Dear Interested Reader,
Ben Franklin gets the boot in Zabul prov. Maj. Gen. Huggins visits Baylough to present combat awards. Improving the irrigation infrastructure. ALP detain suspected insurgents after being attacked. ISAF Joint Command operational update, Nov. 13, 2011.
Iraq: GarryOwen Soldiers head south, pass through Kalsu.
Blackanthem Military News
Ben Franklin Gets the Boot in Zabul Province
By Staff Sgt. Rebecca Petrie
Capt. Ed Bochtler, 116th IBCT asst. logistics officer, barters with a local merchant at FOB Lagman, before making a purchase, Nov. 12. FOB Lagman is the first military base to entirely eliminate the circulation of U.S. dollars, in response to a July 2010 fragmentary order to reduce the amount of U.S. cash flowing through Afghanistan.
ZABUL PROVINCE – “Since June, we’ve actually been able to retrograde out of theatre almost $2 million,” said Capt. Jonathan Oblon, a Soldier from Fla., and the cmdr. of Bravo Det., 82nd Financial Mgt. Co. “That’s $2 million that won’t be making it out onto the local economy.”
“Reliance on U.S. currency in theater devalues the Afghan currency, and undermines their efforts to establish a strong currency to be exchanged on the open market,” said Oblon. Eliminating the flow of U.S. cash will “strengthen the economy and their govt’s legitimacy,” he said. “The transformation between currencies has begun the symbolic sovereignty of Afghanistan.”
Efforts originally focused on getting eagle cash card point of sales (POS) devices for vendors at the bazaar on base. POS devices are similar to debit cards. The finance det. worked with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and discovered that they could obtain POS devices for each one of the vendors, without having to link them to a U.S. bank account. Instead, they take their POS machines to the finance office once a week and receive their earnings in Afghani.
“I’m really happy about the machine,” said Sayed Jan, a local vendor, “because I get more clients, since they can pay with their card. Before, they could only buy if they had cash.”
In order to accomplish their mission, Oblon and his team had to look beyond the bazaar vendors. Now, because of the new system setup, finance services are open to everyone. “Never before have foreign services been able to use our finance offices,” said Oblon. “We kept arguing the fact that if we really wanted to get U.S. cash off the battlefield, we needed to open up to everybody, and we finally got that approval. Now, even the Romanians can get eagle cash cards. They deposit U.S. currency on the card, and use it like a prepaid debit card. We’re the first finance office to do that.”
Making the switch from U.S. dollars to the eagle cash card has several benefits not only for Afghanistan, but the U.S. as well. Since the Afghani is not globally recognized, the enemy relies heavily on U.S. dollars to finance their activities.
“The reduction of U.S. currency on the battlefield disrupts the enemy’s ability to go outside the country to purchase explosives and weapons,” said Oblon, “and all that extra cash can now be spent on strengthening our own economy.”
Achieving their goal was not easy for the small finance det. There was a lot of bureaucracy and red tape to cut through, but they worked tirelessly, and met their goal within 6 months. In May, they hit an important benchmark when they disbursed more Afghani than U.S. dollars, and by Oct., they were no longer disbursing any U.S. cash.
“It was a little bumpy at first, but it’s starting to get a lot better,” said Oblon. “DynCorp now pays all their local employees in Afghani. It was different at first, but now they’ve embraced it. All local contracts for everybody are paid out in Afghani, so no U.S. dollars are making it out there.”
According to a February 2010 report, there are about 400 U.S. and coalition bases in Afghanistan, including camps, FOBs, and COPs. If each one of them followed the example set by FOB Lagman’s finance det., and eliminated the circulation of U.S. currency, savings would reach into the billions of dollars.
Blackanthem Military News
Maj. Gen. Huggins visits Baylough to Present Combat Awards
Story and photos by Maj. Nevin Blankenship
Maj. Gen. James Huggins, Regional Command South cmdr., presents 12 soldiers with a combat infantryman badge at COP Baylough, Nov. 7. Senior leadership from the 82nd AD, 116th IBCT, and 1st Bn, 24th Inf Regt, 1st Stryker BCT, 25th ID visited the soldiers.
ZABUL PROVINCE – “Everything you do depends on the soldier next to you,” said Huggins. “In this remote outpost you have to have a focus and a purpose.” Soldiers from Bravo Co, 1-24th Inf Regt are subject to mortar and small arms fire at the COP, but all of them share a common bond with each other, through the experience of being located at the remote COP. Ceremonies like this one bring a stronger brotherhood to the soldiers of Bravo Co, because each of them knows that they can depend on each other during life and death situations.
In all, 9 combat inf badges, 2 combat action badges, and a combat medic badge were presented. Capt. Charles Timm, Bravo Co, led the senior leaders on a tour of the COP. The COP has ANA serving alongside American soldiers. The leaders paused for lunch by enjoying an MRE with Timm before leaving the COP.
Maj. Gen. James Huggins and Col. Blake Ortner, 116th IBCT cmdr., look at the landscape at COP Baylough.
RC-East, Bagram Media Center
Improving Afghanistan’s Irrigation Infrastructure
Story and photos by AF Capt. Dale Mitchell
Army Major Samuel Forester, from Mo., and Sgt. 1st Class Keith Mays, of Mo., both with the Nangarhar ADT, survey the progress of rehabilitation to the Amla Dewa Karez, Nov. 14. Decades of drought, conflict and economic strife have contributed to the decimation of critical irrigation infrastructure within Afghanistan.
NANGARHAR PROVINCE — With the support of U.S. agribusiness development teams (ADTs), canals across provs. in eastern Afghanistan are being restored to protect the nation’s valuable water resources. Major ADT initiated irrigation rehabilitation projects in Nangarhar, have focused on strengthening the capacity of the provincial level agriculture ministry’s ability to develop, execute, monitor and assess water mgt. projects.
“Our team is committed to finding new and innovative ways for Afghans to meet the demand for water, and improve agricultural livelihoods. In order to accomplish this goal we've built in a monthly agricultural training seminar, as well as project mgt. courses for our Afghan partners. These are great opportunities for collegial discourse between the provincial ministry of agriculture, local universities, and research facilities in the area,” said Army Capt. Allan Sharrock, an agribusiness specialist with the Nangarhar ADT. “Ideas such as these lead to the growth of long-lasting business relationships, which will continue long after the ADT mission is complete.”
With ADT support, the Nangarhar Provincial DAIL has recently rehabilitated 24 major rural irrigation systems, and returned more than 240 hectares of cultivated land to full production. These projects included installation and repair of retaining walls, de-silting and refuse removal efforts, and installation of water-control systems such as sluice gates. Additional projects included water intake replacement; canal bank restoration to include planting of foliage to support stability and water-conservation, concrete reinforcement, and construction of concrete caps to seal and reinforce underground channels.
For centuries, Afghans have manipulated major waterways to support arable crop land. As nation-wide demand for fresh water continues to increase, efforts are being put in place to ensure adequate stores of water remain for economic growth in the form of agricultural development. “The political turmoil of the past 3 decades has left Afghanistan’s irrigation infrastructure in a state of tremendous disrepair,” said Sharrock.
“The majority of irrigation canals surveyed are extremely inefficient, due to many factors including refuse build-up, degradation of retaining walls, and silt build-up. The farmers of Afghanistan are beginning to feel the weight of these decades of neglect. The future of Afghanistan depends on continued, sustainable access to safe water for human consumption as well as irrigation.”
Mohammed Ayas, a tenant farmer, stood amidst an endless sea of corn; ready for harvest. Like many farmers across Afghanistan, Ayas knows the vast environmental issues facing Afghanistan; specifically the looming freshwater crisis.
“All of the projects completed are helping to alleviate the factors aggravating water scarcity,” said Sharrock.
As Ayas tends to his crop, he's well aware of the crucial work underway to provide a continued source of irrigation water to his homeland, Alma Dewa Village. “After the last canal project, the water flow in my canal has increased significantly,” he said. “I now have access to more water to irrigate my corn, wheat, and rice fields.”
In Ayas’ home district; local agriculture extension agent Hanyoun Aikhil is leading several projects, with the intention of restoring the underground karez irrigation systems servicing the district. Karez systems are comprised of underwater irrigation canals consisting of vertical wells, underground canals, above-ground canals, and small water reservoirs. Melting snows from the Hindu Kush mountains are the primary water source for the karez system.
Aikhil’s first 2-month karez rehabilitation project, implemented through Nangarhar Agribusiness Cmdr’s Small Scale Project funds, improved the irrigation of 600 jeribs of agricultural land, supporting over 255 families with irrigation and safe drinking water.
“This project led by the Agricultural Extension Agent, immediately improved the lives of the Afghans living in this community,” said Sgt. 1st Class Keith Mays, of Missouri, an agricultural liaison officer for Dari Nor. “Having our Afghan partners take the lead in implementing projects, improves the public image of the GoA. Citizens can now see their needs are being met by their govt.”
Nearby, meetings with local community members and the District Development Assembly has brought about another karez rehabilitation project. “These projects are crucial to empowering local citizens to take an active role in the future of their country,” said Mays. “These projects represent many citizens' first taste at what a legitimate, democratic govt can do to enhance their livelihoods. Partnering with our counterparts and allowing them to take the lead, is vital for a seamless transition from CF to GoA. As an ADT liaison, I continually assess and monitor the project mgt capabilities of my Afghan counterparts, providing guided support and enabling tools as necessary.”
In time for the fall planting season, the rehabilitation of these irrigation systems has proven itself to be a community-building endeavor as citizens, both young and old, provided unskilled labor. According to Malik Rahman, a village elder and the project supervisor, farmers in the immediate area previously purchased water at a rate of 150 Afghani per hour, pumped to their fields from a private well owner.
“This cost isn't affordable by many, and leaves farm land underutilized. Restoring this once vibrant karez will alleviate the financial burden on my people,” said Rahman. “We're so thankful for the support of our govt in making this project a reality. This project has brought our community together; all of us are willing to lend a helping hand to ensure a better future.”
“Yes, of course all that you're doing to help our govt is helping us, the farmers,” said Ayas. “I'm looking forward to the future of Afghanistan. Improvements in our water systems, better sources for our fields; this is hope for my family.”
Alma Dewa Village citizens, both young and old, support their communities efforts to rehabilitate their karez irrigation canal.
Mohammed Ayas discusses the positive outcomes due to karez irrigation projects in his community.
Citizens of the Alma Dewa village prepare concrete caps to seal karez irrigation canal access points.
ALP Detain Suspected Insurgents After Being Attacked
By Spc. Ashley Bowman
ZABUL — The Afghan Local Police's (ALP) convoy was ambushed by approx 10 insurgent fighters, while traveling from the Shah Joy bazaar to the Walan Rabat village, Nov. 7. Insurgents attacked the police force with machine gun and small arms fire, disabling the ALP vehicle. The ALP quickly gained fire superiority, forcing the insurgents to retreat into the nearby Qal’eh ye Sarvar village.
An ALP and coalition quick reaction force (QRF) team retrieved the immobile vehicle and assessed the ambush site, while another ALP element arrived to search the village of Qal’eh ye Sarvar. During their search of the village, the ALP were again attacked by the insurgents, who then retreated into nearby houses.
ALP members continued to pursue the suspects and safely detained 9 personnel who were discovered hiding in the houses with suicide vests, AK-47s, and bomb making materials. One of the insurgents was shot while trying to escape, and was immediately treated by coalition SOF medics. A village elder later positively identified the detainees as known insurgents.
The next day, Zabul Deputy Provincial Chief of Police, Colonel Jelani and the Walan Rabat ALP Cmdr., Mohamedullah, sat down and individually interviewed the 9 detainees. One of the detainees admitted he was an insurgent and was involved with the recent murder of an ALP member, and also admitted to being involved in other ALP deaths in the area. After interviewing all the suspects, Jelani arrested 6 of the detainees and released the other 3 to their village elder.
ISAF Joint Command Operational Update, Nov. 13, 2011
By ISAF Joint Command
ZABUL PROVINCE -- A coalition SecFor discovered a weapons cache during a routine patrol in Shah Joy district, yesterday. The cache consisted of several radios and other communication devices, a 107 mm rocket, 2 RPG rounds, and materials for IEDs.
KANDAHAR PROVINCE -- In Maiwand district, a combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained a Taliban facilitator and multiple suspected insurgents, during an op, yesterday. The facilitator operates in Maiwand district, and was directly involved in a recent kidnapping of several ANA soldiers. The facilitator also provides funds, weapons and equipment to his network.
HELMAND PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Taliban leader in Nahr-e Saraj district, yesterday. The leader is a member of the Helmand Taliban Military Commission, and is responsible for planning and coordinating attacks against Afghan and CF in the district.
KHOST PROVINCE — A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor killed one insurgent and detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Haqqani network leader in Nadir Shah Kot district, yesterday. The leader coordinates and participates in attacks against Afghan and CF, as well as provides info to Haqqani network leaders.
PAKTIKA PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, during an op in search of a Haqqani network leader in Zarghun Shahr district, yesterday. The leader directs an insurgent cell in the district, and is directly responsible for numerous IED and rocket attacks against Afghan and CF in the region.
LOGAR PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained a Haqqani network leader, during an op in Baraki Barak district, yesterday. The leader was directly involved in placing several roadside bombs in the Pul-e ‘Alam district of the prov.
GarryOwen Soldiers Head South, Pass Through Kalsu
Story by Sgt. John Couffer
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE KALSU – The journey for GarryOwen soldiers began at Joint Base Balad; driving for about 5-1/2 hours through moderately congested traffic, heading south en route to their next stop. The convoy, comprised of soldiers assigned to Troop A, 1st Sqdn, 7th Cav Regt, 1st Bde, 1st Cav Div, the tip of GarryOwen’s southern movement, stop for fuel, food and rest at the Convoy Support Center, managed by the Ironhorse Bde, Nov. 4.
“Apache Troop is the lead element, so we're the spearhead for the sqdn. in moving south in the transition,” said Fla. native, Capt. Marc Jason, Apache Troop cmdr. “It’s an uneventful drive so far, which is always a plus. Our guys will stay vigilant, and hopefully it continues to be uneventful.”
COS Kalsu has hosted 12 units, like 1-7 Cav., as they passed through during their transitional move to Kuwait, drawing Operation New Dawn (OND) to a close. During their stay, these units have the opportunity to take advantage of the still-open facilities.
Jason explains that having access to amenities such as a dining facility that provides hot meals, Green Beans Coffee, Spaware sites and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center, plays a big role in raising the morale of Apache Soldiers, and revitalizing the body as Apache readies itself to continue their drive further south.
Passing through Kalsu presents Apache soldiers with an opportunity to see old friends they've been away from since being detached to JBB. “It’s good to see how things are going, meet battle buddies you haven’t seen for awhile, and shake hands on a note of success before continuing our mission,” Jason said.
The location of COS Kalsu gives traveling units the opportunity to have its vehicles inspected before continuing south.
“From the logistical point, it provides us an opportunity to refuel our vehicles, verify that they're still road worthy, and address any issues from the road march this way,” said Tenn. native, Staff Sgt. Fred Drolick II, maintenance supervisor, assigned to Apache.
He gives credit to the maintenance team located at Kalsu, assigned to 2nd Bn, 5th Cav Regt of the Ironhorse Bde, for being able to help with his vehicles, after coordinating prior to arriving at Kalsu. For some, stopping at Kalsu is a nice reprieve from these long missions. “It feels pretty good; we get to stop and get your morale boosted up again,” said Okla. native, Pfc. Richard Tyler, a cav scout, assigned to Apache Troop.
Tyler said he was excited to stop at a place with a dining facility and internet, due to those services being cut at Balad before he left. He was also glad to get some sleep and re-energized before getting on the road again.
Kalsu will continue to play a role for units going south as the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq continues.