By U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kurt Carlson
2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Over the last four months, the Afghan Field Artillerymen of the 4th Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 203rd Corps Afghan National Army have made exceptional strides incorporating indirect fires with their D-30 Howitzers into combat operations in eastern Paktika.
The 3rd Kandak commander, Afghan Col. Abdul Qadir, impressed by the D-30’s lethal capacity during a previous operation called Pamir, decided to again move his artillery forward, away from the security of a Forward Operating Base, in support of his maneuver operation.
While the mission was the same; move off the FOB and provide the maneuver Kandak with fire support, the scenario was slightly different. During their previous mission the D-30 platoon had the majority of their security provided by the maneuver Kandak, this time they tested their ability to secure their own firing point.
As U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chad Waleisky, a fire direction advisor with the D-30 platoon put it, “Operation Pamir was the walk phase for the platoon’s ability to displace. Operation Zafar is the run, this time they were their own primary security.”
Upon occupying their hasty “firebase” on the outskirts of Warzhana Khalay, a small village 17 km to the north of FOB Orgun-E, the platoon immediately began position improvement. They dug fighting positions, established targets to direct fire from the howitzers, and emplaced security observation posts to over watch key terrain and high speed avenues of approach, leading to the guns.
After four days in the same firing point, it became evident that the platoon needed to move again to prevent becoming a static target for insurgent attacks, so they executed a survivability displacement closer to an abandoned school converted into a strongpoint.
The decision to relocate highlights the increased tactical savvy of the platoon’s leadership.
They conducted the displacement at night, maintaining light and noise discipline, and placed the guns in defilade, thus minimizing the threat of enemy mortars. Unlike previous movements, they maintained a firing capability throughout the displacement and fired mid-move in support of 3rd Kandak soldiers.
“The ability to maintain firing capability while bounding guns is huge,” said U.S. Army Capt. Timothy Lawson, Commander of Battery A and D-30 advisor. “This allows them to keep guns in the fight while maneuvering on the battlefield.”
Overall, the platoon fired seven missions in support of the operation.
Operation Zafar did not escape the attention of the brigade. The brigade ordered the ANA artillery battery to support the next operation; Operation Nijat.
During Nijat, the ANA D-30 battery dispatched their howitzers to Kushamand in western Paktika, to support Afghan infantrymen of the 1st Kandak conducting clearance operations in this contested district.
Given the significant distance between 1st Kandak’s base of operations, Khair Kut Garrison, and their objective, the commander, Afghan Lt. Col. Muhammad Ayoub decided to bring the howitzers along and emplace them at a forward firing point rather than keep them on the FOB.
This presented a serious problem, the artillery platoon at Khair Kut Garrison that would support this operation, possessed guns, but was not qualified to crew them and lacked ammunition to fire. Undaunted by the challenge, the soldiers of the battery made it happen.
The commander of 4th Kandak, Afghan Col. Dad Muhammad, to whom the artillery battery is assigned, chose key leaders from the platoons in Orgun and Bermal districts, miles away on the Pakistan border, to create a new platoon at Khair Kut Garrison.
They moved ammunition by ground convoys and shuffled equipment to ensure that the new platoon would be combat ready when the time came. Within two weeks, all was set.
The leaders shifted from the eastern platoons quickly and refreshed their fellow artillerymen at Khair Kut Garrison on artillery crew drills and procedures. Many of them had previously been assigned as cooks, administrative specialists, and tower guards. After the refresher, they were artilleryman again.
“Watching the ANA assemble that platoon was incredible,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Cody Smith, gun line advisor to the 4th Kandak. “It really highlights their ability to train and lead themselves.”
The district 1st Kandak pushed into heated up quickly. Improvised explosive device strikes crippled several vehicles and the enemy maintained a relentless barrage of small arms and indirect fire. But the Taliban lacked howitzer support; a decisive advantage for 1st Kandak.
“Getting the D-30’s to fire in support of this operation was a huge step forward for the 1st Kandak,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brian Maginn, fire support officer for the 1st Kandak advisory team. “The Kandak commander wanted to hear the Afghan guns thundering for Afghan infantry, and he got it.”
On numerous occasions the 1st Kandak brought their cannons to bear. Whether screening infantry movements with smoke, illuminating the night to bolster security observation points, or destroying enemy heavy weapons teams with high explosive rounds, the D-30’s provided overwhelming firepower to their infantry counterparts. The D-30 platoon at Khair Kut Garrison will continue to fire in support of the other brigade Kandak’s in eastern Paktika, in the months to come.