News: Afghan forces, ISAF help improve security in Bak
KHOWST Province, Afghanistan – Joint efforts to loosen the insurgents’ hold on Bak began when 10 elders from Bak visited the Saberi District combat outpost to ask coalition forces about the return of their sons, who had been detained for crimes in the area.
“They said the capture of [insurgent] leadership had upset the balance of power in the area and that they wanted to reclaim their land,” said U.S. Army Capt. Steve Baunach, Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team civil affairs team leader from West Lafayette, Ind. “Our presence here is predicated on an invitation from the people of Bak and their hope for a bright future.”
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, along with help from International Security Assistance Forces, is making a concerted effort to clear and stabilize key districts like Bak.
“Bak has always been an (insurgent) stronghold,” said Baunach, “It is key enemy terrain and one of the main infill routes for them.”
Now this territory is finally tipping toward Afghan government control, said Baunach. The recently fortified district center and combat outpost are now routine spots where locals can discuss future projects, current problems or hold shuras with local government officials.
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky., established the COP in the 11th month of their year-long deployment.
The recent construction of COP Bak could not be completed without close coordination between Task Force Leader’s HHC and the PRT civil affairs presence in the area.
“Steve stopped the fighting; my first sergeant built the COP,” said U.S. Army Capt. Manuel Gonzalez, commander of HHC 1-187 Inf. Regt., from Olympia, Wash., referring to the local relationships Baunach and U.S. Army Sgt. Justin Beck, Khowst PRT civil affairs specialist from Greenville, Mich., cultivated in their first days in the area.
“Sometimes lethal and non-lethal targeting come to odds with each other, but in this case, largely due to the maneuver unit here, they complimented each other,” said Beck describing his experience working with the HHC in Bak.
While the COP is largely complete and improvements on the district center continue, the real building in the region has only just begun.
“We go out a lot. The situation here has improved because of coordination with coalition forces,” said Afghan National Army Capt. Fazl Mannulah.
The 1-187 Inf. Regt. soldiers, who have travelled from Narizah to Urgun to Sarubi to Panjway and now to Bak District during their year-long deployment, are laying the foundations for relationships with the PRT civil affairs element and the Bak locals for the future.
“Instead of getting ready to go home in their last month, they came here and established a COP so we could begin talks with the locals which is critical,” said Baunach.
As one village elder put it among his colleagues in a recent shura, “Bak is a small tribe. But we’re united.”