Embedded Transition Team in Zabul Works Hard to Root Out Taliban
By First Lt. Amy Bonanno, ARSIC-S PAO
Zabul Province (August 3) — Ever since they gave wheat seed to the local community in February, the Taliban have relentlessly been after them. Does that stop this hardened group of U.S. Army Embedded Trainers who mentor and advise the Afghan National Army (ANA)? Never.
Thankfully when the villagers received wheat seed from the Americans who are trying to help and protect them, they, in return, began to provide intelligence on the whereabouts of local Taliban members and where Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) were located.
In May, the 3rd Kandak, 2nd Brigade Embedded Training Team (ETT), who have been deployed here since January, held a 60-man shura (meeting of tribal elders and leaders) which included the Provincial Governor, Provincial Police Chief, members of the U.S. Department of State, the Afghan National Army Second Brigade Commander of the 205th Hero Corps, the head elder of each district within the province, members of the ETT and many more. Topics of the discussion included the necessity to secure supply routes and other needs of the provincial communities.
“The shura we held in May got leaders at all levels thinking about the importance of security for all of us and acquainted people to help meet those needs, to help get the job done with everyone buying in to a plan,” said Maj. Timothy Lindsay, Team Leader for the Battalion ETT Team.
Since the key leaders met in May, what once was a treacherous road to travel on- Dobb Pass is now free of IEDs and small arms attacks by members of the Taliban, Lindsay added.
Additionally, there is more communication between district and police chiefs, tribal elders and provincial and district governors.
In May the ETT destroyed close to 50 acres of poppy in Atghar District which hurt the Taliban’s source of incoming money. “Now the farmers depend on wheat seed money, a more viable crop for money, as they no longer plan to produce poppy,” said Sgt. First Class Matthew Chambers, a member of the ETT.
In March, a father brought his gravely injured 12 year-old Afghan child to local ANA soldiers who in turn brought the child to local U.S. forces seeking medical treatment. Hospital Corpsman Third Class Chad Minks kept the child alive while they waited for a Medical Evacuation by helicopter to a local hospital. Today, that 12 year-old is alive and the family shares intelligence with the ANA and their U.S. counterparts often.
From January through April, Hospital Corpsman Second Class Caesar Munoz, a member of the 3-2 ETT team, received five to 15 Afghan citizens a day for various injuries, in a place where there is no medical care or hospitals nearby in Nawbahar District. In that time Munoz has seen well over 1,000 Afghans and provided treatment for them. A testament to Munoz’ abilities- he easily dropped the death rate of nine per week to one or two a week.
“’Doc Munoz’ (as his teammates affectionately refer to him) ran to an Afghan child who was herding camels during a firefight and saved his life just last week,” said Capt. Benjamin Nagy.
The 3-2 ETT team has held village medical outreaches (where medical reviews and supplies are offered to the local population by U.S. forces) in Atghar, Nawbahar, and Shamulzai Districts since they’ve been deployed here. One Afghan woman remarked that she hadn’t been able to see a medical specialist in several years until now.
It is evident the team is close and have experienced a lot in living and working so close with their Afghan counterparts and the Afghan population.
The 3-2 ETT has lost four members of their team to injury by IEDs since they’ve been deployed: Hospital Corpsman Third Class Chad Minks, Capt. Corbett Baxter, Sgt. First Class Jardine, Staff Sgt. Diaz, and Hospital Corpsman Third Class Robert Steeley. The team lost five vehicles to IEDs as well. It is clear they have done a lot with less manpower and resources than most would ever be able to accomplish given the same impediments.
In the time that these rough and tough soldiers have been deployed, they’ve also found time to live their lives, albeit from afar. One, Sgt. First Class Joshua Smith, has become engaged; one, Sgt. First Class Matthew Chambers, has become a father; and yet another one, Capt. Matthew Greb, became married while on his two week visit home during the middle of his tour.
For many Afghans, this is the first time they’ve seen American forces in as many as three years, especially in Nawbahar District. With the limited resources the team has and the endless amount of work they need to do, they do their best at maintaining a constant presence here.
“By helping the Afghans feel safe and protected and to have confidence in us and our ANA counterparts, we’re rebuilding our forward operating bases (FOB) to house a full company of ANA Soldiers in order to create a stronger presence throughout the area,” said Lindsay.
Their efforts are working, as varied as they are. Within the first 60 days on the ground, the 3-2 ETT team were busy mentoring and training the ANA to fight the Taliban, conducting humanitarian assistance missions, assisting and administering Village Medical Outreaches, and creating FOB’s to further the ‘clear, hold, build’ method of conducting a successful counterinsurgency.
Now, the team is focusing on “pushing out into former “safe” areas where the Taliban enjoyed no U.S. or coalition forces bothering them,” said Maj. Thomas Mitchell, the ETT Operations Officer and Executive Officer Trainer. By disrupting the Taliban’s flow, their ability to move around, and the Taliban’s freedom, the 3-2 ETT team is injecting terror over the Taliban to wipe them out of former safe havens.
“The Taliban increased their terroristic activity on their part and the U.S. will prevail in the end,” added Mitchell.
The 3-2 ETT team are advisors for the most part, helping to mentor their ANA counterparts so that soon they will be able to conduct missions against the enemies of Afghanistan on their own, without any U.S. and coalition force involvement.
“There is a brotherly bond that we didn’t expect, a cohesive bond that makes us want to fight tooth and nail together,” said Capt. Benjamin Nagy, ETT Company Team Leader.
“When we get hit, it’s our Afghan brothers checking on us and are genuine about caring for us,” concluded Nagy.
“Both sides care, our Afghan counterparts and we show a sense of loss for one another,” added Capt. Matthew Greb, “The longer we’re out there, the more we realize how much we have in common with the Afghans.”
“We have no choice but to depend on each other,” replied Chambers.
The 3-2 ETT consists of active duty U.S. Army personnel from various units throughout the country. Each ETT member has their own strengths and experiences which provides for a unique and robust mission, all working to gain peace and stability for the people of Afghanistan.