Monday, September 30, 2013

Afghanistan Drawdown Proceeds on Schedule, Austin Reports

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2013 – Calling the drawdown in Afghanistan a “herculean undertaking,” the U.S. Central Command commander overseeing it said he’s applying some of the lessons he learned in Iraq, but that he recognizes there’s no cookie-cutter formula that applies completely to the distinctly different operations.

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Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, discusses efforts underway in Afghanistan with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of the International Security Assistance Force, during a visit to ISAF Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 26, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class JoAnn Moravac

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III served as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq when Operation New Dawn concluded in December 2011. Former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta praised him during a closing ceremony in Baghdad for his leadership in carrying out “one of the most complex logistical undertakings in U.S. military history.”

“Your effort to make this day a reality is nothing short of miraculous,” Panetta told him.

Two years later, Austin is in the midst of an even more daunting challenge in Afghanistan, as he oversees the drawdown of the largest coalition campaign in modern history.

“The biggest challenge is simply coordinating the many different activities involved in the transition,” he told American Forces Press Service via an email interview. It is a herculean undertaking, he added, and it must be properly synchronized to achieve the stated objectives by the Dec. 31, 2014, deadline.

Complicating the process, Austin said, is the fact that the security environment remains volatile.
“We must keep in mind that we are conducting this transition while facing a determined and formidable enemy,” he said. “And, the enemy undoubtedly has a vote in determining the course of events going forward.”

As they work to meet President Barack Obama’s directive to reduce the force to 34,000 by February and to complete the drawdown by the end of 2014, Austin said, he and his staff are drawing on the experience they gained in Iraq.

“Transitioning from a theater of war represents a complex undertaking that, unfortunately, does not have a ‘one size fits all’ solution,” he said.

“However, there are a number of lessons learned from our experiences in Iraq that are being applied in Afghanistan,” he said. “We were successful in conducting the transition from Iraq, and we are now doing a good job of applying the knowledge and experience gained there toward efforts in Afghanistan.”

Particularly valuable, he said, are insights into best practices in logistics to ways to more seamlessly transfer responsibilities across the interagency community and to the host nation.

“The process of moving a mountain of equipment and tens of thousands of people out of that country, gradually reducing our physical footprint and transferring responsibilities to our Afghan and U.S. State Department partners is a carefully orchestrated effort,” Austin said.

In many ways, Austin called the challenge of transitioning from Afghanistan “even more difficult than Iraq.”

“The major difference between the two countries can be summed up in two words: geography and infrastructure,” he said. “In Iraq, we were fortunate to have access to a single ground route to the port city of Kuwait, which was a relatively short distance from Iraq.”

Not so in land-locked Afghanistan. The transition there requires equipment to be moved over several ground routes that are considerably longer and in some cases, less developed than in Iraq, he noted.
“The terrain in Afghanistan is also much harsher and more difficult to negotiate,” he said, noting that some of the ground routes traverse multiple nations, requiring highly detailed coordination.

“While we are doing well in our efforts to move equipment out of the country using various ground and air assets, the magnitude of the task at hand will continue to present a challenge and require significant resources in order to meet the desired timeframe for completion,” Austin said.

Austin visited Afghanistan personally to assess progress, and said he’s pleased with what he found.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of the International Security Assistance Force, and his team “are among the best we have ever had there, and they are doing a truly phenomenal job,” Austin reported.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Baysore, Jr., 31, of Milton, Pa., died Sept. 26, in Paktya Province, Afghanistan, from wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire during combat operations.

He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.

For more information, media may contact the 101st Airborne Division Public Affairs Office during duty hours at 270-798-9965 or 270-798-9961 and after duty hours at 931-217-5074.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Negotiations Continue on Agreement to Chart Future US-Afghan Partnership

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2013 – The commander of U.S. Central Command expressed confidence that the bilateral security agreement being negotiated between the United States and Afghanistan will ensure the strong partnership forged over the past 12 years continues to grow beyond 2014.

“While we are preparing to transition out of that country, we are not disengaging or turning our backs on them,” Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III said in an email interview with American Forces Press Service.

“On the contrary, we intend to stay engaged and continue to support them as they build and enhance their capability in the coming years,” he said. “We have been very clear that we desire a long-term relationship with our Afghan partners.”

Austin emphasized Afghanistan’s importance as a partner in a critical region of the world, particularly in light of its relationship with and proximity to Pakistan.

“The fact remains that while we are transitioning from Afghanistan, we’re not abandoning that country or the region,” he said. “Indeed, we cannot abandon the region given our vital interests in that complex, volatile and important part of the world.”

Of particular concern, Austin said, is the presence of groups and organizations that would seek ungoverned spaces to train and project terrorism and extremism.

“These organizations pose a threat to our homeland and our interests around the globe,” he said. “We must therefore guard against them and the ungoverned spaces they seek in parts of Afghanistan and elsewhere where they may thrive if left unchecked.”

The U.S. intent is to maintain a small force on the ground in Afghanistan after Dec. 31, 2014, said Austin, noting that the force’s follow-on mission, as envisioned, would be to continue advising, training and assisting Afghan National Security Forces and help them build both capability and confidence.

“However, this is wholly dependent upon us achieving a bilateral security agreement,” Austin emphasized. “Simply put, we will not allow U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan without [one].”
While expressing confidence that such an agreement will be reached, Austin said he’s anxious to get it done as quickly as possible.

“The fact that we don’t yet have concurrence complicates our ability to plan our way ahead,” he said.
Resolution of the post-2014 U.S. presence in Afghanistan also will help ease concern among some regional partners that the drawdown will leave a vacuum that opens the door to destabilizing influences, Austin said.

Austin recognized the strong ties built between U.S. and Afghan forces over more than a decade of combined operations.

“Our troops have served side-by-side under incredibly difficult circumstances,” he said. “Together we’ve learned valuable lessons and built steadfast relationships.”

The United States has invested heavily in both blood and national treasure to help provide the Afghan people increased security and opportunity, he said.

“Given their strategic importance and the tremendous investment we have made on behalf of the people and country of Afghanistan over the past 12-plus years, it goes without saying that we have every intention of maintaining this important military-to-military relationship well into the future,” Austin said.

“Continuing to strengthen this partnership will remain one of my top priorities,” he added.

Austin noted the key role the United States plays in helping not only Afghanistan, but also other regional partners, build capacity so they can improve security, not just within their borders, but across the region.

“Therefore, we will remain present and engaged, primarily through foreign military sales, bilateral and multilateral training exercises and other engagements,” he said. “Ultimately, our goal is to do all that we can to promote greater security, stability and prosperity throughout the region.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Army Casualties

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

They died Sept. 21, at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with small arms fire while conducting range training in Gardez, Paktia Province, Afghanistan.

Killed were:

Staff Sgt. Liam J. Nevins, 32, of Denver, Colo., assigned to 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, Watkins, Colo.

Staff Sgt. Timothy R. McGill, 30, of Ramsey, N.J., assigned to 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, Middletown, R.I.

Spc. Joshua J. Strickland, 23, of Woodstock, Ga., assigned to 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

For more information media may contact U.S. Army Special Forces Command public affairs office during duty hours at 910-908-3947. After duty hours contact 910-689-6187.

Navy Casualties

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

They died Sept. 22, as a result of an MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter crash while operating in the central Red Sea. Both sailors were assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Six at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, Calif.

Killed were:

Lt. Cmdr. Landon L. Jones, 35, of Lompoc, Calif., and
Chief Warrant Officer Jonathon S. Gibson, 32, of Aurora, Ore.

For more information, media may contact the Commander, Naval Air Forces Public Affairs Office at 619-767-1623. After business hours, call 619-572-9414.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Face of Defense: Brothers Serve in Same Platoon in Afghanistan

By Army Sgt. Edward Siguenza
1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment

CAMP SPANN, Afghanistan, Sept. 23, 2013 – These days, the heavy thing draped over Army Sgt. Manolito “Manny” Molinos' shoulders is body armor. His younger brother, Army Spc. Mark Molinos, carries the same load and attaches a radio to his.

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Army Sgt. Manolito “Manny” Molinos, left, and his brother, Army Spc. Mark Molinos, once represented Guam in international weightlifting competitions. Now the Guam National Guard soldiers are serving in Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Edward Siguenza

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But there was a time when the brothers from the Guam Army National Guard’s Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, carried the hopes of their fellow Guamanians on their shoulders. In some ways, they still do, but just in a far different role.

It's been more than a decade when Manny, Mark and older brother Edgar were mainstays of the Guam Weightlifting Federation. They represented Guam in the 1999 Guam-hosted South Pacific Games.

"It's pretty much Edgar who got us into this," Mark said. "We saw he was doing pretty well in weightlifting. He got us into it."
In the 1990s, Edgar was Guam's golden child of weightlifting, representing the island at the 1992 Summer Olympics and successfully medaling at the 1991 Papua New Guinea and 1995 Tahiti South Pacific Games. He led Manny into the 1994 and 1998 Micronesian Games, and both brothers into the 1999 South Pacific Games.

But Edgar didn't lead his brothers into the military. They did that on their own, and now Mark and Manny are part of another successful "international" Guam team.

"Weightlifting and the military are totally different worlds," Manny said. "You compete against athletes from other nations in the sport. But out here, on deployment, you're competing against life."

A team leader and electronic warfare noncommissioned officer, Manny is on his third Operation Enduring Freedom tour and fourth mission overall. This is Mark's first OEF mission. Task Force Guam has about 30 family pairs on this mission, but the Molinos brothers are one of the few sibling pairs in the same unit; they even serve in the same platoon.

"The advantage of that is the two brothers have themselves to fall back on when they go through tough times. That definitely gives them strength," said Army 1st Lt. Peter Guerrero, Alpha Company commander. "But it's also a double-edged sword. If something happens, you don't just take out one from the company, you take out two."

Mark and Manny realize that. When they arrived here, they avoided being on the same mission. If Mark goes out, Manny stays on the compound, and vice versa. Yet unit manpower and responsibilities have changed recently. Now they both roll on the same missions, but in different vehicles.

"It makes it easier knowing I have family here, actual blood," Mark said. "In fact we've gotten a lot closer than we've ever been. It's a little hard for our parents to know we're both here at the same place, but having blood here makes it a lot easier."

"Our families know the dangers of being on the same unit, but they also understand the positives," Manny added. "There's always going to be that older-brother feeling. I always want to check how he's doing. Our families see the positives to this, but they also know it's dangerous."

Mark, 30, is a radio operator. He's the youngest of five siblings. Manny, 37, is next-youngest but already has served 11 years in the Guam National Guard.

After the Molinos brothers left the sport, Guam's weightlifting program hasn't been the same. In fact, Guam didn't even send a weightlifting team to the 2005 or 2011 South Pacific Games.

"We tried to come back," Manny said, “but a lot of policies changed and a lot of other things changed the sport. That kept us from coming back."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Spc. James T. Wickliffchacin, 22, of Edmond, Okla., died Sept. 20 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol during combat operations in Pul-E-Alam, Afghanistan on Aug. 12.  He was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Fort Stewart, Ga.

For more information, media may contact the Fort Stewart public affairs office during duty hours at 912-210-9375 or after duty hours at 912-767-8666.

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Sgt. William D. Brown III, 44, of Franklin, N.C., died Sept. 19, in Laghman Province, Afghanistan, from a non-combat incident. The soldier's death is under investigation. Brown was assigned to the 94th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Polk, La.

For more information, media may contact the Fort Drum public affairs office at 315-772-8286.