The line in the sand


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice Archive/2010/April/100413-02.html

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Courtesy of CJSOTF-A Public Affairs, April 13, 2010) – Uruzgan province remains one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous areas as efforts to secure the Taliban stronghold continue; however, one district, Khas Uruzgan, within the northern region of the area is showing promising signs of a successful turnaround.

Khas Uruzgan, a highly contested, insurgent-controlled province, shares its borders with Zabul to the south east, Kandahar to the south, Day kundi to the north, and the Helmand Province to the west. In addition to Taliban infiltration in the area, a sizeable Hazaran minority combined with a Pashtun majority has led to increasingly hostile tribal disputes and ethnic rivalries, further complicating an already complex and multifaceted situation.

Dutch forces have controlled Uruzgan battle space since August 2006, sharing it with and working alongside US Special Forces deployed out of Fort Bragg, N.C. though the Dutch have not operated in Khas Uruzgan. In recent months, however, Khas Uruzgan, has started to cede from the region. This, coupled with a new US Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha arrival in the district, is launching a new era in this battle-scarred area.

Prior to their January 2010 deployment, ODA leadership carefully analyzed the region and its people and crafted a plan aimed at bringing lasting change to Khas Uruzgan. The plan also took into consideration the diminishing white space surrounding the force’s firebase. The ODA began by reading Central Command directives, counter-insurgency manuals, and researching how to use counter-insurgency techniques in the tribal environment. Painstaking analysis and research led to the development of a three-part plan: First, SOF teams would need to separate the Taliban from the population; second, they would need to win support for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; and finally, they would be required to conduct intelligence-based kinetic operations to drive out key leaders and financiers from the Taliban infrastructure.

To execute the first part of the plan, the ODA needed to identify a local power broker and compel him to join the initiative. Fortunately, their predecessors had found the right person; they just did not know it at the time. Arrested in 2007 for working with the Taliban and spending three years in a detention facility as a result, former Afghan National Police Chief Amir Zahir would emerge as the central figure in phase one of the ODA’s plan. Because of his former ties to the government and the Taliban, he exerted considerable influence over his tribe and those around him.

During a conversation with Zahir, ODA members asked him to work for the government and for Special Operations Forces, in particular. Initially reluctant, Zahir would eventually agree it was in his best long-term interests to cooperate; thus, he set to work by organizing a shura between his tribe and the ODA.

A stroke of luck ushered in the second part of the plan: While conducting a presence patrol in the Kotazai tribal area, the ODA was engaged by small-arms fire. The team returned fire, neutralizing the threat to the local populace. The team conducted a shura immediately following the engagement and used the attack as an example of how anti-Afghan forces are actively working to destroy security and to de-stabilize the district. They also described the responsibilities incumbent upon and what would be expected of the tribes who reside in villages shared with AAF.

The most consequential moment of the evening occurred when the team drew a line on the floor and stated, “You are either with GIRoA on this side or with the Taliban on the other side.” This simple, but telling action would be referred to as The Line. Since the first meeting, tales of The Line spread like wildfire throughout the Khas Uruzgan tribes. Hoping to capitalize on the heightened level of interest, the team quickly moved to meet with additional tribes and to engage them in the same manner to garner support for GIRoA.

Word of the new approach in Khas Uruzgon eventually made its way to District Chief Sadar Wali, who had been gone for five months with no plans to return; he expressed a genuine interest to be part of the process. Upon his return, he met with ODA leadership to learn more about the plan. Wali said this type of approach had never been tried before, indicating previous teams only sought to engage in combat operations. He explained the old way of doing things had not worked and had, in fact, became the principal challenge to abiding security in Khas Uruzgan because the villagers did not trust GIRoA to keep them safe.

One Special Forces intelligence sergeant explained it like this, “We must understand the way we have fought this war over the past few years is done. Every operation we conduct has second and third order effects. Understanding those effects is vital to success in this region. And, not only must you understand, but must know how to apply the effects through the use of information campaigns and further kinetic and non-kinetic operations.”

With growing support, the ODA continued tribal engagements, emphasizing the importance of focusing on a secure, peaceful future. They also discussed how, going forward, tribal elders and their tribes would be held responsible for their villages and the continuing development of the Khas Uruzgan community.

Since that time, each tribe has elected representatives to speak for them at the Tribal Leadership Council, which has been tasked with maintaining the district’s security. Without stability, the ODA cautioned, it would be impossible for humanitarian aid projects to take place. This challenge is the manifestation of The Line concept: One side represents a future with government cooperation and the other continued Taliban control and, ultimately, their demise.

The ODA has parlayed The Line concept into a foundation for genuine success within Khas Uruzgon. Since the first shura, tribal elders have taken considerable ownership of the new plan for stability: They have informed ODA team members of improvised explosive device locations; they have turned over weapons; they are encouraging young men to join the ANP; and, they have started providing GIRoA and the ODA with future targets. Each tribe has admitted to having Taliban within their ranks, and those who remain unwilling to lay down their arms and to work with the TLC and GIRoA have been turned into targets for future kinetic operations.

"What has happened in the past is the past; there is only one future for Khas Oruzgan and that is the GIRoA supported by the TLC,” said a Special Forces team sergeant. “We will not allow the Taliban sanctuary in Khas Oruzgan. We, with the assistance of every Tribe member, will locate them and deal with them accordingly."

In the wake of the shuras and as a way to promote GIRoA and TLC, targeted civil military projects have started to unfold. A civil affairs team was brought to the firebase to offer demonstrable progress: Small-scale projects, such as repairing the main road to the bazaar, adding solar lights to the bazaar thoroughfare for nighttime security, and building a protective structure for Khordi schools and bridges, have been nominated and approved for funding. These particular projects offer a win-win for both the ODA and the Khas Uruzgon people as they affect the majority of the population.

To assist in providing the populace with a connection to GIRoA the ODA team built an unconventional warfare medical clinic, serving as another sign of GIRoA influence in the area. While the team’s Special Forces medics continue to provide primary care in the clinic, the ANP and Afghan National Army medics provide the majority of care in this facility. Through training and capacity building, local medics have reached a level of competency in which they can treat most minor ailments presented each day at the clinic.

With the TLC in place and GIRoA successfully demonstrating the Afghan people will be heard and protected, the ODA is positioned to conduct intelligence-driven operations to neutralize the Taliban influence, representing the third and final phase of the initiative. By design, this phase has been bolstered by full-scale implementation of the first two parts of the plan. For example, elders are bringing targets to the ODA and GIRoA. These individuals are known to be militant Taliban supporters who will never seek reintegration with the government. As such, the TLC and GIRoA recognize these men as enemies of the state.

Additionally, promises from local tribes to send men to fight alongside SOF against the Taliban characterize the second outgrowth of plan implementation. Indeed, each tribe has stated its intention to allow 10 to 20 of their men to join in the fight. The Kotazai, for example, have had 15 men join the ANP, and the Hazaran village, situated north of the firebase, has pledged 50 or more fighters.

“We have had two villages 25 kilometers north of the firebase volunteering to join the fight against the Taliban provided we support their efforts,” the Special Forces team leader said. “They are willing to fight toward us if we push north toward them.”

The firebase contains the only 300 watt radio station in the area and it has also played a role in the ODA’s success. The station has been used to counter local Taliban messages, to promote GIRoA, and to provide much needed entertainment to the villagers. In coordination with the TLC, the ODA has broadcast local Malik’s pro-government speeches and the district chief’s messages countering the Taliban’s disinformation campaign.

As the ODA’s three-part initiative continues to unfold, its success has been the direct result of meticulous planning mixed with a little luck. On several occasions, ODA team members have referred to their small-arms fire engagement while traveling to the first shura as a prime example of how SOF and GIRoA remain committed to hunting and eliminating enemies of the Afghan people – those who remain a roadblock to peace and stability. This uncompromising commitment has compelled many tribal people who were unsure of which side of the line they stood to side with the GIRoA.

While the ODA continues to manage the firebase, to train ANA and ANP, to organize shuras, to collect intelligence, to improve security, to manage humanitarian assistance projects, to provide medical care, and to support the government, the fighting season is slowly beginning. And this will surely test the dedication to and success of the partnership amid the TLC, GIRoA, and the ODA.

From all indications, the plan developed at Fort Bragg aimed at separating the AAF from the populace, strengthening GIRoA, and conducting intelligence-driven operations is working. Recent reports indicate the Taliban commander currently living in Pakistan has been called and informed the GIRoA will win in Khas Uruzgan if he fails to send commanders and fighters immediately.

The line in the sand remains and those who stand with ODA continue to grow.
A really good article and one that outlines what GEN McChystal has set out as his campaign plan for this effort. This ODA is doing what Special Forces was designed to do and doing it well.

For those that want to dig a little deeper into M4's Campaign Plan go to this link and download the USG Civ-Mil Integrated Campaign Plan dated 10 AUG 2009. It is a really good look at what is being done on the ground and is something that all soldiers should read before deploying to AFG.

BTW - I will soon be back in RC South after a little R&R - I am actually missing being there and ready to head back over.
The more I read the more I begin to understand that COIN is much more difficult than I have ever imagined....
Keep up the fight Warriors. Hope to join you soon.
Yes it sure seems so. And I hope you join them soon as well, Ravage...

Thanks for posting the interesting article...