Two Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, pull security while the soldiers of Weapons Company, 3rd Kandak, 201st Corps, Afghan National Army move toward the village of Salar in Afghanistan’s Wardak province, during Operation Assaly II, July 24, 2012. (Photo by Sgt. Michael Sword)
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Aug. 14, 2012) — Every day, thousands of cars, buses and highly-decorated trucks travel Afghanistan’s Highway 1, the ring road that connects the country’s largest and most populated cities. The 300-mile stretch of road between Kabul and Kandahar is the main focus of the area’s Afghan National Security Forces and Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force 173rd.
Trees, grass and fields of deep green provide the impression of rich farmland safe from the frequent violence along the road. However, the Afghan National Army, or ANA, and the men of Battle Company know the real story of small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, and ambushes that plague the area, leading them to conduct Operation Assaly II, July 23-27, 2012.
“We have some Taliban fighters who attempt to engage us and we also have a unique situation here, in that there are criminal networks that actively engage the fuel trucks and the supply trucks that come out of Kabul down to Kandahar,” said Capt. Colin Layne, commander of Battle Company and a native of Albuquerque, N.M. “So we have two groups of people out there that are firing weapons and setting off improvised explosive devices.”
“Operation Assaly II is focused clearing patrols with the ANA going into villages and searching specific houses that could be associated with the Taliban,” he explained.
The ANA led the patrols during the operation, start to finish. Two units participated, the 4th Toli and Weapons Toli from the 3rd Kandak, 201st Corps. Tolis are the ANA version of a U.S. Army company.
“Much like we would send two U.S. platoons out, it’s an ANA platoon and an American platoon working in conjunction with each other, not three ANA with four of my guys or us just throwing them in a squad,” Layne said.
First Lt. Chris Philhower, a native of La Crosse, Wis., and the platoon leader for Battle Company’s 2nd platoon, has worked closely with one of the companies in his time at Combat Outpost Sultan Khyel.
“I’ve only worked with Weapons Toli but I’ve been incredibly impressed with them,” he said. “They are some awesome warriors, especially their commander. I really enjoy working with him.”
Since the operation was conducted during Ramadan, the ANA patrolled without eating or drinking between sun up and sun down, surprising some of the U.S. Soldiers on patrol with them.
“I was pretty surprised today,” said Spc. Jacob Wood, a Roundrock, Texas, native and radio transmitter operator for 1st Platoon, Battle Company, after a patrol, July 27. “Because it’s Ramadan, they’re fasting and they’re not drinking water, so we thought they’ll check a few houses and then head back, but it ended up being a longer mission and that was impressive to see them put that much effort into it.”
Spc. Caid Snyder, a rifleman in 1st Platoon and a native of Spokane, Wash., who was with the 173rd during their last deployment to Afghanistan, has noticed a difference between the ANA he remembers and the ANA he currently works next to.
“We worked with them quite a bit and that ANA group wasn’t as squared away as this ANA group,” he said. “They’re professional when they’re out there and it doesn’t seem like they have any problem with the villagers at all.”
“They’re more motivated and they seem like they want to make a difference,” he added.
As the U.S. begins to transition out of Afghanistan, the ANA units that work with Battle Company are giving the soldiers at Combat Outpost Sultan Khyel and the villagers nearby confidence in the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces, or ANSF, in the area.
“They’re leading all the patrols, and where we can help them, we do,” said Philhower. “Otherwise, they’re on a good track to sustain themselves when we leave.”
With Operation Assaly II now complete, there is still more work to be done, but the operation did serve its purpose.
“More than anything it was to give breathing room to the ANA,” said Layne. “We deny the enemy safe haven, push them further off Highway 1 and that allows the ANA to better establish some of their outposts and make Highway 1 that much more secure.”
In the short time that they have been there, the motivation of the ANA has continued to impress the men of Battle Company and as they continue to improve, Layne sees a mutually supporting relationship of their goals in the area: To assist the ANSF and help secure their stretch of Highway 1.
“Luckily those two goals go hand in hand,” Layne said. “Going with the ANSF to secure Highway 1 secures the road and it builds their capacity. They get better and security gets better because they have already developed that level of proficiency.”