Green Berets standing up Afghan Army
|3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne)|
by Gunnery Sgt. Charles Portman
Kabul, AFGHANISTAN (Army News Service, May 21, 2002) - Teaching multi-ethnic Afghan recruits soldiering skills may be a new phase in the global war on terrorism, but for Green Berets, training foreign soldiers is a core mission they have mastered.
In recent years, Green Berets from 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) have traveled to many remote places around the globe completing missions De Oppresso Liber, the motto under which they operate, that means "To Free the Oppressed."
"This is what we do," said Lt. Col. Kevin M. McDonnell, commander of the unit. "This is one of our core missions, and it's really a privilege to be involved."
Unified commanders commonly issue orders to U.S. Army Special Forces to engage in foreign internal defense, or FID missions -- missions similar to the current Afghan National Army training mission, as a means of implementing their regional stability strategies.
Special Forces soldiers conduct FID and unconventional warfare missions during both times of peace and as part of a war, McDonnell said.
"For most of these soldiers here (in Afghanistan), this is the opportunity of a career," McDonnell said.
In 1996, the battalion was the first U.S. Special Operations unit to conduct African Crisis Response Initiative training, a program where Green Berets worked with various African states to create effective, rapidly-deployable peacekeeping units. To date, more than 5,500 African troops have been trained under the program.
More recently, in Operation Focus Relief, the unit contributed to United Nations peacekeeping operations in several West African countries. The Focus Relief initiative equipped and trained seven battalions from West African countries on how to conduct peace enforcement operations in Sierra Leone. The training concluded in December 2001.
U.S. Green Berets from McDonnell's unit now are faced with the daunting challenge of developing the nucleus of a national army with recruits representing all provinces within Afghanistan. The unit is ready to form one new battalion every two weeks if the Afghanistan Interim Authority's recruiting efforts can supply such a demand. With current resources, training of up to four battalions can take place simultaneously.
"We are perfectly capable of handling 2,400 recruits at any given time," McDonnell said.
U.S. instructors are also establishing a cadre of commissioned and non-commissioned Afghan officers who eventually will take over the country's military training programs.
Many watching as a new Afghanistan evolves wonder whether an effective national army can be built with men representing the country's various ethnic groups.
It is the hope of at least one Afghan recruit that a new country with a strong, unified army succeeds. Mohammed Ali, 26, originally of Kabul, has been training for two weeks. He left Afghanistan about nine years ago to flee bad living conditions. When the interim government was formed "and the conditions started getting better," Ali said, "I decided to join the army to be trained for our people and to serve along with soldiers from all nationalities; with the Pashtuns, Tajiks, and the Hazaras."
Ali, a Hazara himself, said he hopes the people of Afghanistan come together for this cause.
"I believe that all nationalities in Afghanistan have to come together because we have suffered a lot. And, God willing, we will come together," Ali said.
U.S. Special Forces instructors are fully aware of the ethnic lines built around many of the trainees' pasts, and are motivated about doing their share when it comes to building what is hoped to be a racially unbiased army.
Captain Slim, an operational detachment team leader using his nickname for security reasons, says the morale of his men is outstanding. His team was among the first to start training Afghan recruits, "paving the way for the future of Afghanistan," he said.
"To be able to say we were a part of this . . . is extremely exciting," Slim said. "Several weeks from now when the training is completed, I'm confident it will be a very rewarding experience."
McDonnell said the end-state of the effort will be "an Afghan National Army capable of providing for the security of its people within its borders, and to ensure a stable environment that will foster the development of its economic and civilian institutions and infrastructure."
(Editor's note: Gunnery Sgt. Charles Portman is a member of the U.S. Central Command public affairs team.)
Reprint from Army News Link