News: Deputy secretary of defense, ISAF commander see progress at ANA ‘Thunder’ Corps
Story by Sgt. Mark VanGerpen
PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander, International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces – Afghanistan, visited the Afghan National Army’s 203rd “Thunder” Corps at Forward Operating Base Thunder, Sept. 15.
The Corps has progressed a long way in a short time, Carter said, developing from fighting alongside Coalition Forces to taking the lead in securing their country.
“Two years ago, this was my hope and aspiration, but it wasn’t my prediction,” Carter said during a meeting with Corps leaders. “I didn’t know you would get where you have gotten to. I am amazed and so pleased to see the progress here.”
With ANSF in the lead on the vast majority of operations in the country, the question now is what they will need to sustain that progress, he said.
ANA Maj. Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, commander, 203rd Corps, said his troops are now focusing on developing leadership, improving soldiers’ living conditions, training and improving intelligence operations.
Yaftali said the four brigades he commands need coalition forces to take a “hand-on-shoulder” stance, providing supplies and equipment to sustain the ANA’s operational success.
“We are using up the equipment,” Yaftali said. “We will need the supply of mission-capable assets to continue into the future.”
Those assets would include artillery, route-clearing equipment and helicopters, he said.
For example, one ANA brigade has eight D-30 artillery assets. Yaftali would like that number to increase to 12.
ANSF also need additional mine rollers to help remove enemy-emplaced improvised explosive devices from Afghanistan’s roads, and Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters to provide air support for medevac operations, he said.
Afghan forces have both the skill and desire to secure their country, Yaftali said. They fought right through the holy month of Ramazan this year – a time they would usually take off, but the Afghan people needed them.
And where they fight, ANSF are proving superior to their enemies.
“The enemies that we have are not strong enemies,” Yaftali said. “The only course of action the enemies are continuing is the placing of IEDs, and that’s not going to hurt us very much.”
Dunford said ISAF is ready to continue supporting ANSF, though the specific role of ISAF in Afghanistan post-2014 has yet to be determined.
“Our mission is going to change once again, but our commitment is not going to change,” Dunford said. “We intend on seeing this through and making sure you have everything you need.”
“Even two years ago, my highest priority was making sure our forces had the equipment they needed,” Carter said. “Now I’ve transitioned to making sure (ANSF) have the capabilities they need.”
The successes of ANSF have been hard-fought, he added, but they have made a clear statement that Afghans are capable of controlling security in Afghanistan.
“I know it hasn’t come easily, and I know the losses to the Afghan forces have been great, because the fighting has been intense,” Carter said. “Attacks occur, but they are defeated, and they are defeated mostly by Afghan forces.”
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