Posts Tagged ‘CSTC-A’

ANP Exercise

A training exercise at the Afghan National Police Academy

ANA graduates

New graduates at the Kabul Military Training Center*

For those of us who serve in NATO Training Mission and Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan, training and transition are our middle names.

Training is what we do.   We train new soldiers and police, generating capable security forces.  We train staff members within the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior, developing ministerial systems.  And we train communicators, medics, logisticians and other specialists, developing the enduring institutions and skills required to sustain the ANA and ANP.

Transition is why we do it.  We provide a ladder, and the Afghans climb it: On the ground floor, we have to do things for Afghans.  Part way up, they’re doing things with us.  And towards the top, they can do things by themselves.  At the top, we transition to Afghan-led security…self-reliant and professionally-led forces with accountable and effective Afghan Ministries.

Bottom line:  Our new mission statement sums it all up nicely:

NTM-A and CSTC-A, in coordination with key stakeholders, generates and sustains the Afghan National Security forces, develops leaders and establishes enduring institutional capacity in order to enable accountable Afghan-led security.

* Photo by SSgt Larry E. Reid Jr., USAF, from Defense Imagery.

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Coalition forces

Coalition members commemorate all those who've served*


Two minutes of silence, in honor of those who've fallen*

As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t do many ceremonies here at Camp Eggers.  But Veterans Day (also known as Remembrance Day, Poppy Day or Armistice Day) last November was an exception.

It’s a very powerful thing to pause, even for only a brief moment, and honor those who have served before us.  And it was even more powerful to do so, here in Afghanistan, with other members of the Coalition:  Albanian, American, Australian, British, Dutch, French, Polish, South Korean, Spanish, and Turkish forces alike.

Bottom line:  There’s a poem, famous within the Commonwealth, that speaks to  the need to keep the faith with our veterans:

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

Thanks to all who help hold that torch.

* Photos by SSgt Larry E. Reid, Jr., USAF, from DefenseImagery

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Waiting for Mi-17

Some things change: Afghan and Coalition forces wait for an ANA Air Corps Mi-17*


Some stay the same: A USAF C-17 drops supplies in Afghanistan**

It’s been pretty amazing watching the transformation of airpower in Afghanistan over the last 9 years.  Initially, airpower was entirely about the Coalition and almost entirely about killing people.  On the first night of the war in Afghanistan, for example, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld described attacks by B-2 stealth bombers from the continental United States, B-1 and B-52 bombers from Diego Garcia, 25 strike aircraft from the USS Carl Vinson and USS Enterprise, and cruise missiles launched from US surface ships, a US submarine and a British submarine.

By 2009, the Coalition’s ability to plan and execute precision strikes – with minimal loss of civilian life – had never been better.  But it wasn’t good enough.  For example, a UNAMA report that 595 civilians were killed by insurgents, compared to only 200 by Coalition air strikes in the first half of 2009 was interesting but irrelevant.  Because statistics don’t matter to the families of the 200 killed by air strikes.  Afghans and the International Community alike were asking, “I don’t get it – how come you guys are losing?

The answer?  We had the wrong focus.  Because, as Brig Gen Kwast, commander of the Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Air Base says,

Counterinsurgency is not about killing the enemy.  It’s about protecting the people.

So, on 2 July 2009, Coalition airpower changed dramatically.   As part of a far-reaching tactical directive, GEN McChrystal, the Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, directed that air strikes could only occur under “very limited and prescribed” conditions, noting that “we must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories – but suffering strategic defeats – by causing civlian casualties…and thus alienating the people.”  Or as Dave “Smoke” Grasso puts it,

Every time I drop a bomb and kill one innocent Afghan I set the war back – even if I killed 100 Taliban.

In the ANA Air Corps though, arpower changed even more dramatically.  In 2005, there was no such thing as Afghan airpower.  Today, the Air Corps flies Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, and AN-32 and C-27 cargo aircraft, focusing on Presidential and other types of airlift, and battlefield mobility, to include air assault, medical evacuation and casualty evacuation.  NTM-A/CSTC-A’s Combined Air Power Transition Force, or CAPTF, supports the Air Corps by helping build aircraft capacity, Airmen, and infrastructure.  CAPTF advisers also help the Afghans perform operations, in direct support of the counterinsurgency effort.

But some things about airpower in Afghanistan never change:  On the first night of the war – only 45 minutes after the first bombs hit their targets – the US Air Force dropped 34,400 packages of food and medicine from two C-17 transport aircraft.  Today, we sometimes use a precision airdrop system, but we’re still dropping supplies in Afghanistan.

Bottom line:   Airmen adapt.

This post borrows heavily from articles by Noah Sachtman in Wired and  David Wood in Air Force magazine.

* Photo by SSgt Larry E. Reid, Jr., USAF, from Defense Imagery

** Photo by SSgt Michael B. Keller, USAF, from Defense Imagery.

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USAF pararescueman provides medical care to an Afghan*

First aid class

A PRT medic hands out first aid kits for a class in Panjshir**

Medical support is a Big Deal in Afghanistan, providing perhaps the best return on investment of anything the Coalition is doing.   This is largely because, in an academic sense, medicine is one of the few areas where we – the Coalition and Afghan central government – have a ‘significant and useful asymmetrical advantage’ over the insurgents.  Or said another way, where we can do stuff for the Afghan population that the insurgents can’t.

See, the  insurgents can provide justice…in a way.  A brutal, nasty way to be sure, but justice nonetheless.  And they can provide jobs and economic benefits…in a way.  Of course they’re jobs founded on opium and blood money, but they’re jobs nonetheless.  And they can provide security…in a way.  Insurgent security is pretty much just a protection racket, but still, it’s security.  Regarding medicine though, the insurgents can’t do jack.  And the Afghan government can.

Most Coalition medical professionals are focused on providing medical services to Afghans – from trauma care and evacuation to preventative medicine – throughout Afghanistan.  But there’s also a team of 160 military members and 15 contractors focused on the medical systems of the Afghan National Security Forces:  NTM-A/CSTC-A‘s Medical Training and Advisory Group, or MTAG.

MTAG advisers face TONS of challenges in Afghanistan.  Many clinics are difficult to locate and assess due to security issues or their remote locations.  Many are severely understaffed or not staffed with qualified personnel.  And many are simply inadequate…for the current patient load, let alone the load expected as we continue to grow the Afghan National Security Forces.

But the MTAG team is making progress.  They’re training doctors, nurses, medical logisticians, combat medics, and trauma assistance personnel.  They’re purchasing pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies, radios, and ambulances for use by ANA and ANP medical providers.  And perhaps most importantly, they’re working with the medical staffs of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense, with USAID, and with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health to build the lasting institutions of a sustainable medical system.

Afghanistan’s Armed Forces Academy of Medical Sciences runs a 7-year program here in Kabul.  Almost unbelievably, the second class will graduate in just a few months.  

Bottom line:  With perseverance like that, it’s no surprise the MTAG team believes quality health care, sustainable resources and personnel, and accessible care for ANA and ANP beneficiaries are achievable.  Even in Afghanistan.

* DoD photo by SSgt Angelita Lawrence, USAF, from DefenseImagery

** DoD photo by SGT Teddy Wade, USA, from DefenseImagery

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Money-changer in Kabul, with afghani, dollars, and other currency*

ANP checkpoint

ANP highway checkpoint...keeping people safe or shaking them down?**

Afghanistan: Less corrupt than Somalia!

That’s not exactly the kind of slogan the Afghan Ministry of Tourism wants, but unfortunately, that’s the best they can do.  According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is the second-most corrupt country on the planet.  Only Somalia is worse.  Haiti is a whopping eight spots higher on the list.   And that has a direct impact on the counter-insurgency fight here in Afghanistan.

The Afghan National Security Forces performed well during this week’s attacks in Kabul, but as Alissa J. Rubin of the NY Times found, Afghans like Noor ul-Haq Uloumi, a member of Parliament who sits on its Defense Committee, can’t help but wonder, “How come these terrorists are able to come all the way from the border to Kabul with all their ammunitions and stuff?”  The obvious answer:  Corruption.  “There are many reports of cases where guards have been bribed to enable criminals or insurgents to move through an area…if we cannot eliminate corruption in the government and cannot make a government based on the rule of law to serve the people of Afghanistan, this corruption can bring many of such attacks.”

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime recently released the results of a survey on Corruption in Afghanistan, and it’s sobering.

Poverty and violence are usually portrayed as the biggest challenges confronting Afghanistan.  But ask the Afghans themselves, and you get a different answer: corruption is their biggest worry.  An overwhelming 59 per cent of Afghans view public dishonesty as a bigger concern than insecurity (54 per cent) and unemployment (52 per cent).

Obviously, as part of the Coalition supporting the surge in Afghan National Security Forces, my focus has been almost entirely on security.  But it’s clear I need to take a broader view.  Part of that is simply keeping a more watchful eye on the senior Afghan communicators with whom I interact.  They have ample opportunities for corruption – selling permission to use radio frequencies, forcing contractors to pay bribes (commonly called “pen fees” if a signature is needed to complete a bureaucratic process or “walking fees” if it requires simple facilitation), and smoothing the transfer of communications equipment through Customs.  I haven’t seen much, if any, of this.  But I haven’t been looking closely.  Another part is providing support to efforts like the Ministry of the Interior’s Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) and Anti-corruption Hot Line call center.  The biggest challenge, as a communicator, is that these efforts require a level of computer security not often seen in Afghanistan.  There are not many electronic records in Afghanistan worth killing for.  The electronic records of the MCTF and the telephone records of the call center may well be exceptions…

Bottom line:  Perhaps the Editorial Staff of StrategyPage say it best:

Behind the war is the real battle for Afghanistan, and the future of the country…poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and corruption.  That’s the real war.

* DPA/Corbis photo by Marcel Mettelsiefen, from Time

**USAF photo by TSgt Francisco V. Govea II, from Defense Imagery )

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Accordion player in the ANA band, before the ceremony

ANA Band

ANA band playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" *

National holidays aren’t really that big a deal at Camp Eggers.  First, every day is a work day…there’s just an infinite number of things here that desperately need doing.  Second, we’ve got service members from 47 countries involved in NTM-A (43 in the International Security Assistance Force, plus Mongolia, Egypt, the Republic of Korea, and of course, Afghanistan)…if we tried to celebrate all the national holidays we’d do nothing but hold ceremonies!  That said though, we did set aside a few minutes back on the 4th of July for a short cake-cutting ceremony.  The best part, by far, was the Afghan National Army band, which played the Afghan national anthem** and then ours.  The band played well…not great, but plenty good enough for a country at war.  And it wasn’t really about the tunes anyways, it was about an Afghan band, that we built, playing our national anthem, on our Independence Day, in Kabul.  As my kids would say: Epic!

The similarities and differences between the Afghan and US national anthems are interesting.  Both countries have a long, proud military heritage (though of course Afghanistan’s goes back tens of thousands of years, and the US’ a mere 234).  And both anthems were born in battle–Afghanistan’s during the current insurgency and the US’ during the War of 1812.  But the Milli Surood is much less militant than The Star Spangled Banner.  Except for one snippet (“…the land of sword, each of its sons is brave…”), it paints a picture of Afghanistan as “a land of peace” and “the country of every tribe”.  It’s not there yet, of course, but Afghanistan’s choice of national anthem gives me hope that it’s headed in the right direction…  

Bottom lines:  

This land will shine forever, like the sun in the blue sky
In the chest of Asia, it will remain as the heart forever 

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! 

* CSTC-A photo 

** Here’s a recording of the piece (with lyrics and without), and also some sheet music, all compliments of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington D.C.

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"I receive the certificate...

...for Afghanistan!"*

Unsurprisingly, there are  a BUNCH of challenges regarding education in Afghanistan.  But there’s a thirst for knowledge and education here that’s really cool.  You can see it in numbers like this:  “Educational access [at what passes for secondary education here] – 600,000 applicants for 20,000 seats.”  It’s truly tragic there are only 20,000 seats available.  But the number of applicants is awesome!

You can also see it in the pride Afghans get when they receive the graduation certificate from a course, turn to face their peers, and shout “For Afghanistan!”  Graduations are a Really Big Deal in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP); being able to attend graduation ceremonies as a representative of the Coalition is perhaps the most rewarding part of my job.

My first was a radio maintenance class, taught under an Afghan contract and paid for by US taxpayers through CSTC-A.  Until they started class, seven weeks before the ceremony, these soldiers had NEVER seen a Phillips screwdriver or electrical tape.  But by the end, they could make basic repairs, even including soldering new encryption circuits into the radios and loading encryption keys.  This is a neat technically, of course.  But it’s HUGE operationally, because these encryption cards keep insurgents from being able to listen in on ANA conversations using captured radios.  The graduates’ new skills will literally keep other soldiers alive.

Another was an opportunity to congratulate the graduates of a computer tech support class.  It was pretty basic stuff to be sure…I’m certain my 14-year old could provide better tech support.  But what was especially striking was that it was a 4-month class, and every graduate’s Boss valued the education so much he or she was willing to send them away from the fight and to a class for that long.  As you’d expect, there aren’t many people with computer skills in Afghanistan.  But those that have them can make a HUGE impact.

Perhaps the most amazing graduation so far though has been the radio maintenance instructor course, at the ANA Central Workshop.  Central Workshop is this SERIOUSLY steampunk maintenance warren, with a long proud history of sledgehammer-style maintenance (stuff like smelting ANA emblems and refurbishing AK-47s), but a short and slightly embarrassing history of oscilloscope-style maintenance.  Until the other day.  We basically took the five best radio maintainers in the ANA and trained them up even more…they’re now officially certified to train others.  Which is HUGE, for the individuals themselves, for the Central Workshop, for the ANA, and for Afghanistan.  We made quite the big deal out of it…80+ people there to recognize these five soldiers.  Which is entirely appropriate recognition for five soldiers who represent the future of the Afghan National Army–an Army that can train and sustain itself.

Education is EXTREMELY precious and desirable here.  Sometimes, finding that knowledge is surprisingly easy (the Afghans I’ve dealt with have–almost without exception–been extremely quick to pick up on new concepts).  And sometimes it’s almost unbelievably difficult.  But even then, they’ll move mountains to get it.

Bottom line:  The Afghans have a phrase that elegantly describes the whole situation:

We will find the lost diamond, whether on top or buried under the ground.

* Photos by SMSgt Brett Kolasch, USAF

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