Sgt. Amber Robinson
Task Force Spartan PAO NCOIC
WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Among the lush green pastures and valleys of Konar Province, Afghanistan, Soldiers of Task Force Chosin, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, patrol for an elusive guerrilla enemy force.
In the seven-plus years U.S. forces have populated Afghanistan, the Taliban have remained a constant threat.
Although International Security Assistance Forces outweigh the enemy in personnel, resources and advanced weaponry, Taliban fighters continue to move doggedly against U.S. forces, using the local populace to support their criminal activities.
For Task Force Chosin, constant patrols, communication with local residents and strategic placement of tactical outposts and vehicle patrol bases have put a large dent in insurgent activity throughout the province.
One such patrol base, VPB Badel, at the mouth of the Narang Valley, has closed down a large amount of enemy activity in the valley and in the districts of Narang, Chowkay and Nurgal. Up until the past few months, when TF Chosin moved into the province, only a company held the battle space.
“We decided to strategically place a VPB in the mouth of the valley,” said Capt. Nathaniel Miller, commander of D Company, 1-32 Infantry. “The VBP is situated on high ground, which overlooks all roads that go into the valley.”
The small base sits atop a small hill that overlooks the valley, the Konar River and all major roads. The enemy threat is always imminent, especially since the placement of the VPB has greatly hindered the movement of illegally imported and exported goods to and from Pakistan.
“We know we have had an impact,” Miller said. “The price of illegal weapons has doubled since we have begun to operate from the VPB. We’ve also begun to weather more attacks on the base, a result of their animosity at having their illegal trade routes cut off.”
Soldiers must adopt an acute sense of battle readiness with an ever-looming enemy threat making life at the outposts and VPBs more precarious than at more established bases.
“We are always battle-focused, even when we are out meeting with the people in the surrounding area, even when doing humanitarian aid work, we can’t let our guard down,” said Spec. Lucas Amyx, fire team leader with D Company.
Spec. Brady Nix, a combat medic with D Company, recalled an attack made on a small element of the platoon during a dismounted patrol.
“We had a news crew with us, and there were a lot of local civilians crowding around while they conducted an interview,” Nix said. “There were (children) everywhere, a ton of little (children). I was sitting on a rock joking with them when we began to receive small-arms fire. The enemy was actually spraying into the crowd. You could see the bullets hitting the dust at the children’s feet.
“It was surreal, because everything was so peaceful before. You just don’t have time to think. All you can do is move into action and depend on your training.”
First Lt. Ryan D. Feeney, a platoon leader in D Company, and his men, move from the VPB on dismounted patrols on a regular basis, working with local residents to assess their needs, talk about potential enemy locations and provide an ISAF presence.
Narang Valley has always been fraught with insurgent activity, but with beefed-up military efforts in the region, officials hope the area will soon see a big change.
Feeney and his guys understand the importance of getting out and working with local people.
“The cornerstone of counterinsurgency operations is the relationships formed with the local populace,” Feeney said. “Working on a close basis with the people is how we are going to figure out how things are going to get done. They have the most knowledge of the battle space – they are the key.”
In the local populace, an engrained fear of the Taliban has made many afraid of repercussions they would suffer from insurgents if they were to work with ISAF. Although local residents within the VPB’s area of operations were skeptical at first, they have warmed to Soldiers setting up shop in the mouth of the valley.
Initially, local residents avoided the small base, but they recently have begun to show up for help from Chosin troops, mostly for medical care. Locals regularly bring their children with common ailments like sniffles or stomach aches, said Nix.
Among minor ailments, there have been more serious moments that illustrate the progress the VPB has made.
“We had a guy come in here a few days ago who was covered in bruises all over his body,” Nix recalled. “He said the Taliban had captured him and beaten him. He had no other information for us, but the fact he felt he could come to us speaks well of the trust we are developing.”
Trust is the basis for any relationship, especially those formed between ISAF troops and local people.
“It’s a really good day when we do a sit down with local elders and they report suspicious activity or give us other important information,” Feeney said. “That shows we have begun to earn their trust.”
Local Afghan officials always have been willing to accept money for U.S.-funded projects, such as wells, bridges or schools. For a populace that has suffered the rigors of war for 30 years and the resulting third-world squalor, monetary gains given by ISAF forces are accepted regardless of whether they support ISAF.
“It’s frustrating,” Feeney said. “We work hard to earn their trust, but sometimes it’s hard to get them to get past the conceptualization that we are merely a vending machine.”
ISAF forces have the funds to help and will continue to make much-needed improvements to the country, but the victory lies in Afghanistan’s willingness to rid itself of an oppressive enemy and pave the way for further humanitarian efforts.
The Taliban are well aware of the progress Task Force Chosin Soldiers are making with local residents.
“At first, we were just receiving harassing fire,” Feeney said. “We would get a couple of pock shots here and there, but now the attacks have become much more focused. We know we pose a serious threat (to the enemy), because enemy efforts to get rid of us have been amped.”
Although enemy attacks have all but doubled on the VBP, Soldiers remain positive about the mission and continue to work toward security in Narang, Chowkay and Nurgal.
Feeney said he feels the work he and his fellow platoon leaders do at and from the VPB has had a positive effect and will continue to do so as long as troops continue to push against a relentless enemy and embrace a seemingly skeptical local populace.