News: Bala Murghab: Benchmark of progress
Story by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
BALA MURGHAB, Afghanistan - For a year there's been a security bubble protecting Bala Murghab, Afghanistan. Like any bubble, the one in western Badghis province is fragile and each component relies on the next to maintain the bubble's integrity.
Under the protection of "Operation Buongiorno," Italian Mountain Troops (Alpini troops from Task Force-North) based out of the remote NATO base Camp Arena have protected the river valley and afforded the Pashtun, Tajik and Kuchi tribes living in the area a peaceful life, when compared to other regions of Afghanistan.
Progress has been steady but the location of Bala Murghab needs continued attention and more assets.
Bala Murghab is protected by 15 combat outposts that circle the valley. Troops from the Afghan National and Italian armies, along with joint-American services, patrol the region, man the COPs and control access into the valley 24-7.
"With a unified face, we can truly demonstrate the capability and power of ISAF," said Italian Army Lt. Col. Umberto Salvador, TF-North Civil-Military Cooperation officer. "The villages understand that they do not face one nation, rather a coalition of multiple nations and begin to understand that it is more helpful for them to cooperate with ISAF rather than oppose it."
Even with a unified face, ISAF forces have challenges with language barriers and must continually work together to improve language skills.
One soldier expressed how significant language skills are to the battle field.
"Can you imagine being in combat and not able to communicate with the soldier to your right or left," said U.S. Army Private 1st Class Nathan Arlotta, a 4th Infantry Division Soldier from North Tonawanda, N.Y.
A fellow soldier agreed.
"Without the ability to communicate, lives would be lost unnecessarily," said U.S. Army Spc. Ricardo Perez, also a 4th ID soldier from Falfurrias, Texas. "Fortunately the Italians and Americans here communicate very well together."
But the Alpini, ANA and Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers work together and face a real problem.
The villages just outside the security bubble are infested with insurgents, who terrorize villagers and launch frequent attacks against coalition forces.
Service members at COPs along the north and south border regions of the security bubble live a lifestyle not seen since World War I. Fighting from and living in trenches, these Soldiers fend of recurring attacks and struggle to maintain the bubble’s security and keep the villagers living inside the bubble safe from outside activities.
To do this effectively, it takes planning from all coalition parties involved.
"There are daily security meeting here between the Italian Task Force North commander, American Task Force Ghost commander, ANA Kandak commander, the Bala Murghab [Afghan National Police] chief and the Bala Murghab’s Afghan minister of defense," said Italian Army Lt. Col. Giuseppe Carfagna, TF-North battalion commander.
Working together is the key to security.
"During these meetings, all parties share intelligence and information they’ve gathered then combat challenges in a joint effort," said Carfagna. "This is a great example here how ISAF can conduct joint efforts to solve Afghan problems."
During a convoy to COP Victor, a joint Italian-ANA COP on the northern security bubble border, Dec. 8, the effectiveness of the security bubble was proven first hand.
Just as the joint Italian-ANA convoy passed the bubble’s perimeter, they struck an improvised explosive device. Soon after that, they defeated waves of insurgent attacks while troops up on the mountaintop at COP Victor provided suppressive fire and over-watch.
Once the action was over, the convoy resumed and delivered a much-needed supply of Meals Ready to Eat and bottled water to the service members at COP Victor.
As winter sets in, Afghans leave the mountains and return to the villages to Bala Murghab. Those who are not fortunate enough to reside inside the bubble have been asking TF-North to enter.
Once the coalition verifies the requester is not likely an insurgent, the request is granted but then another problem arises: those relocating don’t have the essentials to make it through the winter.
To rectify that problem, Spanish, Italian and U.S. forces continue to provide wood-burning heaters, blankets, food and water.
One example of a successful village that many want to relocate to is Quechaq - a Tajik village inside the bubble, very near Italian-run COP Cavour.
"This village is a very good example of progress within the security bubble," said Italian Lt. Andrea Gilli, 6th Company ‘La Bella’ platoon commander. "There is a new school in Quechaq built by a Spanish PRT and supplied by the Italian army."
Schools were nonexistent in Bala Murghab in years gone by.
"When people living outside the bubble see villages like Quechaq with stable schools and coalition supporting the villagers through the harsh winter, people want to leave their insurgent-infested villages and come within the bubble," said Gilli, who commanded the Dec. 8 convoy. "Inside the security bubble, people can live in peace, and claim and develop their own plots of land."
With the amount of development and progress in Bala Murghab, TF-North is committed to maintain, secure and develop the bubble. For most of Afghanistan, the Bala Murghab valley is a benchmark of progress.