Gates: More brigades to Afghanistan by summer
By LOLITA C. BALDOR The Associated Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The Pentagon is moving to get three of the four combat brigades requested by commanders into Afghanistan by summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday as he traveled here to meet with military leaders.

In his most specific comments to date about how soon he will meet the call for up to 20,000 more troops in Afghanistan, Gates said he will not have to cut troop levels further in Iraq to free up at least two of those three brigades for Afghan duty.

At the same time, Gates said a key “course correction” in the Afghanistan war for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama will be to build the Afghan army and better cooperate with Kabul on security operations.

“I think there’s a concern on the part of some of the Afghans that we sort of tell them what we’re going to do, instead of taking proposals to them and getting their input and then working out with them what we’re going to do, so it’s a real partnership,” Gates told reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan. “That’s an important aspect of this, that I think we need a course correction.”

Gates was scheduled to meet with Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and to gather with U.S. troops in Kandahar.

The meetings come as senior military leaders and the White House are pulling together a broad new military strategy for Afghanistan, one that would shift the focus from the waning fight in Iraq to the escalating Afghan fight.

Gates said he expects the troop levels in Iraq to remain fairly steady through the provincial elections early next year and “probably for some period of time after that.”

While there is wide agreement that the military emphasis will now shift to Afghanistan, long regarded as the secondary priority behind Iraq, there is still debate on how best to do it.

Gates would not detail any of the findings that have surfaced in the strategy reviews. But the push to increase the size of the Afghan army is reflected in at least one of the ongoing studies.

The White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the incoming Obama administration and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, all are conducting their own reviews. Obama has said getting more troops to Afghanistan is a priority.

Gates said he has no details on the expected deployments to Afghanistan next year, adding that he has not approved any orders for specific units. He said the Joint Chiefs may have identified the units, but he’s not aware of those decisions.

He added that he does not know when he will be able to send the fourth requested brigade.

Gates and other U.S. officials have endorsed efforts to pour four combat brigades and thousands of support troops into Afghanistan to stem the spike in violence and tamp down the resurgence of the Taliban.

Officials already had announced that one unit — the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division — would go to Afghanistan in January and that they would try to meet the rest of the troop requirements as soon as possible. But military leaders have resisted disclosing which units or how quickly they would go, saying much depends on how quickly troop levels can be cut in Iraq. A brigade is about 3,500 troops.

The U.S. is working to meet deadlines in its agreement with Baghdad that require combat troops to leave the cities by June and be out of the country in three years. As planned, the number of combat brigades in Iraq is dropping to 14 early next year, and Gates said that level will enable him to get a second brigade to Afghanistan by summer.

He said he’s not sure whether the third brigade will be redirected to Afghanistan from a planned tour in Iraq or if it can be found elsewhere.

Asked whether Marines may be tapped to go, Gates said the decision has not been made.

The top Marine officer, Gen. James Conway, told The Associated Press this week that he believes there is a growing consensus that Marines could be used to fill part of the need in Afghanistan. If approved, he said, some could go there in early spring.

“It’s clear that the Marines want to be in the fight, that’s what you’d expect,” said Gates, adding that it’s clear that the security situation has greatly improved in Iraq’s Anbar province, where the bulk of the Marines are. “I don’t have a problem with Gen. Conway’s desire to have a bigger part of the mission in Afghanistan for the Marine Corps.”

He said he will wait for recommendations from his military leaders.

There are 31,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 13,500 with the NATO-led coalition and 17,500 training Afghan troops and fighting the insurgency. There are 149,000 troops in Iraq.

Gates’ stop in Afghanistan was designed initially as a farewell tour to visit troops as he prepared to leave office. But that changed when he was asked to stay on by Obama, making Gates the new administration’s Republican holdover in the Cabinet.

During a NATO meeting in October, Gates asked allies to consider increasing troop levels in Afghanistan next year during the elections, a move that has been made for past votes, both there and in Iraq. Gates said the increase would be temporary, and it was not clear how many forces would be needed or who would provide them.

At the same meeting, the allies also agreed on to step up their operations to combat Afghan drug lords who fuel terror networks.



U.S. Advisor Praises Progress of Afghan Army’s 205th Corps

By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2008 – With the help of mentors from several countries and every branch of service, the 205th Corps of the Afghan National Army now can plan and execute operations, a senior advisor said yesterday.“These are Afghan pilots flying Afghan missions in support of the Afghan people,” Army Col. Paul Somersall, commander of Regional Corps Advisory Command in southern Afghanistan, said to bloggers and online journalists during a teleconference.

Three of the 205th Corps’ four infantry brigades have been assessed as capable of conducting independent operations with minimal support from their combat advisors.

“One of the brigades recently planned, executed and sustained themselves during a seven-day operation where they drove deep into what is called an enemy sanctuary or enemy safe haven to destroy identified enemy forces,” Somersall said.

“They were successful leading the operation, with less than 30 mentors and 20 other coalition soldiers, in addition to their 300 ANA ground force,” he said. “That was a great example of ANA’s capability to lead and conduct their own operations.”

To train and develop the 205th Corps, Somersall said, the trainers had to earn trust from the Afghan soldiers.

“How we do this mission is by establishing strong, trusted relationship with the ANA counterparts, and that is done by living, eating and fighting side by side in combat with our Afghan brethren,” he said. “Depending on the location and the circumstances, mentors are expected to spend between two and 12 hours a day with their counterpart.”

Somersall explained that for the mentors to be effective, they must learn how to see the challenges and opportunities through the perspective of the Afghan people.

While the mentors and the 205th Corps have concentrated on combat capabilities, they’ve also been meeting with village leaders to find out the needs and concerns of the citizens. The 205th Corps has responded by providing food, water wells, power generation, schools, as well as medical and dental outreach events, Somersall said.

One of the challenges the ANA has faced in the past has been logistics support, but that has been resolved and the Afghans are operating on their own, Somersall said.

“We’ve moved 90,000 tons of supplies since August using the MI-17 [helicopters], and these are all by the Afghans,” he said.

Overall, Somersall said, the Afghan soldiers in the southern region of Afghanistan are tough, experienced fighters who are focused on fighting for their country and supporting the Afghan constitution.

“The 205th Corps is committed to winning in southern Afghanistan and doing what needs to be done to grow larger and stronger every day, he said. “I’m convinced that with increased numbers of well-trained mentors and advisors, as well as additional combat enablers of aviation and intelligence assets, we move a bit closer every day to being able to transfer and leave security responsibility to the government of Afghanistan.”

(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

To listen to Col. Somersall’s interview, click here.  The transcript is available here. 

The North Shore Journal, one of the participants, had this to say. 



From Brooklyn to Kandahar


First Sgt. Steve Hayden, left, and Capt. William Hart are two NYPD police officers serving in Afghanistan.


Two New York City cops have gone from fighting crime in Brooklyn to training police officers in Afghanistan.

NYPD Emergency Services Unit officers Steve Hayden and William Hart are serving with the New York National Guard in southern Afghanistan. They are both on leave from the department, working as mentors to Afghanistan’s growing police force.

Capt. Hart, 39, of Westchester, said the recruits have a lot to learn in a short amount of time.

“The Afghan National Police have great expectations placed upon them and they only receive eight weeks of formal training,” he said. “Any police officer in American will tell you that it takes years to be proficient as a police officer.”

First. Sgt Hayden, 45, of Long Island, said many of the recruits are illiterate, which hampers their training.

“Their inability to take notes and refer back to written material, notes and outlines hamstrings their efforts to retain information,” Hayden said. “I am impressed with the Afghan officers’ willingness to engage the enemy and their desire to secure their homeland. If Afghanistan is to stand alone as a nation, on it’s own, it is imperative that the U.S. military provide training, support and guidance that will allow them to secure their own country and prosper as a people.”

Hart said bringing his street smarts to the rugged mountains of Afghanistan has given him a new appreciation for his work.

“The police in America do not have to worry about improvised explosive devices in the road or Taliban coming to their homes at night to kill them because they support the government,” he said.

“All the answers come down to security,” Hart said. “Because the people of Afghanistan feel that there is not enough security, the children do not go to school. If there was more security, the local population would feel more comfortable providing information to the police about criminal activity without fear of retribution.

“This fear is not only in Afghanistan but in New York as well. In certain neighborhoods, the people fear the criminals and do not provide police with information because they are afraid of what will happen when the police are not around.”





Kabul, Afghanistan
Phone: +93 (0) 799 51 2919



Dec. 2, 2008                                                                           

Release Number 20080212-02


ANSF, Coalition forces building bridges for community


KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan National Army soldiers from the 205th Corps and Coalition forces celebrated with local villagers Monday at a ribbon-cutting for a new low-water bridge near Kandahar city.

            The new bridge, called the Commando Bridge, will provide easier access to areas around the city, including a bazaar, a school under construction, and a nearby highway.

            A rainstorm several months ago flooded the creek that the new bridge spans, making travel through the area difficult.

The 205th Corps approached Coalition forces about the need for a bridge.  After consideration, the project was funded through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program which allows leaders to fund projects that meet urgent needs of the local population.

For projects throughout Afghanistan, a proper balance has to be reached between security and development.  In this case, workers’ safety was a concern.  However, despite militants’ death threats against the workers, the project was completed within a few weeks and will be of great benefit to the community, said Brig. Gen. Shir Mohammad Zazai, 205th Corps commander.

“I would like to thank everyone involved for their hard work in completing the Commando Bridge,” the general told those gathered at the ribbon-cutting.  “These projects really help to improve the area and will help to make the area better.”

One of the laborers who worked on the bridge said, “it was very difficult last winter for people to travel and transport things through the area.  They weren’t able to move things through easily.  Now it will be much easier.”

– 30 –







Kabul, Afghanistan
Phone: +93 (0) 799 51 2919



Nov. 30, 2008

Release Number 20083011-02


ANSF, Coalition forces disrupt militants’ narcotics activities


KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan commandos from the 205th Kandak and Coalition forces conducted a search in southern Afghanistan Sunday that yielded narcotics, weapons and bomb-making caches.

The combined forces air assaulted into an area near Maywand District, Kandahar province, about 75 kilometers west of Kandahar city.  Their search discovered more than 100 pounds of opium and more than 50 pounds of heroin; machine-gun rounds; improvised explosive device making materials; an aluminum boat; and a truck.  These materials were all destroyed on the site.  Commandos also confiscated several automatic weapons.

No Commando, Coalition forces or civilian casualties have been reported.

“It’s clear that these militants finance their activities by illegal drug trade,” said Col. Jerry O’Hara, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman.  “Well, today Afghan commandos took some of their funding away.”

– 30 –

Air Force mentors help build ANA medical capability

by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

11/25/2008 – KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — With the help of U.S. Forces, the Afghan National Army opened a new hospital at Camp Hero in Kandahar Province, nearly one year ago. A small group of Airmen have helped transform a once empty building into a fully functional hospital staffed by ANA personnel and capable of caring for fellow ANA soldiers, Afghan National Police members, and their families.

The Kandahar Regional Military Hospital is a $10 million facility featuring 50-beds, two operating rooms and an intensive care unit. In addition, there is ongoing construction for a 50-bed expansion. Since opening its doors in January 2008, the hospital staff has treated more than 12,000 outpatients and 600 inpatients.

“This hospital is probably the most successful of the ANA hospitals,” said Lt. Col. Edward Fieg, 205th Afghan Regional Security Integration Command mentor.

Much of that success is helped by the medical embedded training team. Air Force doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, pharmacists, administrators, radiologists, medics, technicians and logisticians mentor their Afghan counterparts and teach the skills required to successfully treat and care for fellow Afghans.

The medical mentoring team is focusing on three main goals – to produce smarter Afghan healthcare workers, procure better equipment, and to improve healthcare planning and execution.

Lt. Col. Susan Bassett, a registered nurse, is responsible for mentoring the hospital’s chief nurse and his team of 30 nurses. She spends a lot of time focusing on basic nursing care, such as cleanliness and sterilization.

“We’ve given them a lot of high-tech equipment, and now we need to show them how to use it,” she said. “They see new things and they know about them, but they don’t have the basic education to do it.”

According to Colonel Bassett, nurses in Afghanistan attend a nine-month training program, but they learn more about tasks the doctor might ask them to do than they do about the body and disease. This is where nurses and mentors play a big role.

“My 30 years of nursing have prepared me for this,” said Colonel Bassett. “I can give what they so badly need – we are helping a whole nation come up in care.”

One medical area the Afghans are quickly advancing in is anesthesiology. When he first arrived almost a year ago, Maj. Elvin Cruz, anesthesiologist mentor, guessed the Afghans were about 30 years behind in the practice. Beginning with the basics of anatomy and physiology, he was worked to bring them up to speed.

“During the time I have been here, they have been able to do their first arterial line to monitor blood pressure invasively, they did some central lines, and they did their first nerve block on their own hands,” he said. “They are very good with their hands, so they can do most the procedures. And they are getting good at being vigilant and monitoring.

“I am trying to get them to the point where they will be able to safely perform anesthesia and get the patient safely to the recovery area – and they are very close,” he added. “I really think that by the time I leave here they will be self-sufficient.”

Major Cruz does a lot of hands-on training, but also holds lectures every other day. His lectures are presented in both English and Dari. Additionally, he has built a Web site that features a variety of anesthesiology information.

“They are very happy with the Web site. It’s a completely new technology for them – using the internet as a learning tool,” he said. “Right now, there is only anesthesia information, but there is the capability to put any information from any of the mentors. So not only will we be able to have an impact on this hospital, but we are passing information to the other hospitals in Afghanistan.”

One area outside of patient care the medical mentors are working to improve is supply and logistics. Getting supplies and maintaining a stock of needed supplies has historically been a challenge. Supplies would be pushed out to regional hospitals once a year, and whatever they received was what they had to work with for the year. Medical logistics mentors are trying to turn what was a once a year push system, to a quarterly pull system based on needs.

“We want them to be more aware of what’s available to them and improve the supply chain,” said Maj. Jeff Atkisson, the medical logistics mentor. “Some of our goals would be to have a full inventory at the warehouse – an automated inventory. Right now everything is on paper or in their head. We want to have a system where we know exactly what’s in the warehouse at all times – and the customer also needs to know.”

Although Major Atkisson just recently arrived in country, he said he has found the Afghans easy to work with and eager to learn. The other mentors have experienced the same thing.

“They really look up to the mentors,” said Major Cruz. “They want information and they want to learn these skills.”

The eagerness to learn and the progress the Afghans are making have helped make the year-long deployment rewarding for Major Cruz. For others, the reward is getting the chance to work with Afghans and learn from them.

“The Afghan people are absolutely wonderful,” said Colonel Bassett. “They are the most gracious people. They cannot start to work until they shake your hand and ask about your family. I need to remember that when I go home.

“Not many people would say a 365-day deployment is a blessing, but I would,” she added. “I’ve very much loved this past year.”

Maj. Elvin Cruz (left), an anesthesiologist with the 205th Afghan Regional Security Integration Command embedded training team, helps Afghan National Army nurse anesthetists prepare a patient for surgery at the Kandahar Regional Military Hospital Oct. 27, 2008. As part of his self-directed mentoring, Major Cruz has built a website, http://www.afghanmedett.org, where Afghan medical professionals may go to access a variety of information on anesthesiology. Major Cruz is deployed from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and a native of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse/Released)

Lobster in Kandahar

Lobster In Kandahar
Ann Marlowe 11.27.08, 12:00 AM ET




CAMP WALTON, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan– Blackened trout with a squirt of fresh lemon, orange rice, and spinach leaves, followed by a Granny Smith apple and an ice cream sundae–that probably isn’t your idea of an Army meal, particularly on a base in Afghanistan. But it was what I ate a couple of weeks ago at the DFAC (dining facility) at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, though I was able to resist the sundae bar at the last minute.

A few nights later, I enjoyed excellent barbecued chicken, turkey wings and mashed potatoes, courtesy of Sgt. Felipe Vega at Tani District Center. This base holds only a couple of platoons of American troops who live alongside the Afghan National Police and guard the local government center. Most of the food here is canned or frozen, and there isn’t any fresh fruit.

Laboring under severe supply constraints, Vega rustled up a breakfast of delicious scrambled eggs and hash browns from the unpromising pre-packed dehydrated eggs and hash browns the Army provided. Sgt Vega is the most talented cook I’ve encountered in three visits to Khost’s district centers, though Terzayi’s cook merits praise as well

Army food was something I’d dreaded when I signed up for my first embed in summer 2007. I’d grown up on my dad’s World War II Army stories featuring his constant state of hunger and the wretchedness of the rations…when he had them at all. He was proud of the Bronze Star he won for being in one of the first boats to cross the Rhine into Germany, but the downside was being ahead of the supply lines for a month in a Germany near starvation.

When I entered the DFAC in the small, remote base at Mehtar Lam in eastern Afghanistan for my first embed, I was amazed to find four entree choices. And usually one was pretty good. There was lobster and king crab on Fridays, and I hadn’t even seen king crab claws since my childhood–where does the Army get them?

Then I got to the DFAC at the mother of all American bases in Afghanistan, Bagram, where they served lobster every day. (I haven’t seen it at Bagram or Salerno during this embed–maybe it’s seasonal? Apparently the Army is offering lobster because it’s cheaper than steak these days.)

By now, on my fourth embed, I’m as familiar with Salerno’s DFAC as I am with the restaurants near my West Village home in New York City. My friend Kim Barker of the Chicago Tribune recently noted that embeds have spa-like elements (early rising, encouragement to exercise, no alcohol and a culture of constant hydration.) Only the food is the opposite of spa cuisine–heavy, permeated with red meat, low on greens and high in carbs and refined sugar. In other words, what most Americans eat.

Predictably, given the heavily Southern demographics of the U.S. military, the best entrees tend to be Mexican or Southern food. Any barbecued avian is a good bet, the chili is delicious and the taco meat tolerable. I first realized how good turkey wings can be at Tani. In a considerate gesture to Afghan employees at Salerno and the frequent visits by local Afghan government figures, kebabs appear every few days and rice nearly daily. As a rice eater myself, I am grateful. Other ethnic foods are in scant supply. There are occasional egg rolls, which I’ve avoided, and no sushi or kimchi–this will probably have to wait another 10 years.

The DFACs are best on breakfast and dessert. At the district centers, soldiers sometimes are left to fend for themselves at breakfast–think Pop Tarts and dry cereal. (Ever read the list of ingredients on a Pop Tart? I made that mistake and have been unable to eat one since.)

The big FOBs offer a carb minefield, so to speak, including delicious buttermilk biscuits, french toast, waffles and sometimes extras like chocolate chip pancakes with chocolate sauce. After staring at them at Salerno for a couple of days, I broke down and tried one, but luckily it was dry and hard.

My favorite combination is a two-egg omelet with cheese and peppers, one biscuit and a piece of fruit. The fruit, like everything else, is flown in, not bought locally, so you find incongruities like rock hard American cantaloupe at a time when superlative Afghan melons are ripe. But fears about poor sanitation, tampering and corruption mean that all purchasing is done centrally.

If you’re not a 20-year-old soldier going out on air assaults carrying 130 pounds of equipment, food and water, the DFACs can be a severe threat to your weight. Both Bagram and Salerno feature sundae bars with several flavors of Baskin Robbins, whipped cream and chocolate and caramel sauce at every lunch and dinner. I can skip the sugary fruit pies, but there’s one dark chocolate pie that’s competitive in the civilian world, and the cookies are pretty good.

I told my host at Mandozai and Tani, Capt. Ricardo Bravo, that I found the Salerno desserts tested my willpower, and he replied with some asperity, “A soldier is supposed to have self-control.”

At the Kandahar DFAC that the British and Canadians use, on the other hand, the cakes look dicey and don’t taste very good–and there’s no ice cream. No self-control necessary.

The worst features of Army food are dairy and vegetables. None of the American bases have decent cheese–it’s either Yellow or White. They don’t even have yogurt at every breakfast. But chunks of excellent blue cheese are, mysteriously, available at lunch and dinner at Kandahar, alongside the usual Yellow and White. Apparently it alternates with Camembert. I found that crumbling it over the spaghetti from the pasta bar, and mixing in some surprisingly tasty sauteed spinach, produced the sort of dish I might have enjoyed fixing for an evening in at home.

Vegetables at American DFACS are usually dreadfully overcooked and bathed in oily liquid, with the exception of some perfectly cooked, sprightly broccoli I recently had at Salerno. (The corn niblets probably don’t have much more nutrition, but they bring back childhood memories.)

Salads are pathetic, 1970s era artifacts like tomato and cucumber in too much dressing, and coleslaw is counted as a vegetable. Kandahar has a larger, fresher selection of vegetables, although there’s a tendency to off-key combinations–chopped green beans, kidney beans and onions, anyone?

The best base for coffee lovers is far and away Kandahar, which not only offers free espresso drinks from machines in the DFAC, but boasts a Tim Horton (Canadian) and two Green Beans (the American equivalent, found at all the big FOBs). In the district centers you are usually going to be drinking bad, watery American coffee unless someone has invested in an espresso machine–or unless you have a cook or soldier from Puerto Rico who will make thick, dark coffee.

Needless to say, you will not find a selection of wines or beers at any base in Afghanistan; U.S. soldiers are forbidden to drink while deployed. They can order non-alcoholic beer, though, and last night at FOB Walton in Kandahar Province, home to a polyglot, multinational team of 30-some soldiers mainly involved in training the Afghan police, some men drank fake beers while eating a credible Tex-Mex dinner (rice, refried beans, barbecued beef, carrots.)

I asked the night’s chef how he made the canned carrots so palatable. Sgt. “Top” Burek explained, “The key is to drain all the water and bake them. At the FOBs they boil them.” FOB Walton is run by Col. John F. Cuddy on highly democratic lines, where even lieutenant colonels share dishwashing duties and the men who are the more popular cooks rotate duties. Besides Burek, Capt. Matthew Ryan is one of the favorites.

For Thanksgiving, Ryan says he will prepare cornbread, squash if possible, and assorted pies, in addition to the classic turkey provided to all American bases. He will use as many fresh ingredients as he can. Ryan, a New York state National Guardsman from Buffalo who serves both as an intelligence officer and Civil Affairs chief, explained, “I did a reforestation and some wells at Blickkilli Bazaar–so I feel confident sending my men there.”

Ryan, a part-time tree farmer, is used to making from-scratch meals. His Thanksgiving meal last year featured a 41-pound free range bird raised by a friend. But he has had to adapt to local conditions. “Usually it’s like Rachael Ray’s cooking–she doesn’t start with anything raw. You start with Triscuits and Cheez Wiz and you make a meal.”

Ann Marlowe, a New York writer, has just completed her fourth “embed” in Afghanistan.