Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Elite Security Marine Serves in Afghanistan

By Marine Corps Master Sgt. Brenda Varnadore
Regional Command Southwest

NOW ZAD, Oct. 31, 2012 – Marine Corps Cpl. Austen Clark said his decision to join the Corps five years ago was an easy one, especially since he was guaranteed a job to protect the president.
Clark, the 2nd squad leader for 1st Platoon, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, said he decided after graduating from high school in 2007 that the Marine Corps Security Forces was his destiny.

“My granddad was in,” the Morristown, Ind., native said. “He was [communications] though. I didn’t want to go to college so I joined.”

After graduating from recruit training and infantry school, Clark headed to the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., while his security clearance went through. Once all necessary investigations were done, it was time for him to head to Camp David in Maryland to protect then-President George W. Bush.

“President Bush was a huge mountain biker,” Clark recalled. “We would always see him out riding. He was hilarious though, and always had time to talk and laugh with us.”

After President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Clark said, he had the chance to not only provide security for him, but to also play some basketball with the commander-in-chief.

Clark moved up quickly while with Security Forces and earned a billet as Reactionary Force Commander, making him responsible for two security teams. His more than three years at Camp David made Clark realize, he said, that his ultimate goal is federal service after his Marine Corps service ends.

“I want to eventually get on with the Secret Service or U.S. Marshals,” Clark said. “I was going to do it from [Camp David] with all the connections, but I was scheduled for [2nd Bn., 7th Marines] and knew they were deploying soon. That is what I joined to do, so I re-enlisted.”

After Clark arrived at 2nd Bn., 7th Marines, he found out his deployment was not to Afghanistan as he originally thought, but to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. While with the 31st MEU, he found himself in Australia.

“I really enjoyed my time there,” Clark said. “Being able to train with the Australians was a great opportunity.”

Clark said he found out quickly when he arrived at a regular infantry battalion, however, that he would have to prove himself as a leader.

“I love what I do and being here with a very prideful unit helped,” Clark said. “It was an uphill battle, but I proved myself and have progressed to squad leader.”

Clark is finally in Afghanistan and said he’s set some definite goals for himself.

“I waited five and a half years to get out here,” he said. “I want to try to use the time to sharpen my skills as a Marine and try to pick up sergeant.”

Whether Clark decides to stay in the Marine Corps for the long haul or transfer to federal service, he said, his parents will always be supportive and proud of him.

Combined Force Kills Taliban Leader

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 31, 2012 – An Afghan and coalition security force killed a Taliban leader in Helmand province yesterday, military officials reported.

The Taliban leader, known as Sajid or Abdul Hakim, led an improvised explosive device cell operating in the province and was believed responsible for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces based in the area.
In other operations yesterday:

-- In Ghazni province, Afghan Provincial Response Company Ghazni, enabled by coalition forces, seized a cache of homemade explosives during a search operation. The force destroyed the cache, which contained 660
pounds of potassium chlorate, an explosive, along with
detonation cords and initiators.
-- In Kandahar province, a combined force found and seized six victim-triggered homemade bombs, with power sources, in a compound during a foot patrol. The force dismantled the bombs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Army NCO Destroys IEDs in Afghanistan

By Army Staff Sgt. Nicolas Morales
4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 30, 2012 – Deployed Army Sgt. Bradley Toman looks back at the last 12 years of his military career with fond memories and as an encouraging way ahead for his family and soldiers.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Bradley Toman in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nick Morales

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Toman, a native of Davison, Mich., enlisted in the Army in 1998 as a carpenter and mason. He recalled that he was in Washington, D.C., during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

He recalls the event as if it were yesterday.

“I was standing outside watching over in the Pentagon area. I saw black smoke over there and immediately realized there weren’t any factories over there,” Toman said. “I ran inside the office and that’s when I found out the Pentagon got hit.”

Assigned to the White House Communications Agency, Toman had a unique job.

“I used to design, build and refurbish presidential podiums, and any special cabinet needs that the president needed, I would build them, knock them out and get them done,” he said.

In 2005, Toman decided to leave the Army and pursue a career as a civilian carpenter. A couple of years later he still had a void that he couldn’t fill.

“When I got out, I knew I had a lot and knew a lot was going on for me in the Army, but when I got out I realized exactly how much [the Army would be missed]. I loved it before and it just made me love it that much more,” Toman said.

Toman said family is a big part of what keeps him focused in Afghanistan. The support of his wife and daughter on his decision to return to active duty, he said, was the only thing he needed.

“After things started to fall apart -- my father had passed away -- my wife Patricia told me to do whatever made me happy, and the only thing that really made me happy was my time in the Army,” Toman said.
His wife helped out his decision with a little more than just some encouraging words.

“She knew what my answer was going to be, so she went to the recruiter a week prior and started the dialogue on my behalf,” Toman said. “So when we decided to go down to the recruiter’s office and I stepped into the office they addressed me as ‘Sgt. Toman’ and all I had to do was sign the paperwork.”

Now on his second deployment, Toman is making a major contribution in Afghanistan as a noncommissioned officer in a route clearance patrol platoon, tasked with the mission to find and destroy IED’s.

Toman is a recognized leader, who, despite his accolades and accomplishments, stays grounded and engaged with his soldiers and leaders.

“The things that I will remember about this deployment are the guys -- training them, getting trained and teaching them about the job. Their lives are in my hands,” Toman said.

He’s decided that he will stay in the military and retire. He also said his family is extremely proud of what he does.

“When I went home to my grandpa, I noticed he had a tear in his eye for the first time that I can remember,” Toman said. “He told me, ‘You’re doing a good job son.’ That meant the world to me.”

Combined Force Arrests Taliban Leader

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 30, 2012 – An Afghan and coalition security force arrested a Taliban leader in Afghanistan’s Helmand province today, military officials reported.

The arrested insurgent leader is believed to be involved in providing tactical guidance to Taliban senior leaders while facilitating the movement of improvised explosive device components to other insurgents.

The security force also detained a number of suspected insurgents as a result of the operation.
In other operations today:
-- A combined force arrested a Taliban weapons and IED facilitator in Kandahar province. The arrested facilitator is suspected of smuggling weapons throughout Kandahar province and acquiring homemade explosives and other IED-making materials for use in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.
-- A combined force detained a number of insurgents during a search for a Haqqani leader in Logar province. The sought-after Haqqani leader is believed responsible for coordinating and executing IED and small-arms fire attacks targeting Afghan and coalition forces throughout northern Logar province.
And during an Oct. 29 operation, a combined force arrested a Taliban leader in Kandahar province. The arrested insurgent leader is believed to have assisted in inspecting and relocating IEDs within western Kandahar province.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Marine Trains Afghan Soldiers to Train Others

By Marine Corps Sgt. James Mercure
Regional Command Southwest

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan, Oct. 29, 2012 – Decisions at the age of 3 usually consist of which color crayon to use. For one Marine, it was a point where he made the biggest decision of his life.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Corps Cpl. John Anthony Cleaver trains Afghan soldiers while serving at an austere forward operating base in Afghanistan. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James Mercure

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Cpl. John Anthony Cleaver said becoming a Marine was something he’s wanted to do since he started to talk, walk and wear his uncle’s Marine “boonie cover,” a floppy hat used in sunny climates.
Seventeen years later, Cleaver works directly with his Afghan National Army counterparts as an advisor, teaching them everything from patrolling tactics to how to guard their base in one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous areas.

“We spend a lot of time with the ANA,” Cleaver said. “We train the trainers, so to speak. We show their leadership how to do things the right way, so when they go back to their units, they can teach their soldiers.”

Cleaver said he was brought up in South Philadelphia with a love for the Marine Corps and a love of hockey.

“For three years, I worked as an assistant for the Philadelphia Phantoms, which used to be the minor league team for the Philadelphia Flyers,” he said. “I would get the players anything they needed during games, and sometimes I would go on the road with them. Philadelphia has some of the craziest fans in the world, and definitely I’m one of them.”

Cleaver has put that intensity toward his job as a Marine, both as an advisor to the Afghan army and in his primary job as motor transport operator. Most operators just arriving to the operational forces would have little responsibility until they learned the ropes of how to do their job. But five months after arriving to the operational forces, Cleaver was meritoriously promoted to corporal.

“When I was promoted, I was put in charge of the [onboard vehicle equipment] for all of our Humvees,” the 2010 Ridley High School graduate explained. “A few months later, I became the one of the line noncommissioned officers in charge and took care of more than 60 vehicles, 11 Marines and made sure all my guys were where they needed to be if a mission came up. It was a couple months when the order came down and they asked if I wanted to deploy on an [individual augment] billet. I couldn’t have been happier that they picked me.”

Cleaver said deploying and training soldiers with the Afghan army has been a positive experience that he hopes will leave a lasting legacy in Afghanistan.

“It’s interesting living in a different culture,” he said. “The soldiers take their training from us and make an ‘Afghan solution’ to keep their people safe and let them have security. They know we’re not going to be here forever, so they listen and learn when we teach them. That transfers over to the safety of their people, and I’m glad I’m a part of that process.”

From the Frontlines: Maj. Joel Purcell

by Senior Airman Montse Belleau
509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

10/25/2012 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- "Our squadron's motto is 'Engineering Combat Power' and that's what we did," Maj. Joel Purcell, 777th Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadron said recalling his deployment. "I was in charge of a detachment that designed, managed, constructed, and maintained facilities and infrastructure allowing combat forces to continue their mission."

Purcell was deployed to Shindand AB, Afghanistan for four months and to Bagram AB, Afghanistan for his last two months. He left Whiteman in January and returned in September.

Purcell said his job ranged from constructing dining facilities, entry control points and tactical operations centers, to planning new mission bed downs and even drawdown and transfer plans of bases to Afghan forces.

"What makes the Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadron unique is the speed in which we can respond to a situation," Purcell said. "Generally when an emergency happened, we were on a helicopter to the area the same day."

In addition to the response time, Purcell said his team offered specialized engineering skills other organizations do not possess.

"A few examples of this is my team was able to respond to a State Department request to assess a bridge between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan within two days, and we were able to construct a temporary ramp to recover a C-17 that had slid off the runway during a snow storm," Purcell said.

He said being an engineering 911 force, he never knew what order he would be given.

"I still remember a call I received late night on a Sunday from AFCENT-forward. I was told 'we have some individuals relocating to a classified location next week, we need your folks on the ground surveying the area and planning their bed down tomorrow morning, we will have a helicopter on the ramp in five hours!,"' Purcell said. "My typical day was anything but typical."

At Whiteman, Purcell is in charge of the Civil Engineer Squadron's Operation Flight where he is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and repair of the facilities and infrastructures on Whiteman.

"In Afghanistan, the engineering forces I led were similar, but rather than maintaining a base, we were responsible for a region," he said. "Most of the day-to-day maintenance in Afghanistan is done by contractors; we were called in when the timeline was short, or the area was too dangerous to get a contractor in."

Even though he was busy with his duties, just like during his previous three deployments, Purcell said he found time to help with the USO and also tutored some of his Airmen working on their bachelor degrees.

"I have deployed many times and I still keep in touch with folks I met on my first deployment 13 years ago," Purcell said.

Purcell said overall it was a difficult but rewarding deployment, and the best part of his deployment was the people he met and the friends he made.

"Every time I deploy and I interact with the locals, I am reminded how lucky we are to be Americans and how much we take for granted," he said.

Combined Force Kills Attackers During Search for Taliban Leader

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 29, 2012 – A combined Afghan and coalition security force killed several insurgents during a security operation to arrest a Taliban leader in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province today, military officials reported.

The security force came under small-arms fire from several insurgents as it approached the Taliban leader’s suspected location. The security force returned fire, killing the insurgents.

The combined force also detained a suspected insurgent and seized a machine gun with a large quantity of ammunition, several assault-style rifles, a pistol and assorted ammunition.

In other Afghanistan operations today:
-- A combined force in Kandahar province arrested a Taliban leader believed to be responsible for high-profile attack planning, facilitating weapons for insurgents and leading a group of Taliban fighters.
-- In Logar province, a combined force detained several suspected insurgents while searching for a Haqqani network leader believed to coordinate attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.
-- A combined force in Khost province detained a suspected insurgent during a search for a Haqqani network leader suspected of planning ambush attacks targeting Afghan and coalition forces and helping to facilitate weapons for insurgents.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. 

They died of wounds suffered Oct. 25 when their unit was attacked by small arms fire in Khas Uruzgan, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan. 

Killed were: 

Staff Sgt.  Kashif  M. Memon, 31, of Houston, Texas.  He was assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C. 

Sgt. Clinton K. Ruiz, 22, of Murrieta, Calif.  He was assigned to the 9th Military Information Support Battalion (Airborne), 8th Military Information Support Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C. 
For more information media may contact the U.S. Army Special Operations Command public affairs office at  910-432-6005 (duty hours) or 910-494-1589 (after hours).

Friday, October 26, 2012

ISAF Condemns Faryab Mosque Bombing

International Security Assistance Force News Release

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2012 – The International Security Assistance Force condemns with grave conviction the suicide attack carried out today at the Eid Gah Mosque in Maimana, Faryab province, in Afghanistan.

Dozens were killed or injured in the explosion as they left the mosque after the opening prayers of the holy observation of Eid al-Adha.

"I condemn this heinous act, which is an affront to human life, to religious devotion, and to the peaceful aspirations of the Afghan people," said Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the ISAF commander. "I offer my condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured, and the resources of ISAF to help however we can. This violence undertaken at a place of worship, and during Eid, once again shows the insurgency's callous hypocrisy and disregard for religion and faith.

"In my recent remarks to commemorate this most holy Muslim observance of Eid al-Adha, I spoke of the admiration I hold for the Afghan people's desire for peace,” Allen continued. “Today's tragic attack makes this feeling all the more poignant as we -- the coalition and the Afghan people -- stand together in tireless pursuit of peace."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Counterpiracy Flagship Comes Under Fire Off Somalia’s Coast

From a Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe News Release

MONS, Belgium, Oct. 25, 2012 – The flagship for NATO’s Ocean Shield counterpiracy mission came under sustained fire from suspected pirates off Somalia’s coast yesterday, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe officials reported today.

The Dutch warship HNMLS Rotterdam was attacked while conducting routine surveillance, officials said.

A boarding team from Rotterdam was approaching a suspect dhow near the coast when they came under fire from ashore and from the dhow itself. When Rotterdam returned fire in accordance with rules of engagement, officials said, the dhow ignited and crew members were seen leaping into the water. One dhow crew member was killed in this action, and 25 people were subsequently rescued from the water by Rotterdam crew members, officials said.

Commodore Ben Bekkering of the Dutch navy, commander of the NATO Task Force, said that the Rotterdam and her boats remained under sustained fire from the shore throughout the incident, even while attempting to rescue the crew of the stricken dhow. One of Rotterdam’s rigid inflatable boats was damaged, he said.

Those rescued were transferred to the NATO flagship, where those who required it were given prompt medical attention. No Rotterdam crew members were injured.

"We know that pirates are increasingly using larger dhows as mother ships,” Bekkering said. “Therefore, we routinely inspect them. In this instance, the pirates openly choose confrontation. This does not happen often, and it indicates that we are, indeed, impeding their operations and in doing so, pushing them to take more extreme options.”

Bekkering praised the “calm professionalism” of the Rotterdam crew and said this incident, together with Rotterdam’s successful Oct. 11 interdiction of seven pirates, made two things very clear.

“Firstly, it is obvious that the scourge of piracy has not gone away, and we need to maintain our vigilance,” he said. “Secondly, the risks to the pirates themselves are becoming much greater, and while we regret any loss of life, we will deal with any threat we encounter in a firm, robust, but always proportionate, manner.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

DOD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. 
Chief Warrant Officer Michael S. Duskin, 42, of Orange Park, Fla., died Oct. 23, in Chak District, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, from small arms fire while on dismounted patrol during combat operations.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N. C. 

For more information related to this release, media may contact the U.S. Army Special Forces Command public affairs office at 910-689-6147 or 910-908-3947.

Countering al-Qaida in Mali Requires Regional Cooperation

By Jim Garamone

American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2012 – Al-Qaida is establishing a presence in Mali, and the United States is working with regional and international partners to deal with the terrorist organization, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.

“I've made clear … we have to ensure that al-Qaida has no place to hide and that we have to continue to go after them … wherever they try to develop a command-and-control capability from which they could conduct attacks, either on Europe or on this country,” the secretary said during a news conference with South Korean Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin.

Al-Qaida is trying to establish a safe area in northern Mali. The United States will continue to work with the nations of the region to put pressure on the terror group, just as America has done in other areas. “We’re doing it in Yemen. We’re doing it in Somalia. We're obviously continuing to do it in the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan],” Panetta said. “And I believe the effort now ought to be to work with nations in that region to ensure that al-Qaida does not develop that kind of base in Mali.”

But this cannot be something imposed by nations outside the area, the secretary said. “It ought to be an effort that is developed in conjunction with other countries in the region that share the same concern,” he said.

Discussions about an international response to issues facing Mali continue. For the United States, the State Department is the lead agency. This week, the French Ministry of Defense hosted an international discussion in Paris to evaluate proposals and options for intervention in Mali and the Sahel, DOD officials said.

Mali faces four overlapping problems. First there are questions of the legitimacy of the government following a coup in March. Since the coup, there has been an increase in criminal traffickers or people drugs and contraband. The Tuareg -- a nomadic people of the desert -- and al-Qaida in the Mahgreb are rising against the government, and there is a Sahel-wide humanitarian crisis stretching from Sudan almost to the Atlantic coast.

The United Nations Security Council is considering a resolution to address Mali’s problems. One part of the resolution would create a western-backed, African-led international force to meet security threats in Mali.

The Economic Community of West African States -- which Mali is a member -- said it would lead this force.

“I think what we’re prepared to do is to discuss with our regional partners a plan that … would deal with that threat and how to respond to it,” Panetta said.

Cole Suspect Tells Judge of Alleged Guard Abuse

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

FORT MEADE, Md., Oct. 24, 2012 – Alleging threats and aggression from military prison guards, the suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole told a military tribunal judge today such actions were why he did not attend court yesterday at the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In the second day of his motions hearing, Abd al Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri told the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, that today was the first time in his 10-year incarceration that he was able to speak to someone about the allegations.

“It’s very important you hear this. [I] might have threats on me if I leave my cell,” Nashiri told the judge through a translator. “In my prison [the guards], say, ‘We are taking security measures,’ and create new rules, but it has nothing to do with security. That is impossible,” he said. “I have a right to tell the judge about it.”

Nashiri also told the judge, “If you are [in a line with other prisoners and] you move 1 meter, the guards will chain your hands, legs and belly.”

Nashiri said he had a “bad back” and the belly chains hurt him when he has to wear them to court, and the vehicle he was transported in was uncomfortable, and made him ill.

He asked the judge to intervene and tell the guards to “stop [the] aggression.”

“I want the world to know I was sentenced to death because I [won’t come to] court in chains,” he said.
Pohl compelled Nashiri yesterday to appear at today’s hearing, so the judge could advise him of his rights to be present or waive attendance at his hearings.

Nashiri was in the courtroom all day for the proceedings.

An alleged al-Qaida member, Nashiri was allegedly under the supervision of Osama bid Laden at the time of the Cole explosion, U.S. officials said.

The Cole was docked for a fuel stop in Aden, Yemen, when a small watercraft approached the ship’s port side and exploded. The explosion killed 17 sailors, and 40 more were injured.

Nashiri also is accused with an attempted attack on the USS The Sullivans in January 2000 and an attack on the French oil tanker Limburg in October 2002.

Nashiri is charged with perfidy, or treachery; murder in violation of the law of war; attempted murder in violation of the law of war; terrorism; conspiracy; intentionally causing serious bodily injury; attacking civilian objects and hazarding a vessel.

If convicted, Nashiri could face the death penalty.

Pohl did not rule on any of the motions argued today, after hurricane warnings closed up the Navy station.

Too Early to Tell Whether Iraq Effort Created Ally, General Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2012 – It’s still too early to tell whether the U.S. effort in Iraq has created an American ally, the commander of U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army said here yesterday.
Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, who served many tours in Iraq, told the Defense Writers Group that it took years for a democratic government to emerge in West Germany following World War II, and he expects many of the same difficulties happening with Iraq.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in Iraq,” the general said. “I’m hopeful for increasing positive signs.”

The Iraqi government still is fighting a complex insurgency in a very tough environment, the general noted. “My friends in Iraq … are all very hopeful,” he said, “but they also understand the challenges they are encountering.”

The most encouraging step to date in Iraq is the potential for the rule of law to develop, Hertling said.

“[Iraqi] security forces are competent, but still feeling their way,” he said. “Their politicians are increasingly becoming effective in understanding the representative process, but it certainly can’t be compared to our government, or even our government 10 years after the Revolutionary War.”

Iraq will continue to have struggles in three main areas, the general said: security forces, rule of law and the primacy of political control. “They are still struggling, and it pains me to watch it,” he added.
How Iraq does in the future is something that will haunt U.S. veterans of the Iraq war, the general said. “There was a lot of blood and sweat and tears and hard work put into that country by American soldiers,” he said. He noted that as U.S. troops leave bases in Germany they have been in since 1945, many Germans have come to thank them for what they and their predecessors did to save the country.

The current generation worked hard in Iraq, and is not feeling particularly appreciated, Hertling said. “That’s unfortunate,” he added. “It’s something that all of our veterans from Iraq, and eventually our veterans from Afghanistan, will struggle with. They worked hard, they fought hard, and they did what they were trying to do to establish workable solutions in those two countries.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Commander: Afghan Forces Gaining Capability, Respect

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2012 – Comparing insider attacks in Afghanistan to the desperate suicide missions Kamikaze pilots launched during World War II, a Marine commander in southwestern Afghanistan said the insurgents have failed to put a wedge between the coalition and the increasingly capable Afghan forces preparing to assume full security responsibility there.

Marine Corps Col. John Shafer, commander of Regimental Combat Team 6, called insider attacks a drastic, last-ditch effort by a desperate insurgency struggling to gain an advantage. But aside from requiring new security measures to protect Afghan national security forces as well as coalition members, the attacks have fallen flat in terms of derailing the relationship between them, he said.

Speaking by teleconference during an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Shafer reported steady progress in the Afghan security forces’ development during the 10 months since his Marines and sailors arrived in Helmand province.

Initially, offensive actions and targeted raids helped to create a less hostile environment for the fledging Afghan security forces to develop their capabilities, Shafer said. “Then, as we moved into the summer months, … we ensured that the Afghan national security forces -- both the army and police forces -- had the ability to occupy the spaces that we helped create through our offensive actions earlier in the year,” he said.
Now, the Afghans have taken on greater security responsibility that Schafer said has enabled his forces to scale back their operations as they prepare to redeploy.

“We reduced the force in the regimental combat team by approximately 60 percent, and we have made up the difference with the Afghan national security forces,” he said. “So … the Marines of the regional combat team … effectively created the conditions to allow the Afghan national security forces to come in and create the space for them to be able to effectively operate.”

As the Afghan forces show their increasing ability to conduct independent operations, Schafer said, they’re gaining the respect of the Afghan people.

“Initially, there was hesitation from the local national perspective, because they didn’t know how capable their Afghan national security forces were,” he said. “But … as a result of the thinning of the [International Security Assistance Force] and coalition forces, the Afghan national security forces have had to step up to meet the challenges that the Taliban have presented. And overwhelmingly, they have done very well and been very successful.

“And with that, it has really bolstered the confidence of the local national population and … given the Afghan national security forces credibility in the eyes of the people of Afghanistan,” Shafer continued. “So I think we are well on track.”

Noting a key lesson learned during the drawdown in Iraq, Shafer said population support will be critical to long-term mission success in Afghanistan.

“In any counterinsurgent environment that you are operating in, both the insurgency and the counterinsurgent forces are dependent on the local national population,” he said. “The population is what will eventually carry the day for you. So he who is most closely aligned with the population will eventually be … the winner of the conflict.

“So what we have tried to do is offer the local national population a choice that is better for them and their future, by selecting and siding with the government of Afghanistan over what the insurgency choice offers them,” Shafer said. “And I think that was very much true as well in Iraq.”

As U.S. and coalition forces draw down in Afghanistan, Shafer said, they’re ensuring the Afghan forces recognize that responsibility and conduct themselves as representatives of the Afghan government.
He expressed pride in his Marines and sailors, who often operate behind the scenes providing the ongoing support that has enabled progress to take place.

“They have done it all in a period [when] we have doubled the size of the battle space, … reduced the force by two-thirds, … transitioned lead security responsibility in many of the districts to the Afghan national security forces, … repositioned our headquarters from one location to another and sent about 40 percent of our headquarters home,” Shafer said. “And in doing it, they haven’t skipped a beat.”

Key Player in Maersk Alabama Hostage Rescue Addresses NPS Students During Guest Lecture

By Kenneth Stewart, Naval Postgraduate School Public Affairs

MONTEREY, Calif. (NNS) -- A renowned Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) alumnus and former USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) commander addressed students and faculty at NPS' King Auditorium, Oct. 16.

The Bainbridge first caught the public's attention after it led the dramatic rescue operation that freed Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates in 2009.

Ironically, the Bainbridge is named for Commodore William Bainbridge who fought pirates off the coast of Africa during the Barbary Wars.

Navy Capt. Frank Castellano shared the history of U.S efforts to combat North African piracy and offered an insiders perspective into the Phillips rescue, which he referred to as his, "sea story."

"This is a 'sea story,' my sea story," said Castellano in beginning his recount of the dramatic events. "There are many perspectives about what happened that day, this is mine.

"My story is about teamwork ... It's a human story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things," continued Castellano.

The rescue of Phillips took place over several days off the Somali coast. It involved Sailors, special operations forces and an alphabet soup list of what Castellano referred to as, "three-named agencies."

Castellano was ordered to investigate a distress call April 8, 2009, several hundred miles off the coast of Somalia. His staff immediately began operations planning as intelligence came in and the Bainbridge closed in on the distressed vessel.

The Bainbridge arrived after a standoff between Maersk Alabama crewmembers and Somali pirates. Maersk Alabama crewmen were able to repel the pirates, but the pirates managed to take Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips hostage and escape in one of the cargo ship's lifeboats.

The lifeboat was a far cry from the dinghies popularized in movies like "Titanic." It was a covered fiberglass vessel with enough fuel, food and supplies for nine days. Rescuers had originally hoped that the vessel would simply run out of fuel, but it proved to be far more resilient than previously assumed.

"That lifeboat was the bane of my existence. It just kept going, I should buy stock in that company," said Castellano to laughter and applause from the audience.

Castellano notes that in the days that led to Phillips' rescue, he slept no more than four hours. He oversaw the establishment of a water-landing zone, coordinated rescue efforts and personally negotiated with the pirates to ensure Phillips' release.

Still, Castellano insists that the rescue was a, "total team effort."

FBI hostage negotiators, snipers, and USS Bainbridge Sailors worked together with Castellano to ensure Phillips' rescue. The lifeboat was repeatedly, "waked" [deliberately hit with the wake of the Bainbridge] to prevent it from getting too close to the Somali shore. And the Bainbridge was used to conceal a water landing zone for special operations teams who parachuted in under the cover of darkness. Snipers were able to target the pirates from the Bainbridge's fantail, killing three and ending Phillips' ordeal.

Castellano credits his NPS education with his ability to make the tough decisions and to endure the sleepless, high-stress environment that culminated in Phillips' rescue.

"Intuitive decision making under stress was part of my thesis research at NPS ... The innovative thought and critical thinking skills that I gained at NPS helped me to approach the problem in a non-traditional manner," said Castellano.

The events described by Castellano are the subject of Phillips' book, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangerous Days." The Phillips rescue is also the subject of a major Hollywood production starring Tom Hanks slated for release in March 2013.