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    In Faryab province, Village Stability Operations show success



    Story by Sgt. Cody Sedlacek 

    NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan

    FARYAB PROVINCE, Afghanistan- A coalition special operations forces team arrived at the edge of Owimast village, Qeysar district in mid –April, an area known to be under the influence of insurgents and had little Afghan government presence.

    The coalition SOF team entered the village at the invitation of village elders. The team lived among the people and assisted them with establishing systems of security and governance, a process known as Village Stability Operations.

    As part of VSO, Afghan National Army special forces and coalition SOF teams live among the people in key rural areas, helping them stand up against insurgent intimidation by developing local security systems, thus strengthening the ties between the village leadership and the Afghan government.

    “It is critical that the villagers trust you. That they know you share in everything that happens in the village, good or bad. Only then will VSO be possible,” said one coalition SOF team member about gaining the trust and confidence of the Afghan people.

    The coalition SOF team in Owimast spent the initial weeks of their embed meeting with elders and villagers. They also walked through local bazaars, building rapport with the merchants. They assessed the areas where security and development needed improvement and began working with village leadership through the shura to establish local systems to improve these areas. The elders requested an Afghan Local Police force to increase security in the area.

    The ALP program is a Ministry of Interior program assisted by coalition SOF and represents a key component of Village Stability Operations. ALP provide local security, allowing increased governance and development without fear of insurgent intimidation.

    On May 25, the elders of Owimast and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials held a validation shura for the newly formed ALP program. At the shura, elders selected village males to attend the first ALP training class then the government officials validated the candidates.

    After several weeks of training, the first class of Owimast ALP graduated, June 24. During their first months, the ALP successfully fought off two insurgent attacks without the need for assistance from coalition forces. The success of the ALP encouraged others in the village to volunteer for ALP. Soon, 181 ALP were policing, patrolling and securing Owimast with the mentorship of coalition SOF. The insurgent presence was driven out and the village began to enjoy security it had not seen in years.

    Following their success in Owimast, the coalition SOF team in Owimast turned to the nearby village of Khwaja Kinti. Insurgents there had gained control of the village forcing many residents to flee their homes. The displaced citizens approached coalition SOF and requested they go to the Khwaja Kinti to assist with village security.

    The coalition SOF team responded. Even before entering Owimast, they knew establishing VSO in Khwaja Kinti would be critical to securing Qeysar district.

    “All the historical reports we had read indicated that Khwaja Kinti was the most significant stronghold of insurgency in Qeysar,” said the coalition SOF team leader in Owimast. “We discovered upon our arrival and during the embed process in Owimast that Khwaja Kinti also held a special meaning to the population. This factor was possibly more significant than its function as an insurgent safe haven.”

    The people of Khwaja Kinti wanted coalition SOF presence and an ALP program in their village. Following their request for assistance, the people were threatened by insurgents who had control of the village.

    “Taliban were practicing the same sort of intimidation techniques in Khwaja Kinti that they practice elsewhere in Afghanistan, such as night letters, beatings, kidnappings, bombings and executions,” said the coalition SOF team leader. “This drove a wedge between the insurgents and the population.”

    Prior to stability operations in Khwaja Kinti, insurgents had to be driven out. For this task the ANA Commandos were requested to clear the village, setting the stage for future operations.

    Coalition SOF teams often call upon Afghan National Army Commandos to clear the area of insurgents, setting the stage for VSO.

    Commandos are selected from the best Afghan National Army soldiers. They complete a rigorous assessment and selection course, followed by months of training by Afghan National Army special forces mentored by coalition SOF.

    Sgt. Maj. Richard Wilson of Task Force 1 Panther, the higher headquarters for the coalition SOF team in Qeysar, emphasized the role of Commandos in supporting VSO.

    “In terms of preparing an area for VSO embed, the Commandos are the ideal ANA force to clear the area of insurgents,” said Wilson.

    The coalition SOF team and Commandos spent weeks finalizing the plan for the VSO in Khwaja Kinti. A common practice of insurgents is to place improvised explosive devices designed to maim and kill, thus restricting the freedom of movement for villagers as well as Commandos and coalition SOF teams. Explosive ordnance disposal personnel were present to minimize the IED threat to the combined assault force and local villagers.

    The commandos arrived at Khwaja Kinti on Sept. 19, successfully clearing the area of insurgents and secured the village as planned.

    “The commandos expertly executed the clear and hold operation for 72 hours,” said a coalition SOF team leader. “This allowed us to safely move into the area and prepare our Village Stability Platform embed.”

    The coalition SOF team moved into Khwaja Kinti shortly after the commandos. When daylight broke, the team found their IED concerns were valid. During the first three days of operations in Khwaja Kinti, 14 IEDs were found and destroyed; and within two weeks, 22 more IEDs were found and destroyed.

    The coalition SOF team operated from a building constructed earlier by coalition forces. When the previous coalition forces left, insurgents took control of the building from which they staged operations. Insurgents broadcast cell phone videos of themselves and their weapons at the compound. They also used the area to create and store IEDs. The building was eventually identified and cleared of insurgents by coalition forces.

    “Retaking an insurgent compound established us and the ALP as the legitimate force in Khwaja Kinti and directly undermines the insurgency.”

    Since the coalition SOF team arrived in Khwaja Kinti, villagers have returned to their normal lives. Civilians travel from villages as far as 20 kilometers away to show their support for ALP and the coalition SOF team. They visit family members and friends that they had not seen in years. Villagers offer their land to support VSO and provide training areas for ALP. Shop keepers and farmers tell coalition SOF members that they can now bring their goods to market without fear of insurgents.

    The coalition SOF team is pleased that the stability operations are doing well in both Owimast and Khwaja Kinti and they are proud of the villagers and ALP who stand up to the insurgents. While they enjoy the success shared with their Afghan neighbors, they show no indication of slowing down.

    “We aim to spread the impact of our success as widely as possible,” said the coalition SOF team leader. “We believe that this expansion will…ultimately choke out Taliban influence in this area for good.”



    Date Taken: 10.05.2011
    Date Posted: 10.13.2011 10:49
    Story ID: 78436

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