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    Afghans guard the pass

    Afghans guard the pass

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Margaret Taylor | A boy pushes a wheelbarrow holding his things through the customs checkpoint at...... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Margaret Taylor  

    129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE TORKHAM, Afghanistan (April 24, 2013) - The Khyber Pass, one of the most well-known portions of the historic Silk Road trade route through South and Central Asia, has been of military commercial significance for centuries.

    Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and others like them depended on the pass during their campaigns.

    The pass cuts through the jagged Spin Ghar mountain range and runs from northwest Pakistan into southeast Afghanistan.

    While the pass boasts no Mongol hordes today, its relevance has never gone out of style. Roughly two-thirds of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product comes from trade conducted along this route.

    Torkham Gate, a customs and border patrol station on the Afghan side of the Khyber Pass, regulates traffic flow between the two countries.

    While coalition forces, along with U.S. military contingents, continue to offer mentorship and assistance as needed, the Torkham customs checkpoint is almost entirely in Afghan hands.

    Given the gate’s importance to the country’s economic welfare, the fact that Torkham is run by local professionals is not insignificant with the 2014 U.S. drawdown looming.

    “Not much will change when we leave,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Redd, 1st squad leader, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, of Spartanburg, S.C. “It’ll probably stay business as usual.”

    Redd’s platoon provides security for advisory groups that instruct and mentor Afghan forces at the border.

    “These guys work hand-in-hand with the border patrol, the customs and the baggage scan guys to make sure they’re doing their job right,” he said.

    High-end baggage and vehicle scanning technology, coupled with the attentiveness of the customs agents, not only protects legitimate trade as it comes through the gate, but also squelches attempts at racketeering and smuggling.

    For instance, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Carl Lawler, 2nd Platoon’s platoon sergeant, described a scam the customs agents exposed, April 23.

    To avoid paying import taxes on a load of costume jewelry, smugglers hid the goods in a family vehicle, Lawler said. When security forces confronted the passengers about the cargo, the passengers claimed the goods weren’t theirs.

    While this incident revolved around a relatively innocuous tax-evasion scam, Lawler said, these same detection methods are used to thwart the smuggling of weapons and HME, an illegal fertilizer often used in improvised explosives.

    Some systems are well in place; others, however, are still a work in progress.

    According to U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brian Slamkowski, integration detachment platoon leader, 2nd Platoon, of Colorado Springs, Colo., hiccups occur when a new process goes into effect, particularly when it requires adjustments from both security personnel and travelers alike. He cited the example of a recently redesigned foot traffic path through the customs checkpoint and the border patrol’s reaction to it.

    “I think they’re figuring out with the lack of signage and the lack of some resources down there that the people who’ve done the same thing for years are just having to learn a new system,” he said.

    Though the gate is mostly in local hands, round-table type discussions continue between Afghan and coalition forces.

    “Afghans are wanting to use the Coalition Forces’ assistance and our knowledge to help them along,” Slamkowski said. “They want to use us and our expertise before we leave.”

    Collaboration continues between local and coalition forces at leadership levels. Soldiers provide manpower assistance, such as those in 2nd Platoon, who serve in a security capacity.

    One of these soldiers is U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Tyler Bean, an infantryman with 2nd Platoon from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. In his role as an M249 squad automatic weapon gunner, Bean provides direct security for personnel.

    Bean said he is confident that passing his job on to a local guy won’t be an issue.

    “Overall, they seem to be taking charge of what needs to be done,” Bean said.

    So with U.S. military support at Torkham mostly hovering in the background at present, the eventual changeover will hardly cause a ripple.



    Date Taken: 04.24.2013
    Date Posted: 04.26.2013 11:40
    Story ID: 105897

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