Thursday, April 30, 2009


President Obama recently announced his new strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan, the centerpiece of which is sending additional troops to fight the Taliban and train the Afghan forces. Yet a successful strategy has been in place in Afghanistan for more than a year - it is Muscular Mentoring, and it has been practiced by the Marines.

Last year, Marine Col. Jeffrey Haynes commanded Embedded Training Team (ETT) 3-5, a part of the Regional Corps Advisory Command-Central (RCAC-C). Based east of Kabul, ETT 3-5 was drawn primarily from 3rd Marine Division’s III Marine Expeditionary Force from Okinawa along with Army, Navy and Air Force personnel and individuals of the Montana, Utah and New York National Guard. They arrived in February 2008 with a mission to “mentor the 201st Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA) by providing military advice and training guidance” to its officers and staff noncommissioned officers.

The 201st Corps is responsible for 11 provinces in the east, northeast and center of the country, including Kabul. This is a key part of the country; it is where the fertile river valleys that supply much of Afghanistan’s food and produce are located. Hence, support from the locals is of paramount importance to success in Afghanistan. “The Afghan people need to see the ANA and their government are protecting and developing the river valleys,” Col. Haynes said, “not the U.S. or NATO. When the locals see that the ANA can protect them, they’ll be more inclined to believe in their government.”

To accomplish this, Col. Haynes and his Marines and soldiers took to the field with the ANA. NATO forces can “train” from a classroom, but it was “mentoring” when ETT 3-5 went out in the field with their Afghan counterparts. Virtually every Marine and soldier above the rank of sergeant spent several hours a day mentoring; Col. Haynes mentored the 201st Corps commander, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Wardak, while his executive officer mentored Gen. Wardak’s executive officer. The key is to lead by example and not by lecturing. This is how the skills necessary for successful soldiering get transmitted.

“The 201st Corps is very good,” Col. Haynes said. “When the Taliban attacked the prison in Kandahar last summer, they spearheaded the ANA effort into Anghardab and recaptured that strategic valley. [The ANA] handled their own logistics and their own intelligence.”

Col. Haynes continued the policy of assigning small groups of Marines and soldiers to the remote forward operating bases and combat outposts in the eastern provinces. The energy and professionalism of the Americans rubbed off on the 201st Corps troops stationed with them.

“The Afghan army is tailor-made for mentoring by the Marines,” said Marine Sgt. Maj. Patrick Dougherty of ETT 3-5. “They respect strength and strong leadership, and they come from a society built on the cohesion of small groups - all of which makes the Marine Corps the most appropriate service for training them.”

A recent Marine-ANA-French operation demonstrated that the 201st Corps learned its lessons well. In Operation Nan-e-Shab Berun, coalition and ANA forces cleared the Alah Say Valley of insurgents and then provided security and stability for the locals when they built and occupied two new combat outposts. The insurgents then conceded the valley because the ANA is now stationed there permanently. Success came with casualties: One French and four ANA soldiers were killed; also, 37 opponents were killed in action.

A key element of Mr. Obama’s policy in Afghanistan is demonstrating that cooperation with America brings security, jobs and a future, whereas the Taliban and al Qaeda bring only death. This is the decision Sheik Sattar Abu Risha made in 2006 when he persuaded the Iraqi Sunnis to work with the Marines and drive the insurgents out of Anbar province; the Marines and the Afghans’ 201st Corps can do the same in Afghanistan.

Getting the Afghan army and police trained and motivated will be at the heart of Afghanistan’s ability to rebuild itself. The country is the world’s third-poorest and has a 76 percent illiteracy rate and a weak central government (often lambasted for its incompetence and corruption and for failing to stop a drug trade that supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium). There is no purely military solution; the answers and effort to succeed permanently must come from the Afghans themselves.

Andrew Lubin is the author of “Charlie Battery: A Marine Artillery Battery in Iraq.” He was embedded with Marines and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007.

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