FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan – In order to have good neighbors, you need to be a good neighbor, which is what Crazy Horse Troop, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment set out to do when they conducted a partnered patrol with the 4th Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps, Afghan National Army, Feb. 28, 2012.
The patrol to the village of Muslim Zai, a small village located a short distance from FOB Wolverine, where Crazy Horse Troop is based, was done to conduct an infrastructure assessment of sewer, water, electric, academic, trash, medical and security conditions within the village, commonly known as a SWEAT-MS assessment, said Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Merritt, the platoon sergeant for 2nd platoon, Crazy Horse Troop, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment.
“It’s good to start local because the locals around the [forward operating base] are the ones directly impacted by our presence, and they could have the ability to directly impact our presence,” said Merritt.
The mission was a joint patrol with the 4th Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps, Afghan National Army, and just one of many that have become the routine for Crazy Horse Troop.
“With the Afghan Army and Police, every day when we go out on a mission, they’re there with us,” said 1st Lt. Joe Fontana, Crazy Horse Troop executive officer, of the partnership with the ANA 4th and 6th Kandaks.
Such joint missions are the new norm as coalition forces prepare to shift the focus of the war strategy in Afghanistan from a combat to a partnered mission, with Afghans in the lead, ahead of the transition at the end of 2014.
Joint missions, such as this one, serve a dual purpose. Not only do they allow International Security Assistance Forces to determine the needs of a village, but it also gives the ANA and ISAF the opportunity to learn from each other’s techniques so far as dealing with the local population is concerned.
“They’re very good at…talking to these local leaders,” Fontana said, when asked how the ANA’s techniques measure up when dealing with the village elders.
The same could be said of the soldiers of Crazy Horse Troop.
According to Capt. Brian Rieser, Crazy Horse Troop commander, whenever Crazy Horse goes on patrols the soldiers are always courteous and treat the villagers with the utmost respect. Villagers have made it known on numerous occasions that they appreciate the professionalism of the troopers.
Such professionalism makes all the difference too when it comes to obtaining information from villages where an American presence is sometimes not welcome.
“We’ve been in some villages where they just didn’t want to talk to us, they didn’t want us there, they wanted us to leave,” said Merritt. “This village (Muslim Zai) didn’t give me that impression.”
When asked why some villages push back when offered assistance, Merritt said there is reluctance to cooperate based on the insurgent presence in the area.
“The (insurgents are) still a significant presence here and there’s a significant threat for them,” said Merritt. “If they cooperate with us the (insurgents) will retaliate eventually. Maybe not tonight, maybe not next week, but eventually they will retaliate if they find out they cooperated.”
Such reasoning underscores the importance of joint patrols with the ANA. Such measures help embolden the ANA and increase security to the point where the insurgents have trouble infiltrating an area, which gives the protected village, or villages, a sense of security. In turn, villagers are more willing to help ANA and ISAF identify and destroy the insurgents’ influence in the area.
“Once we identify the (insurgents’) network and support system within the region, and we start attacking it, then they’ll focus less on the villages…,” Merritt said. “Hopefully that will help increase the security of the area.”
Such reasoning stands to be seen, but in the interim, Merritt explained, the key is to make sure the ANA have the right equipment and training needed to execute the necessary operations that will hinder the insurgents’ influence on an area and provide a degree of protection not seen in some parts of this province in decades.