News: US, Afghan engineers build road through 'Taliban center of mass''
Story by Sgt. Kimberly Lessmeister
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHOJA, Afghanistan – Soldiers of Combined Task Force 4-2 (4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division), 229th Engineer Company of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and the Afghan National Security Force finalized road construction on a new route in the Panjwa’i district of Afghanistan, April 4.
The 229th Eng. Company worked with CTF 4-2 on a previous road construction project, but this time they also worked with Afghan engineers in a less kinetic area, said 1st Lt. Tomm Hickey, a platoon leader with 229th Eng. Company
The physical presence of the enemy wasn’t felt as much as when he and his team built a road with Company B, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, CTF 4-2, he said.
The only people near the construction were local farmers, which provided a different challenge, said Hickey.
“It was something you couldn’t just brute force your way through and tactically maneuver your way through,” said Hickey. “You had to look at the political and cultural side of it.”
When U.S. and Afghan forces first began scoping out the area, they learned that there were issues between residents of Panjwa’i district and Dand district because the road they planned to build crossed district boarders. There were no clear boundaries as to what land belonged to whom, said Hickey.
“At the very start, it was a unique experience for me having to go to numerous shuras with the district governors and the local maliks,” said Hickey.
Not only did they build a road, but they created v-ditches down the side as away to channel water along the road to prevent flooding and to help direct water back to the fields, said Hickey.
The 3.8-km road connects the village of Haji Baba to a village to the south, Narose.
The road also provides easier transportation to Combat Outpost Khenjakak, which is where Company C, 1st Bn., 38th Inf. Regt. resides.
Capt. Ralph Parlin, the commander of C Company, and his soldiers partnered with the local Afghan National Army to provide security for the engineers.
“The importance of this road from a security perspective is that the town here to the southwest (Narose) is very hard to get to,” Parlin explained. “You can’t get mounted vehicles there, so the (Afghan Local Police), the ANA and (International Security Assistance Forces) have a hard time getting there.”
The absence of security forces near the villages creates the condition for a Taliban safe haven, said Parlin.
“This road not only helps the citizens of Afghanistan north of here, but by culminating down into the village of Narose, it allows us to project combat power to that area in order to make it less suitable for (Taliban) command and control,” Parlin said.
The new route ties into roads that come off of the villages of Nakhonay, Narose, and Haji Baba to encourage locals to use it, said Hickey.
Completing the road was a common goal for both the Afghan and American engineers, Hickey said.
“We want to build a road for Afghanistan (and) for the Afghan people,” Hickey explained. “This is their home that they’re rebuilding, so I think we got to see it from the other side.”
The monthlong project was a crawl-walk-run pace for the Afghan engineers, Hickey said.
The project began with the American engineers providing most of the support then turned into both countries working together, and finished with the Afghans supplying the majority of work on the road construction, he said.
Watching the progress the Afghans made was a good thing, said Hickey.
“As the missions start progressing more and more toward retrograde, it’s really nice to see us actually handing things over and kind of working ourselves out of a job,” said Hickey. “It’s kind of nice to hand over the torch especially knowing that they’re going to keep going through here and standing up their own country.”