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    West Point grad eyes success in Afghanistan



    Story by Lt.j.g. Bryan Mitchell 

    ISAF Regional Command North

    HAIRITAN, Afghanistan – As the unelected but largely recognized leader of this prosperous border town, Najibullah wants to keep the people safe and invite more commerce with a business-friendly perception he’s worked hard to achieve.

    And he’s not shy about requesting the best tools for the job.
    So here in this otherwise unremarkable corner of northern Afghanistan, where so much of the unpredictability and instability that imperils so much of the rest of the country appears a galaxy away, Najibullah seized the opportunity during a recent security meeting attended by a handful of American soldiers to ask for a vehicle scanner.

    Even here, amid the relative calm, the threat of car bombs persists.

    Army Capt. Thomas Pierczynski, who leads a troop of Fort Knox-based cavalry soldiers living in an austere outpost not far from town, politely informed Najibullah his team is unable to provide sophisticated scanning equipment but remained committed to further training their Afghan counterparts to secure this vital town.

    “We already train with them less and less as they are showing they can get out and do the job on their own,” the 29-year-old soldier said. “It’s important he knows we are always here willing to help increase their capabilities, but it’s even better to see them able to take on the challenge of securing this town without us.”

    Pierczynski’s experience is not unique.

    His tour occurred during a period of massive transformation in the country as American and coalition forces served in more of an advisory role while the so-called Afghan National Security Forces – essentially all Afghans armed and trained to maintain security – have stepped to the front of the fight.

    American casualties in 2013 dropped significantly from 2012 while Afghans are sustaining heavier losses than in years past as they struggle against insurgents and criminals who vex development efforts in many provinces.

    But here in Haritan, where the prosperity manifests itself in a main street bustling with new model Japanese cars and shiny new buildings rising from the dusty ground, there’s an unmistakable spirit of optimism.
    Pierczynski, a Military Academy at West Point graduate, has spent the past seven months supporting this quiet, relatively safe corner of the nation. He, too, has been left impressed by the industrious zest of the locals.

    “There is a lot of potential here and a lot of room for the Afghans to grow and improve their country,” said Pierczynski. “This town is a hidden gem.”

    The security meeting that Pierczynski attends each week serves as a window into the potential of this bustling town. The Chicago native who’s served two previous tours in Iraq is the senior American military official at the table comprised mainly of men many years his senior.

    The group of about 15 gathers around two long conference tables in the rear meeting room of Najibullah’s office. The men nibble on dried nuts and candied raisins, washing them down with piping Afghan tea still brimming with flaky leaves.

    In a manner oscillating unpredictably between formal inquiry and friendly conversation, the men forge solutions for the town with an eye on continually improving security in this strategic outpost far from Kabul yet central to the government’s efforts to improve the lives of the Afghan people.

    A handful arrive clad in military, police or border control uniforms; yet by a three-to-one margin more are dressed sharply in suit and tie or traditional Afghan business attire, an indicator of the rising business interests here. Nearly all fiddle occasionally with mobile devices, some texting while others check their Facebook newsfeed.

    While it’s ostensibly a security meeting, the town’s leaders use the gathering to discuss matters of the day and find consensus when necessary on a wide range of issues, from the boundaries of free speech to the curriculum at the local schools.

    At a recent gathering, a number of officials wanted to restrict the locations where street preachers could proselytize. The court director vehemently rejected limiting their freedom of movement while others sought to diminish the preachers’ ability to sway citizens toward their fundamental brand of Islam.

    “I have seen everything from how many questions are on the school kids final exams to 24 female students sitting in the meeting asking for permission to walk through (the port) on their way to school to opening the first fuel refinery here in Afghanistan and how to respond to threats against the city,” Pierczynski said. “It is always an interesting meeting.”

    In a country where per capita gross domestic product has more than doubled in the past decade but large swaths of the population are still struggling with poverty, malnourishment and illiteracy, a town like Hairatan has set an example of blending smart city management with good security and brisk commerce.

    “I don’t think when someone pictures Afghanistan they would get a picture of Hairatan in their mind,” he said. “The geographic location of the city is why it began to develop here, but the business savvy, political leadership and coordination between the Afghan National Security Forces are the reasons why the economy continues to grow.”

    The growth shows no sign of abating.

    A small team of soldiers based on the forward operating base Pierczynski commands is working on a project to connect a rail line with the rest of the country. A number of ports hum with activity as trains traveling across the Friendship Bridge from Uzbekistan deliver vital commodities.

    There are a number of logistics centers sorting and shifting all matters of goods and materials imported from across Asia bound for all corners of this Texas-sized country.

    And in country largely limited by its landlocked geography, there’s a humble port on the Amu Dayra River that welcomes barges delivering lumber to feed the building boom in Afghanistan.

    It may not be Rotterdam or the Port of Miami, but by Afghan standards, with the occasional help from a determined group of American soldiers, this town has set an example that leaders across the country can hopefully emulate.

    “You realize the whole country can’t be like this because of the geography, but there’s a lot here that the Afghans should be studying and working to replicate,” Pierczynski said.



    Date Taken: 01.22.2014
    Date Posted: 01.22.2014 15:16
    Story ID: 119473
    Location: HAIRATAN, AF 

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