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2nd Brigade troops secure Taliban hotbed

Published: 12:11PM November 1st, 2012
2nd Brigade troops secure Taliban hotbed

Sgt. Ryan Hohman

Soldiers with A Co., 2-1 Inf., 2nd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., cross a stream during a recent operation to clear Taliban forces from Zharay, Afghanistan.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan — Soldiers with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, along with their Afghan National Army partners with the 4th Koy, or company, 3rd Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps, cleared an area known for its strong Taliban presence in the Zharay District of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, recently.

“The intent of this operation was to conduct a deliberate clearance with the 4th Koy down south of our normal operating area to clear potential cache sights and disrupt enemy operations,” said Cpt. Justin Chabalko, commander of A Company. “We know there are key lines where the enemy is moving supplies in and around the area, and are using the terrain to their advantage.”

Alpha Company moved into the Zharay District in mid-August where they were assigned an area of operation once controlled by a larger, battalion- sized element. They conducted clearance operations Oct. 15 and 16.

“We have a unique challenge because we have assumed a battalion’s worth of battle space,” Chabalko said.

A Company has been tasked to “hold the security bubble” that was made possible with the “tireless efforts” of the units that were here to secure the region before them, Chabalko said.

To maintain security with a smaller force, A Co. had to quickly adapt by synchronizing all of their assets to gain and maintain control of the region.

These assets include their newly-assigned Persistent Threat Detection System, which uses cameras mounted on a blimp to constantly monitor the large region.

“(The PTDS) provides us with a very large security bubble where we can observe,” Chabalko said. “That was one of the key assets we used to influence where we were going to go for this operation; we have seen activity down there to suggest there was some bad things going on.”

With their intelligence collected, Soldiers with A Co. devised a plan with their ANA counterparts to clear an area they suspected to be a hotbed for Taliban activity. The threat of improvised explosive devices has continued to be a risk to Soldiers operating in Afghanistan, which requires leaders at the lowest echelons to take appropriate precautions. “One of the biggest threats here is the dismounted IED threat,” Chabalko said. “My guidance to my NCOs, junior leaders and platoon leaders is whenever we go somewhere where we know there is potentially a defensive IED belt, that it is a deliberate clearance.” A Company and the ANA used multiple assets in their arsenal to clear the area as safely as possible.

“We have kind of hybridized our equipment by using multiple assets to clear large areas,” Chabalko said.

This equipment includes Mine Hounds, or hand-held devices to detect IEDs, and the Anti-personnel Obstacle Breaching System used to clear large areas, Chabalko said.

With systems in place to protect them from the threat of IEDs, the driving factor of this mission was the terrain.

“You can do a map or imagery reconnaissance all day long, but until you get on the ground the terrain drives where you go, how you go there and how fast you get there,” said Chabalko. “The enemy knows that and they use that to their advantage.”

Fortunately the Soldiers of A Co. work closely with their Afghan partners who have plenty of experience operating and exploiting the intricate terrain in Afghanistan.

“Working with [the ANA] is very helpful because they know the area and the terrain better than we do,” said Staff Sgt. Jesus Rosado, who serves as the weapons squad leader with 1st Platoon, A Co.

Despite the rise of insider attacks that have continued to put NATO members at risk, Soldiers with A Co. were eager to work with their ANA counterparts.

“We have no reason to not trust the ANA here,” Rosado said. “We give them the same trust they give us, and we just provide help when they need it.”

With the ANA being a much younger and smaller force, they still lack many of the assets the U.S. Army possesses.

“I think the ANA rely on a lot of the U.S. assets we can provide, like helicopters, (medical evacuations) and mortar support, because it provides them confidence when they go out on mission,” Chabalko said. “But at the same time, they are going out on patrol without us every day.”

The ANA continue to take the lead in the shaping of their country and assume a larger role in security, despite the lack of available resources their American counterparts have at their disposal.

“We don’t have as much as the (U.S. Forces), but I have 100 percent confidence in my soldiers’ abilities to defeat the enemy,” said 1st Sgt. Baryal Ai, the 4th Koy first sergeant.

The Soldiers cleared the area and found a cache insurgents were using to store explosive material by using the combat multipliers and working together.

“The 4th Koy and (A Co.) were able to come together to secure and defeat the enemy within this area,” Ai said. “I am very proud of my soldiers and what we have been able to accomplish.”

Both forces continue to work together and partner in the region, but the ANA have shown that they are ready to take the lead.

“When you talk (Afghan National Security Forces) in the lead, these guys are doing pretty good,” Chabalko said. “If we got on a plane tomorrow, they are not going to stop patrolling. The ANA have made a lot of gains in the area and they don’t want to give that up.”