By U.S. Air Force Capt. Peter Shinn, public affairs officer, 734th Agribusiness Development Team
Usually, I forward what others write in this blog. But I had an adventure so extraordinary and historic, that I had to share it with you. My role in this story was to observe and document. What I saw were American soldiers with remarkable heart, personal courage and commitment to duty in the face of extremely austere conditions. Just as significantly, I saw members of the Afghan National Army with those exact same qualities.
Because I have some video background, my higher headquarters asked me to document the transfer of authority for Observation Post Mace from U.S. forces to the Afghan National Army on Dec. 20. OP Mace is on a mountaintop in northern Kunar Province, and the entire outpost is literally built into a steep hillside. About the only way to get there is by helicopter, and simply getting from one side of the post to another means you’re either hiking sharply uphill or scrabbling gently down. I spent two days at OP Mace. Most of the U.S. soldiers there had been on the post for eight months.
The men of Charlie Troop of the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment had spent much of that eight months making OP Mace better and more defensible. They added concertina wire, built earthen walls and improved the facility. They also trained with their ANA counterparts tirelessly, all while defending the outpost from attacks by anti-Afghan forces. They were led by Capt. Mike Gansler, a steady, professional, yet inspirational leader and an Army Ranger. He and his men clearly respected each other.
The Afghan commander, ANA Captain Rohullah, was a no-nonsense fireplug of a man. He had the respect of his men as well. I saw him vigorously direct his soldiers in live-fire weapons training, and calmly discuss the transfer of authority with Gansler. Every American soldier I talked with said the group of ANA soldiers now at OP Mace were among the best motivated they had ever seen, largely thanks to Rohullah.
On the first day of my visit to OP Mace, I watched as the ANA soldiers practiced firing their heavy weapons. On the second day, I saw them training on the finer points of the .50 caliber M-2 machine gun and on the use of mortars. The U.S. soldiers of OP Mace had trained the Afghans so effectively and for so long that the ANA soldiers could now do it without help. They were ready to take charge.
That evening, in a brief ceremony, the U.S. flag came down from OP Mace and the Afghan flag went up. Without fanfare, Afghan soldiers filled the battle positions manned for the last three years or so by Americans. And as the Chinook helicopters were coming in to fly out the last of the U.S. soldiers and their gear, Gansler put the transfer of authority into perspective.
“My soldiers, I just can’t say enough about the job they’ve done here,” Gansler told me with obvious pride. “This isn’t just about the ANA being ready. It’s about these guys getting this place ready, and making sure the ANA are ready to take this on.”
It is the first significant installation in the province for which ANA forces have assumed complete responsibility. ANA soldiers now safeguard the post and surrounding area, in accordance with the way ahead laid out in the Lisbon Plan to transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces.
I was proud to document this transition from U.S. to Afghan control. Moving forward, I believe we will see many more such transfers of authority. They will happen because of ANA officers like Rohulla, and because of soldiers like those in Charlie Troop of the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment.