News: Afghan engineers display skill, confidence through southern Helmand projects
Story by Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez
PATROL BASE REGI TOPA, Afghanistan – As Afghan forces take the lead in security operations across southern Helmand province, greater emphasis has been placed on the development of the Afghan National Army’s combat support capabilities by Afghan leaders and their Marine counterparts.
Soldiers with the ANA’s 4th Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, in particular have been consistently increasing their engineering capabilities under the guidance of the Regimental Combat Team 5 Combat Support Advisor Team.
The ANA engineers completed several projects earlier this month, including the establishment of Patrol Base Sistani and the turnover of PB Regi Topa from Marines and sailors with 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, to Afghan soldiers with the brigade’s 2nd Kandak.
“The [Marine] engineers were just there as subject matter experts,” said 1st Lt. Michael Denner, the CSAT engineer officer. “Our Marines were also there to provide concertina wire, HESCO barriers, engineer stakes and lumber for the build.”
Prior to the construction of PB Sistani in western Marjah district, ANA and Marine engineers conducted joint planning to identify possible friction points that could occur during the build and ensure all necessary personnel, equipment and materials were transported to the site.
Friction hit the partnered build early when an ANA bulldozer unearthed two improvised explosive devices during the initial site preparation. The Afghan engineers and CSAT Marines quickly cordoned off the area while Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians were called in to reduce the previously hidden threats. Once the EOD techs with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, conducted a controlled detonation, the Afghan engineers quickly went back to work.
The ANA engineers worked 14 hours a day for three days to move, position and compact 2,000 cubic yards of loose soil to build the base’s perimeter. They then emplaced 4,000 feet of concertina wire with 100 engineer stakes to complete the position.
“I was surprised that my soldiers worked so hard,” said ANA Lt. Mohammad Yaqub, a platoon commander with engineer tolai, 4/1/215, who led the ANA engineers building PB Sistani. “But we are the ANA, and we must work harder than the Marines because this is our country.”
While his soldiers were demonstrating their ability to build a secure combat outpost, Yaqub impressed his Marine counterpart with his leadership ability. He adjusted the initial plans for the patrol base, reducing its size so that it could be effectively managed by the ANA platoon preparing to occupy the position. The reduction allowed the ANA engineers to complete the build two days ahead of schedule, giving them more time and resources to dedicate to their next project.
“Yaqub demonstrated exceptional tactical and situational decision-making abilities throughout the build process,” said Denner. “He was able to save a great amount of time and effort because of his understanding of the defensive position and its size requirements.”
The engineers’ next challenge was preparing PB Regi Topa, a former Marine and Afghan partnered position, for occupation by a platoon with the brigade’s 2nd Kandak.
“They started with the deconstruction of the ANA side of the base,” said Denner. “They used their own heavy equipment and manpower to level the area where the ANA side was, and they also constructed [a] bunker in case of indirect fire.”
Denner also noted that the proficiency of the ANA engineers has improved by leaps and bounds. He pointed to their work leveling and demilitarizing of the former ANA side of the patrol base in under four hours, a task that would normally take a full day’s work, as evidence for his assessment.
“For the Sistani build, we taught them how to put up HESCO barriers and concertina wiring,” said Sgt. Alexander Economou, an engineer squad leader with the CSAT and 30-year-old native of Hawaii. “Today they’re learning how to put up a bunker. We teach them something new every time we go out for a new project, continuing to build on the skills they have so they can stand on their own once we leave.”
The patrol bases at Sistani and Regi Topa stand as clear measures of progress in the development of the Afghan engineers. They look to build upon the momentum of these two projects, employing their newly acquired knowledge and experience to future missions.
“The ANA engineers were extremely motivated about being on the work site, and having a project of their own,” said Denner. “’Sistani’ has actually become a word of pride for them now.”
Editor’s note: The Combat Support Advisory Team is in direct support of Regimental Combat Team 5, which is assigned to Task Force Leatherneck, 1st Marine Division (Forward). The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.