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Marine mentors see Afghan officers taking operational control in eastern Afghanistan

By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr. | | January 21, 2008

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Afghan National Army officers, mentored by a Marine embedded training team, show initiative and take the lead for their army and country.

 Leathernecks with ETT 7-2 deployed this summer from Okinawa, Japan, and were assigned to work with the 3rd and 5th Kandaks (Afghan battalions), 3rd Brigade, 201st ANA Corps. The Marines have been with the kandaks in operational and garrison environments, and they have seen officers demonstrate their abilities and willingness to take charge.

 The goal is for the ANA to eventually operate on its own, while U.S. and coalition forces merely provide support. The ETT advisors encourage the Afghan officers and staff noncommissioned officers to be in the lead in all they do, and to develop leadership traits in their subordinates.

 Marine Lt. Col. James F. Werth, ETT 7-2 officer in charge, said he advises the 3rd Kandak commander to allow subordinate officers to make decisions on their own. When the ETT joined the ANA, he wasn’t seeing this like he is now starting to.

 “Routine decisions that U.S. officers normally just do are things they won’t do. A lot has to do with their culture and history. Their first course of action is often to let others make the decision, (that way) they cannot (personally) be wrong and lose face,” Werth said.

 The Marine advisors said the ANA officers have shown courage during combat, but can improve on initiative and decision-making for operations, logistics, and intelligence. Werth encourages this initiative among the officer ranks, and said they are making progress.

 Werth said the ETT mentors with 5th Kandak (Combat Service Support) report numerous examples of platoon commanders planning and executing logistic convoys with minimal advice. The officers are also learning to let their NCOs take charge of supervising soldiers.

 Both kandaks have companies and platoons spread throughout eastern Afghanistan. Because they spend a lot of time conducting convoys on the rugged main supply routes, maintaining vehicles is a key element here, Werth explained. But maintenance upkeep is not something the Afghan soldiers are used to doing.

 The ANA NCOs now routinely conduct pre-convoy inspections and supervise preventive maintenance checks on their vehicles, something the mentors did not see when they first started working with their kandaks.

 In 3rd Kandak (Armored), the intelligence officer is now more active in gathering and sharing information with both Werth and his kandak commander, ANA Lt. Col. Mohammad Naseem. Recently this included reports about Taliban threats to Gojers (a semi-nomadic tribe). Werth advised Naseem on courses of action, but encouraged the ANA officers to come up with their own solutions to the problem.

 The ANA officers discussed possible operational responses and planned out immediate means for helping the Gojers, many of whom had been forced from their homes in Nurestan Province and pushed into Kunar Province.

 The 3rd Kandak (Armored) soldiers led several humanitarian assistance visits in the snow to provide food and clothing to the displaced Gojers and local villagers. Several of these visits were planned and conducted without coalition presence.

 While the mentors admit they still have plenty of work to do, and the ANA still has a lot of room for improvement, they take pride in the changes they have facilitated.

 Seeing the 1st Company, 3rd Kandak, commanding officer really develop into “a strong commanding officer” is one of the accomplishments of which Marine Master Sgt. Scott M. Ingbretsen, mentor for the 1st Company at Forward Operating Base Keating, said he is most proud.

 “Their way works very well,” Ingbretsen added.


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