MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- With a backdrop of Marines practicing patrolling and defensive actions, six Afghan officers looked on with appreciation of what the young Marines were going through. The six men, wearing green berets and speaking through an interpreter, were listening to Capt. Anthony Johnston, A Company commanding officer, explain the basics of squad attacks and patrolling by using rocks and drawing lines in the sand like a playground football game.
The six men, who are on a tour of east coast Marine bases, spent April 6 and 7 touring the School of Infantry (East) and seeing first-hand how the Marine Corps trains its infantrymen.
“We have seen most of this before, in Afghanistan,” said Lt. Col.Tamkin Ishaq, battalion commander of the Commando Kandak (battalion). “The Marines over there helped us set up our training. But we are hoping to learn more.”
The Afghan National Army has approximately 21,000 men, made up of all the countries major ethnic groups, Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Turkman and others. Being a multi-ethnic force allows the ANA to call itself a truly national army, representing all the Afghan people.
“We are very proud to have such distinguished guests here,” said Col. Bradford Washabaugh, the SOI commanding officer. “We have a lot in common, we are both proud fighting organizations with a rich heritage of fighting battles and winning.”
The tour began with a brief explaining the molding of every man into a basic rifleman. It quickly moved on to the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer where the officials took turns using the M-16A2 service rifle, M-240G medium machinegun, AT-4 anti-armor weapon and the M-203 grenade launcher.
They quickly impressed the Marines running the ISMT with their accuracy and ability adapt to new weapons systems.
“It was amazing to watch them, they are truly warriors,” said Col. Randy Sinnott, Marine Forces Central Command Afghanistan liaison. “We are learning so much from them. They are experts in mountain warfare and guerilla style, small unit warfare.”
Even more important than the exchange of ideas and tactics, was what their tour meant to the people of Afghanistan. The very fact that they are here and touring the United States means the war on terrorism is being won and the insurgency is fading in Afghanistan.
According to Col. Mike Daily, public affairs officer for Marine Forces Central Command, the country is “no longer overwhelmed by an insurgency” and the “focus now is reconstruction.”
A point of emphasis for the reconstruction efforts is to build an efficient and self-sustaining army capable of suppressing insurgency and fending off attacks from enemies in the region, while maintaining a strong sense of nationalism and pride.
Currently, the ANA is divided into five commands spread throughout the four regions of Afghanistan. This is first time a centrally controlled military has been able to maintain a presence in the country since the downfall of communist Russia.
Even though the Marines have helped shape the training regiment for the ANA, their training does include many differences. Instead of training troops as individual units ready to be attached to any parent command, the ANA trains entire battalions at once. Then, when approximately 800 troops are done with their 12-week initial training, they are sent out as a complete unit to whatever region they are needed in. In early 2004, there were two battalions training at the same time. This will increase throughout the year to the point where five battalions will be training at the same time. This training will continue until 2007 when the ANA will fill its ranks at about 70,000 soldiers, officers and civilian employees.
Even with the enormous steps the ANA has taken toward developing a permanent peacekeeping force, the officers realize they have more work to do.
“I am looking forward to the day when we'll have a strong, powerful army," said Ishaq to a platoon of SOI students. "I am looking forward to the day when we arrest all the bad guys - especially Osama bin Laden."
(Information from an Office of Military Cooperation fact sheet was used in this story)