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Fort Drum’s 1st, 2nd BCT commanders saw progress from Afghan partners

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FORT DRUM — About a month after returning from deployment in eastern Afghanistan, two 10th Mountain Division commanders said they saw improvement from their Afghan partners during their time there.

“The biggest thing I think we were able to do was instill confidence,” said Col. Stephen Michael, who led the 1st Brigade Combat Team in Ghazni Province. “As we left they fully understood they could defeat this enemy and secure their own land.”

The 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams, which were in the country for nine months, served in a security force advise and assist role, training Afghan military, police and other security forces.

“You could see progress over nine months,” said Col. Dennis Sullivan, whose 2nd Brigade operated in Paktika Province. “You came away with a very good that feeling things were heading in the right direction.”

Col. Michael and Col. Sullivan spoke to the Times about their soldiers’s work during the past week.

The key to success, the two leaders said, was coordination amongst the varying Afghan to coordinate responses to the insurgent threats they faced.

“When they all work together, there’s really nothing that could stand up and defeat them,” Col. Sullivan said. “The Taliban does not have the strength, it does not have the members.”

Among the highlights for Col. Michael was seeing Afghan units protect Ghazni as it wasdeclared Islamic capital of the region in April by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Col. Sullivan said he was encouraged by things such as the increased use of artillery to fight insurgents, and the development of an Afghan medevac unit that completed about 60 missions during the brigade’s stay that would otherwise have been done by Americans.

In addition to their advising work, the two brigades were charged with closing down their operating locations and clearing thousands of tons of materials.

Col. Sullivan said his brigade cleared more than 11,000 of its storage containers, which each can carry thousands of pounds of equipment, out of the province during its stay.

By the end of the deployment, the 1st Brigade had left all seven of its provincial installations, and the 2nd Brigade had left all but one of its eight facilities, with the outstanding location containing about 150 coalition personnel.

One area for improvement cited by both commanders was in logistics, with the Afghan units at times struggling to get needed supplies.

Col. Sullivan said the problem stemmed from a lack of emphasis in that area, and leaders were making efforts to improve that process.

At this time, the status of American forces in Afghanistan after the end of 2014 is unclear. Though a deal appears to have been agreed to by American and Afghan leadership, Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, appears to be holding off on making the final approval until after national elections this spring.

Leading up to those elections, both brigade commanders spoke optimistically about the work Afghan forces did to support them, such as distributing voter registrations and securing polling sites.

“In Ghazni they felt that they were going to be able to secure the sites, and they felt they could get it done,” Col. Michael said.

Two soldiers from the 1st Brigade, Sgt. Anthony R. Maddox and Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, died during the deployment. Deaths from the 2nd Brigade included Pfc. Mariano Raymundo, Lt. Cols. Jaimie E. Leonard and Todd J. Clark and Sgt. Javier Sanchez, along with attached civilian security contractor Joseph Morabito.

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