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News | April 4, 2012

Afghan forces step up, Marines step back in Helmand province

By Lance Cpl. Timothy Lenzo , Regimental Combat Team 6

FORWARD OPERATING BASE JACKSON, Afghanistan (April 4, 2012) — As coalition forces draw down from Afghanistan and more Marines return home each month, increasing responsibility is falling on to Afghan forces.

The Afghan soldiers with 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps are ready to answer the call.

Recently, Brig. Gen. Abdul Wasea, commanding general, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, Afghan National Army, visited the area to talk with different Afghan National Security Forces leaders and address the soldiers.

Wasea attended a March 29 ANSF medic course graduation and checked on the Afghan soldiers. The graduation demonstrates the kandak’s increasing independence and preparedness for when responsibility in the area falls solely on their shoulders.

Wasea regularly visits the base to check in with the soldiers, to talk with different ANSF leaders and to inspect the area.

“He always asks and talks to the soldiers,” said Maj. Alton A. Warthen, commanding officer, Advisor Team, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “He generally is very happy with the performance of 2nd Kandak.”

In the last couple months, Afghan soldiers with 2nd Kandak conducted several independent operations with other ANSF to target known insurgent safe havens.

“We patrol on our own, taking care of our people,” said ANA Staff Sgt. Sherhassans, senior medic, 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade.

These patrols, checkpoints and other counter-insurgent activities are part of their transition from a supporting role to a leading role in the Sangin district of Helmand province.

The Marines and sailors with the 3rd Bn., 7th Marines advisor team helped train the ANA soldiers with medical, individual skills and leadership training.

Sherhassans, a recent graduate from the medic course, said the skills he learned will help the ANA be more independent, and he is ready to help train new ANA medics.

The Marines also trained the leaders and future leaders of the ANA.

“We provided their officers with training, improving their ability to plan and make decisions,” said Warthen, from Newport News, Va. “We also dedicated a lot of time training their squad leaders. We ran a squad leader course that was highly effective.”

The trained squad leaders are leading the patrols throughout the province. Recently, they provided security for the Sangin district elections with minimal Marine involvement.

“We enjoy having (Marines) here, but it’s important that we are ready for when they leave,” said Sherhassans.

The training courses paid off, with ANSF taking more responsibility and working independently from coalition forces.

Werthen said when they first started working with Afghan forces, they were almost completely dependent on the Marines and would not take the lead on operations. Instead, the ANSF worked in a supporting role, and the Afghan police lacked discipline.

The adviser team and Afghans with 2nd Kandak worked hard to prepare and take over when coalition forces draw down from the area.

“They work together, which is something they weren’t doing when we got here, and the quality of the individual soldier and policeman has increased dramatically,” said Werthen.

Sherhassans said he’s pleased with how the ANA are shifting into the lead role.

The transition of responsibility showed that the Afghan forces are ready for their next challenge. The sole responsibility for the security of Sangin will soon be theirs.

“They’re more than competent, and they’re already better than the (insurgents),” said Werthen. “I’m proud of them. They know we are in transition and that we’re leaving. They’ve stepped up to the challenge. It hasn’t been easy, but they’ve been willing to put in the work to improve.”