News: Route Lion extension opens a road of possibilities
Story by Sgt. Christopher McCullough
FORWARD OPERATING BASE MASUM GHAR, Afghanistan - Over the last decade Afghan National Security Forces have worked diligently with their International Security Assistance Force partners to grow and improve their combat capabilities in order to deny the Taliban freedom of movement and safe havens. Now their focus has shifted to the logistics of maintaining such a large army so that it remains able and relevant.
In order for the Afghan Army to continue to excel beyond the ISAF presence here, it must be able to effectively resupply weapons, food, and other supplies without foreign air support or technical assistance. Until now, U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces have kept remote Afghan military outposts supplied by aerial resupply. However, without a large air force that is able to take over the aerial resupply, ANSF is only able to resupply its troops where there is a ground route.
This has posed a problem for the Afghan National Army soldiers of the 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 205th ANA Corps. The area of operation that these soldiers operate in - Deh Chopan district, in northwest Zabul province - is a remote, unforgiving mountainous region that until last month had no ground access outside of a rural road that skirted the southern quarter of the district. This effectively left the Afghan National Army soldiers at Combat Outpost Baylough, the Afghan base which serves the people of that district, without a way to move equipment, supplies and goods to and from the provincial capital of Qalat.
However, in mid-April 2012 the 2-205th ANA, in conjunction with their security forces assistance team partners, developed the idea to expand the rural road in southern Deh Chopan, commonly referred to as Route Lion by U.S. forces, so that it pushed up into the mountains and valleys in and around COP Baylough. The project began on June 24 and involved the 980th Engineers and their road construction equipment, to include dozers, bucket loaders, rollers, hydraulic excavators, graders and dump trucks. Convoy escorts and security were provided by the SFAT and 2-2-205 ANA Corps.
Less than three months later the project was completed and Route Lion opened to traffic on Sep. 5. Its impact was almost immediate: Traffic started to flow and the ANSF were able to resupply their units with men, equipment, ammunition, food and water – amongst other things.
"They now have the ability to resupply themselves, to move forces, to retrograde equipment that needs repair," said Maj. Troy Parrish, commander, SFAT 40, whose team advises 2nd Kandak. "They now have the ability to do that by ground and not depend on ISAF."
Ending the cycle of dependence on ISAF has been a challenge for Afghan soldiers who have become accustomed to getting whatever they need from them. The expansion of Route Lion will undoubtedly ensure that Afghan forces become more self-reliant.
An additional benefit to the route expansion is the farm-to-market access it provides for villagers living in Deh Chopan district. Village elders from these rural communities have expressed satisfaction with the new road and the opportunities it affords their communities.
"The locals are extremely happy that road is built because now they can push their goods down to Qalat [the provincial capital] and sell them; so we have free trade going back and forth a lot more freely," said Sgt. Maj. Michael Williams, SFAT 40’s noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "The cab drivers are already saying they're going to reduce their fares because now they can drive and it doesn't take them two hours to go … to Deh Chopan."