Regional Command – East, Afghanistan

Our guest blog post today is from Major General James C. McConville, Commanding General, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

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Major General James C. McConville

Thank you all for taking time today and showing an interest in what we are doing here in Regional Command – East, Afghanistan. This region includes 14 provinces surrounding Kabul, the nation’s capital, and stretches along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.

From 2008 to 2009 I served as Deputy Commanding General – Support for the 101st Airborne Division here in Combined Joint Task Force – 101 and Regional Command – East; and, it is my honor and privilege to return as the commander of this fine organization.

The 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) assumed responsibility for this command on March 14th.  Our primary focus is to advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces, so they can secure their country. Today, advised and assisted by Coalition Forces, the Afghan Security Forces lead the vast majority of operations in Regional Command – East.

We have advanced from being “shoulder to shoulder” (shohna-ba-shohna) to “OVER the shoulder” (buh-shohna), advising the Afghan Security Forces while they plan, coordinate, and lead missions.

When I was first here, less than five years ago, we did most of the fighting. We partnered for some operations; but at that time, the Afghan Security Forces were a nascent organization unable to field adequate forces to meaningfully contribute to the mission. In the years since, things have changed significantly – they have grown in number and capability.

There are two Afghan National Army Corps operating in our region – one in the area north of Kabul and one in the area south of Kabul.

We no longer have U.S. infantry brigade combat teams conducting combat operations in our area. We are organized as Security Force Assistance Brigades. Under those six brigades, we have seventy-six Security Force Assistance Teams.  Each team is fully dedicated to proactively mentoring a particular Afghan unit in day to day operations. The employment of these teams does not mean the end of all combat operations by Coalition Forces.  We will continue to fight alongside our Afghan counterparts as necessary.

So, how is it going and where do I think we are right now?

Afghan National Security Forces in Regional Command – East continue to grow into an effective fighting force, demonstrating daily the will and capability to aggressively take the fight to the enemy and operate successfully with minimal assistance from Coalition Forces.

The Afghan Security Forces are more capable of securing their people, their elections in 2014 and their future. They are better equipped and better prepared to secure Afghanistan, protect its territories and people, and enforce the rule of law.   With ongoing support from NATO, ISAF and the broader international community, Afghanistan has successfully recruited, trained and organized large, capable, and integrated forces that the Afghan people have grown to embrace as the pride of their nation.

Just as security forces in our countries do, Afghan National Security Forces comprise a layered security framework which includes the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, and the Afghan Local Police.

At the most basic level, in the rural areas and villages there is the Afghan Local Police, like what we would consider our local policeman. Afghan Local Police now number over 8,000 in Regional Command-East. They are instrumental in defending local villages from insurgent attack, providing immediate and direct support to the local people by denying enemies of Afghanistan the ability to live and move freely amongst them.

The next layer is the Afghan Uniformed Police, with nearly 27,000 officers that secure the small towns and roads and are responsible for day-to-day law enforcement, investigations, and policing.

Next up is the Afghan National Civil Order Police, with approximately 4,500-members operating within Regional Command-East. They are a highly-trained, quick-reaction and specially-equipped police force aimed at dealing with advanced police situations such as civil disorder, looting, hostage-taking and riots. In our area, the Civil Order Police are primarily responsible for protecting the highways.

Then there are the Afghan Border Police that secure the border crossings. Numbering over 8,000-strong in this region, they conduct law enforcement and security operations along Afghanistan’s international border and points of entry with Pakistan.

And finally there is the Afghan National Army – the most respected institution in the country.

WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. Miguel Thomas, left, a native of Orlando, Fla., and a member of 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, and an interpreter speak with a farmer in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, June 6, 2013, to help foster relationships with Afghan citizens, who are targeted by enemies of Afghanistan. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Julieanne Morse, 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/RELEASED)

WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. Miguel Thomas, left, a native of Orlando, Fla., and a member of 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, and an interpreter speak with a farmer in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, June 6, 2013, to help foster relationships with Afghan citizens, who are targeted by enemies of Afghanistan. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Julieanne Morse, 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/RELEASED)

When I was here in 2008, the Afghan Army was just five years old and still coming together as an organization.  The Afghan Army participated with Coalition Forces using individual Soldiers or small teams to learn the basics of combat patrolling. Today, two Army Corps, comprising over 36,000 soldiers, are in the lead for security in their areas.  They conduct deliberate, intelligence-driven operations, with Coalition Forces providing only minimal support in extreme circumstances.

While previous initiatives primarily focused on growing the size of the Afghan Security Forces, our focus now is improving the quality and capability of the force; developing the right balance of seniority, skills, and specializations that are vital to their long term sustainability and success. To put it plainly, the Afghans know how to fight. We don’t have to teach them that. What we are doing now is helping them become a more professional force.

Afghan Security Forces now lead most operations against the enemies of Afghanistan and carry out the majority of their own training.

During recent high profile attacks on the governor’s compound in Panjshir, the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Jalalabad, and the attack in Paktiya which killed 17 Afghan civilians, 10 of which were children walking home from school, the Afghan Security Forces responded quickly and aggressively with little or no coalition assistance.

Yet, the enemies of Afghanistan continue to wage war on the people at the expense of innocent women and children. The fact that they will ride a bomb-laden motorcycle into a group of children, killing 10, and that they would attack the International Committee of the Red Cross, shows that they have no consideration for innocent Afghans – or for an internationally respected organization dedicated to the protection of civilians.

Afghanistan’s enemies know they cannot defeat the Afghan Security Forces in a head-to-head fight.  They are keenly aware that they are increasingly losing the support of the local population. They seem to be displaying a level of desperation not previously seen as is evident by an increase in assassination attempts on government officials, spectacular attacks and a much greater level of indiscriminate killing than I’ve ever seen.

The transition to Afghan-led security, governance, and development remains on track. The Afghan people are ready for this transition.

In the near future, Afghanistan will enter Tranche 5, the fifth and final phase of transition which will result in Afghan security forces exerting full security responsibility across Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

With this change, the campaign progresses from one focused on coalition-led combat operations, to one which further enables the development of the Afghan Security Forces in key areas such as logistics, intelligence, medical evacuation, aviation and building critical institutional systems for their long-term benefit and self sustainment.

As our campaign has progressed and evolved, so too must our force posture and presence.  The forces required to advise and assist the Afghans are not the same as those required in past years. That said, redeployment is the natural outcome of successful transition. We are in the process of redeploying coalition vehicles, equipment and logistical supplies, and closing or transferring military bases to Afghan officials.

During our peak, in 2011, Regional Command-East once had 114 outposts and bases.  When we assumed responsibility on March 14, we had 58.  Today, we have only 30 bases and 14 assistance platforms still in operation.

For more than a decade, Afghanistan has benefited greatly through unprecedented international support and has gained a strong foundation on which to build a secure future, but it is ultimately for Afghans themselves to make that a sustainable success.

From where I stand, as commander of Combined Joint Task Force – 101 and Regional Command – East, I believe that this is not only possible, but it is happening.

See the article here – 

Regional Command – East, Afghanistan