GARDEZ, Afghanistan, June 15, 2015 - In September of 2002, then-U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Doherty, special forces medic, remembers when the Afghan security forces had little to no military experience and training.
“They didn’t know how to zero their weapons, provide basic medical care, plan a mission or create and target an objective,” Doherty recalls of his first years in Afghanistan. “They didn’t know the most basic of combat skills. We had to teach them everything and give them everything.”
Twelve years later, and after multiple deployments, Doherty, now an Army captain and operation detachment alpha commander, said the Afghans aren’t just planning their own missions. They are training other Afghans how to train, operate and command their own units.
“The Afghans have come a long way,” said Doherty who was a mentor to the Afghans at the Commando School of Excellence in 2014. “Today there is not a single primary American instructor [at the school of excellence]. Afghans are teaching other Afghans what Americans used to teach them.”
Doherty, along with his 11-man team, is tasked to train Afghans serving in the 2nd Special Operations Kandak, or SOK, which is the equivalent of a U.S. Army battalion, at the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command.
After years of training Afghan security forces, Doherty said he is seeing the fruits of his labors realized.
On June 4, the 2nd SOK headed out on a mission in Zurmat District targeting a bazaar where the Taliban have been housing weapons. With U.S. counterparts listening in the background, 2nd SOK Commander Lt. Col. Popal Abdullah led the mission brief. The orders Abdullah gave were succinct and included clearing all weapons from the bazaar; neutralizing the enemy; and watching for improvised explosive devices.
Giving orders, preparing briefs, gathering intelligence and fighting on the front lines is a far cry from not knowing the basics of first-aid, but was a necessary transition in order for the Afghans to take control of their country’s security forces.
Taking the lead in defending and supporting their country is something the Afghans transitioned to under NATO’s Resolute Support Mission which started Jan. 1. Under RS, the U.S. is tasked to train, advise and assist the Afghans in the fight to defend their country against insurgents.
“With your support, you’ve trained us, you’ve mentored us and with the will of God, the enemy cannot get us,” said Col. Safullah Najrabi, deputy commander of Afghanistan's 1st Special Operations Brigade.
Though the Afghan security forces have come a long way, there is still more for them to learn in order to be fully successful in their mission to defend their country on their own.
Doherty is working on what he calls, “second-order advising,” which is teaching Afghans how to think ahead in their planning efforts.
It means “being able to plan for future operations and prepare for future equipment needs in an Afghan sustainable way,” he said. “Plan training, account for current supplies, move logistics, allocate resources and develop intellectual capital, that’s the biggest hurdle that we’re working on right now.”
Though Doherty says the Afghans aren’t yet fully sustainable and still rely on the U.S. for equipment and air support, he believes the Afghan special security forces are worth the investment and remains vigilant in giving the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces the proper training and guidance to move the country forward in a positive way.