Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Afghanistan, March 21, 2018.- The hard work of Afghan and coalition personnel in the train, advise, assist strategy is already paying off, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is encouraged by the progress.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told reporters traveling with him “that from a military dimension, I am enthusiastic about the prospects for 2018.”
The chairman has met with Afghan and coalition senior leaders and is visiting with U.S. and coalition service members at the train-advise-assist commands in Afghanistan. He brought over a larger-than-normal team to talk face to face with those doing the heavy work in Afghanistan, and he hasn’t been disappointed.
Making Strides in Afghanistan
The Afghan military and intelligence apparatus is making strides in working together, Dunford said. He was particularly pleased that all Afghan leaders stressed the integration the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense and the National Directorate of Security.
“It was pretty clear to me that they were delivering a strong message of unity in terms of their level of cooperation as they get ready for the campaign season,” Dunford said.
Dunford spoke to American and coalition service members who advise at the Afghan corps level. He also spoke with members of the Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, which started flowing into Afghanistan last month and is beginning its duties now. This unit will carry the train, advise and assist effort to lower echelons of command.
“The advisors are assisting, first and foremost, with the integration of the pillars of Afghan security forces — the National Directorate of Security, the conventional forces, the special operations forces, the aviation piece,” the chairman said.
Dunford said U.S. and Afghan leaders told him about an Afghan brigade-sized effort in the east to free an area from Taliban control. Under command of the 201st Corps here, it was a true unified operation, with intelligence from the security services fed to military and police forces. Afghan special operations kandaks, or battalions, launched shaping operations against Taliban strongpoints and then led clearing operations, Dunford said. Conventional army forces closely followed the special operators, and police units were fighting in the same formations. The valley was cleared and held.
“As soon as there was a legitimate Afghan government presence in the area, the people embraced them,” the chairman said.
Afghans Make Progress
“What the Afghans were able to do is use coalition [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] assets and fixed-wing aviation along with Afghan aviation,” he said.
The chairman called the operation a “textbook example” of a combined arms operation. “This is what we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he added.
This is an example of what Afghan forces can do with coalition help, Dunford said, and Afghans can integrate coalition capabilities into their campaign plans for the future. “What I saw yesterday and today is, with a relatively small coalition footprint, we are able to leverage over 300,000 Afghan forces that have been built over time,” he said.
This should accelerate with the arrival of the U.S. assistance brigade. “I am actually very encouraged by all the feedback from the Afghans and the SFAB,” Dunford said. “We have the right organizational construct for 2018, and the advisors we are bringing in are the right people, at the right level, with the right training. That’s my takeaway.”
The effort is also helped by an Afghan initiative to create a more professional military. New leaders at the corps level “are very open-minded and flexible,” the chairman said.
“In 2018, we’re already starting to see that momentum is going to favor Afghan forces,” Dunford said. “The advisory effort will serve as an accelerant.”