July 16, 2013

Transition to Afghan military rocky

The country's forces show signs of professionalism, but lack many basics for sustaining operations.

By DAVID ZUCCHINO/Los Angeles Times

(Continued from page 1)

AFGHANISTAN MILITARY
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Photos by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times Afghan National Army soldiers prepare for patrol recently in Maidan Shar, a district in Wardak province. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Curby Scarborough says Afghan soldiers “are at times more dependent on us than we’d like.”

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AFGHANISTAN MILITARY
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Afghan soldiers pray before a patrol in Maidan Shar. Many military operations lie ahead for the soldiers as they prepare to take on full responsibility for trying to hold the Taliban at bay.

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The colonel escorted the wounded men to his command center, where they gorged on leftovers from the commander's lunch of meatballs, rice and naan. Then he returned to work.

Hamidullah is a man in a hurry. "The Afghans have to live for tomorrow, not just today," Scarborough said. "They know that time is short."

Recently, the Afghans planned and executed two medical evacuations, using Russian-made helicopters provided by the United States. Without the help of the Americans, the unit was able to fly wounded soldiers to a military hospital in Kabul, the capital, said U.S. Lt. Col. Joel Smith, commander of Task Force China of the 3rd Infantry Division. The men probably would have died if transported by road, the common Afghan practice.

"It was a surprise to us," said Smith, stationed next door to the Afghan base. "It was their show, and that was a real measure of success."

On a recent cold, windy morning, Hamidullah gathered 100 soldiers for a mission he had planned with no American involvement. Scarborough was not present as the Afghans mounted machine guns on Humvees and Rangers, then lined up with assault rifles.

Hamidullah was sending his men, along with 40 police officers and 10 agents from the government spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, into three nearby villages. They planned to search for Taliban fighters, weapons and bomb-making materials.

The colonel delivered a stirring speech. He told his men they represented the will of the people. He ordered them to respond to enemy attacks only after making sure that no civilians were in the line of fire.

"This is a blessed operation," he told them. "We are soldiers. We love our country. God is with us."

Over the next several hours, the force cleared the three villages, detaining two suspected insurgents. There was no gunfire, but a homemade bomb exploded, wounding two soldiers.

Many more such operations lie ahead for Hamidullah as he takes on full responsibility for trying to hold the Taliban at bay.

Hamidullah has a wife, a son and two daughters in nearby Kabul. He has brothers in Canada and cousins in San Francisco. He said he wants to help build a stable, secure Afghanistan for his wife and children.

"For now, I am staying in Afghanistan," the colonel said. "But later, if the situation in Afghanistan is bad for me and my family, maybe I'll go to Canada too."

 

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