News: The Time of Transition: ANA coordinates, leads operation through Trek Nawa
Story by Sgt. Bobby Yarbrough
COMBAT OUTPOST PASSERLAY, Afghanistan - Using an oversized sand table as a terrain model, Afghan National Army Col. Mohammad Sarwar points to a spot within the sand where soldiers will construct a patrol base for the Afghan Uniform Police. As the executive officer of the 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, Sarwar is presenting a plan for conducting a clearing operation Feb. 10-12, within Trek Nawa, a sparsely populated area within Helmand Province known for sheltering insurgents.
The 1st Brigade has completed clearing operations within the area before, however, this time the unit will establish three permanent patrol bases for local police units. The bases will be used to provide security to the local communities and prevent the insurgents from gaining a stronger foothold in the province. To accomplish this, Sarwar has gathered military and police officials from throughout the region to coordinate and finalize an assault plan.
The meeting room is full—an assembly of brigade officers and noncommissioned officers, as well as the ANA Kandak commanders that will be leading the mission. The Marjah, Nad’ Ali, and Nawa district police chiefs are also in attendance.
One by one, the leaders present the details of the three-day operation. The brigade operations officer, intelligence officer, and medical officer voice their mission responsibilities to the group. Kandak commanders brief their unit’s battle plan, emphasizing their capabilities and tasks. Small aspects of the operation become muddled, so Sarwar reemphasizes every detail, eliminating any doubts amongst the commanders.
In the corner, a small team of Marines sits quietly, listening to the specifics of the operation. The Marines are part of the 1st Brigade a Security Force Assistance Advisor Team (SFAAT), tasked with mentoring and training the Afghans. But today, their assistance isn’t needed. For this operation, the Afghans have the lead.
Although the Marines will serve alongside them for the duration of the mission, they will not be providing weapons, equipment, or manpower for the counterinsurgency operation. They will simply provide mentorship.
For the past seven months, the Camp Pendleton-based advisor team has pushed 1st Brigade to become self-reliant. And with much success, they have. So over the next week, the success and failures of the operation will rest heavily on the ANA leadership. And according to both U.S. and Afghan officials, that is exactly where the responsibility should lie.
Transition in Afghanistan
In January, Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai met in Washington, D.C., and decided to speed up the military transition in Afghanistan. Both agreed Afghan forces would take the lead in combat operations starting this spring.
"What's going to happen this spring is that Afghans will be in the lead throughout the country,” said Obama during his speech alongside Karzai. “That doesn't mean that coalition forces including U.S. forces are no longer fighting—
they will still be fighting alongside Afghan troops. It does mean though that Afghans will have taken the lead and our presence, the nature of our work will be different. We will be in a training, assisting, advising role. It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty."
Within Helmand, the 1st Brigade has already taken the lead—controlling more than 60 percent of the battle space. In November 2012, the unit signed the Transfer of Lead Security Responsibility (TLSR), strengthening the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces in the region.
According to Lt. Col. Philip Treglia, the commanding officer of the advisor team, 1st Brigade is a model unit that demonstrates the increased development of the ANA.
“For 43 months, the brigade has worked side-by-side with Marine advisors and they have been able to mirror what the Marines do on a tactical level,” said Treglia. “The 1st Brigade is now in the lead and their maturity level and capabilities as a brigade is remarkable. They are the true definition of Afghans leading Afghans.”
The push through Trek Nawa
On Feb. 10, approximately 800 ANA soldiers with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Kandaks of the 1st Brigade swept through Trek Nawa disrupting insurgent activity along the way. Although the soldiers came under heavy fire, they were able to suppress and defeat the enemy.
During the operation, 19 insurgents were killed and 26 were captured. The 4th Kandak’s Route Clearance Company dismantled 34 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that had been emplaced by the enemy and located four weapons caches.
The clearing operation marked the first major operation the unit had completed since signing the TLSR. The coordination between the Afghan National Army, Afghan Uniformed Police, and Afghan Local Police was the key to the mission’s success. Because of their proficiency, the three patrol bases were completed a day earlier than expected and no civilian casualties were reported.
Sarwar said he was impressed with 1st Brigade’s achievements in Trek Nawa and he believes future operations will show the true abilities of the Afghan National Security Forces.
“Through our planning, our mission in Trek Nawa was a success,” said Sarwar. “We have learned that coordination with our counterparts is critical to any operation and this will define our operations in the future.”