners that cross over into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Enemy attacks have increased in his sector by about 20 percent from a year ago, he estimated.
"And so, it's very important for us to develop the capacity, with the Afghan army and the Afghan border police, to be able to better secure the border regions," said Johnson, whose command oversees a mountainous area that is part of the U.S.-led Regional Command East.
Johnson's task force is centered on the 506th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, from Fort Campbell, Ky. It oversees an area about the size of Maryland and includes Khowst, Paktia and Paktika provinces. All three provinces are along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The "border with Pakistan will continue to play a key role in this area," Johnson said. Ongoing efforts to bolster the capabilities of Afghanistan's border police and initiatives to improve communication and coordination with their Pakistani counterparts, he said, are "essential to our success here."
Both Afghan and Pakistani border security forces have improved during the past year, but more needs to be done, Johnson said.
Therefore, a concerted effort was initiated to recruit more Afghan soldiers to man security stations along the border with Pakistan, he said.
"We've recruited enough soldiers so that we're now up to 75-percent strength," Johnson said. "But, we're not yet done."
The border-troop recruits, he said, undergo specific training and are provided with small-arms weapons.
"But, here in the upcoming weeks, we're also going to be equipping them with heavy machine guns, so that they can properly defend their positions along the border," Johnson said.
The Afghan border police perform adequately at static checkpoints and outposts, he said.
"But, quite frankly," Johnson said, "we've got to get the border police capable of conducting area security, offensive operations, to defeat an enemy in a largely porous border region that has very restrictive terrain."
Meanwhile, he said, communication and collaboration has improved with the Pakistani border security forces.
The Pakistanis now "give us a sense of their patrol details" along the border with Afghanistan, Johnson said. And, along some areas of the border, he said, the Pakistanis are coordinating their security efforts with U.S., Afghan and coalition forces "in a way to defeat specific enemy threats."
Combined Task Force Currahee has been in Afghanistan nearly a year. Johnson's headquarters is located at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khowst province.
Johnson and his soldiers are slated to rotate home to Fort Campbell next month. They're to be replaced by 4th Brigade soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division, from Alaska.