Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Army Casualty

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

Sgt. Shawn M. Farrell II, 24, of Accord, New York, died April 28, in Nejrab District, Kapisa province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.

He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), Fort Drum, New York.

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

Army Casualty

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

Pfc. Christian J. Chandler, 20, of Trenton, Texas, died April 28 in Baraki Barak District, Logar province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.

He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), Fort Drum, New York.

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

Report Points to Afghan Progress, Challenges

 By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014 – While Afghan security forces did an outstanding job protecting their people during the April election, they are not yet ready to shoulder the burden alone, according to the Defense Department’s congressionally mandated semiannual Report on Security and Stability in Afghanistan.

The report, released to Congress today, said Afghan forces grew in numbers and capabilities over the reporting period that ended March 31, and held their own against the insurgency.

Disrupting the April 5 election was an insurgent goal, yet their “territorial and kinetic capabilities remained static,” according to the report.

The election was a test of Afghan forces and the electoral process, and all reports indicate they did well. “The [Afghan national security forces] and Afghan election institutions laid the groundwork for a successful election, registering millions of voters and securing thousands of polling sites, with minimal international assistance,” the report said. “These preparations far surpassed Afghanistan’s efforts in the 2009 and 2010 elections.”

Afghan forces defended the election sites and prevented high-profile attacks across the country. Voter turnout was high.

The election is just one example of the real progress Afghanistan has made, the report says, noting that the government maintains control of the cities and all provincial capitals. Insurgent attacks are away from these centers. Polling data shows most Afghans view the security forces favorably. Afghan forces now conduct almost all operations independently.

American and coalition casualties are a quarter of what they were in 2010, the report says, and violence indicators are down from a year ago. These include a 2 percent drop in enemy-initiated attacks, an 8 percent drop in complex attacks and a 24 percent drop in improvised explosive device events.

Still, there are challenges. Logistics and sustainment capabilities lag well behind the operational progress. “Afghan National Army attrition was higher than its target, and corruption continued,” the report says. “Although the International Security Assistance Force continues to develop capabilities, [Afghan forces require] more time and effort to close four key high-end capability gaps that will remain after the ISAF mission ends on December 31, 2014: air support; intelligence enterprise; special operations; and Afghan security ministry capacity.”

International funding and coalition force assistance will be critical to sustaining the force after 2014, the report says. If a second-round runoff election is required -- and indications today are that it will be -- securing the runoff during the summer fighting season will test Afghan forces.

But uncertainties dog signs of progress. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the already negotiated bilateral security agreement with the United States means uncertainty for what follows the end of the International Security Assistance Force mission. No coalition country can forecast their post-2014 presence. The Taliban are trying to capitalize on the absence of an agreement to instill fear among Afghans.

While NATO planning has been for a post-2014 force to train and advise with 8,000 to 12,000 troops, President Barack Obama has not yet made any decision on the number of U.S. troops that may be kept in Afghanistan if the Afghan government signs the agreement.

Part of this effort is because of the lack of logistics expertise. From the ministries down to the tactical level, Afghanistan’s national government faced a major challenge in developing an effective, integrated logistics and sustainment system for the Afghan forces, the report says, adding that a lack of trained maintenance technicians, combined with a logistics system that struggled to resupply units in the field, adversely affected every component of Afghanistan’s security forces. Afghan forces relied on coalition forces for limited enabler support, particularly in the areas of close-air support, casualty evacuation, logistics, counter-IED, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Problems in the government mean Afghanistan cannot capitalize on security gains. “Challenges in governance and sustainable economic development slowed the reinforcement and consolidation of security gains,” the report says. “Ongoing insurgent activity and influence inhibited economic development and improvements in governance. Predatory corruption, criminal patronage, weak rule of law, and reliance on the funding for the insurgency from narco-trafficking are factors which hindered the ability of the [Afghan forces and the national government’s local] governance structures to maintain a secure environment and provide essential service delivery.”

Immature infrastructure exacerbates these problems, the report adds.

Friday, April 25, 2014

White to Accept Medal of Honor in Memory of Comrades

By J.D. Leipold
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2014 – Former Army Sgt. Kyle J. White said that when he accepts the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama at the White House on May 13, he will do so in honor of the five soldiers and one Marine "who gave their lives in the defense of freedom and the American way of life."

White spoke at a press conference yesterday at the National Guard Center in Charlotte, N.C., near where he now lives. White was just 20 when he was deployed to Afghanistan. On Nov. 9, 2007, his 14-man unit and squad of Afghan soldiers were brutally ambushed on three sides by Taliban fighters on a path descending from the village of Aranas into a valley.

"On May 13th when I'm awarded the Medal of Honor, I will tell their stories and preserve their memories… they will not be forgotten," the now-27-year-old Seattle native told the press and bloggers. "Their sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many others are what motivate me to wake up each and every day to be the best I can. Everything I do in my life is done to make them proud."

White was asked how strong the memory of the battle is now, after almost seven years, during which time he attained a bachelor's degree and became an investment analyst for a major bank.

"I would say for the first couple of years, memories were more vivid than today. As time goes on certain things you think about less and less, but at any given moment I can close my eyes and hear the sounds and smell the gunpowder in the air; but six and a half years later, I don't think about it as much as I used to," he said.

He did share that there were two things he can always visualize as if it were yesterday -- when he looked up from applying a tourniquet to wounded Marine Sgt. Phillip Bocks to see then-Spc. Kain Schilling take an enemy round to his left leg. White rushed to his buddy and for the second time that day applied a second tourniquet to Schilling, the only one he had left, his own belt.

White will receive the Medal of Honor for his disregard of his own life while trying to save the lives of a Marine and two fellow soldiers after his team of 14 U.S. soldiers and squad of Afghan National Army soldiers were set up and ambushed by a much larger and more heavily armed Taliban force, who engaged in a three-prong attack from elevated ground.

He will become the seventh living recipient of the nation's highest military decoration for conspicuous gallantry and valor during actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

DOD Continues Efforts to Bring Captured Soldier Home

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2014 – Claims of a lack of coordination inside the Defense Department made by anonymous officials in media reports regarding the handling of a recent proof-of-life video of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are “completely false,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said today.

“They mischaracterize the ongoing close coordination and teamwork within this department and with other U.S. government agencies,” Warren said.

Bergdahl has been missing for too long, the colonel added. There should be “no doubt” that the department is using all the military, intelligence and diplomatic tools at its disposal to bring him home safely.

Bergdahl, now 28, was found missing from his duty station in eastern Afghanistan June 30, 2009, and was declared missing/captured three days later. He is believed to be held by members of the Haqqani network.

“I can tell you, across the spectrum, diplomatically, militarily, even from an intelligence perspective, we’ve never lost focus on Bowe Bergdahl … and on trying to get him home,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a January 16 news conference, held the day after the proof-of-life video was released.

“It is important to underscore that the reason Sgt. Bergdahl remains a captive is because he's being held by terrorists, not because of a lack of effort or coordination by the United States government,” Warren said.

“Anyone who does leak this level of detail, in my opinion, does not have the interests or safety of Bowe Bergdahl in mind,” he added.