In the past month, Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers in Kandahar Province’s Panjwai District hosted three of the Army’s highest ranking soldiers. It’s a sign that the Army considers the assignment the front lines of the war in southern Afghanistan this summer.
Each leader faced questions from soldiers about the more than 50 Western service members who have been killed by Afghan allies in the past year fighting. Some of their questions showed that some of the U.S. troops would prefer to keep their distance from the Afghan security forces.
They’re fighting in Panjwai, a rural focal point for NATO this year. It’s Taliban heartland, and NATO wants to bring it under control to protect Kandahar City. We visited some of these units just before they set up their bases in Panjwai this spring.
Last month, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno swung through Panjwai to speak with American and Afghan soldiers. He told both sides the growing number of “insider attacks” were on his mind.
“We’re working very hard to understand what are the right tactics, techniques and procedures. And also [we’re] ensuring that the Afghan commanders understand their responsibility to ensure that our soldiers working with them remain safe,” he said.
Odierno was followed by a familiar name to Lewis-McChord’s soldiers and families. U.S. Central Command Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe, formerly the top enlisted officer in Lewis-McChord’s I Corps, also visited the same neighborhood.
Here he is with leaders from Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Grippe looked back to his 10 years of experience in and out of Afghanistan to put the threat of insider attacks in perspective, according to this Army story about his visit.
“We can’t let this issue fracture our partnership, especially during this most critical time of our campaign plan,” he said. “We’ve got to [stay] shoulder-to-shoulder even more, show more trust and keep training and building the capacity of our Afghan armed forces, especially to compliment our responsible withdrawal [from Afghanistan] with success and honor.“
Stars and Stripes’ Heath Druzin attended the most recent visit from a senior Army leader to the Lewis-McChord troops in Kandahar. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler connected with them this week at Forward Operating Base Zangabad.
Soldiers had tough questions for him about rising casualties from Afghan partners.
“With all the green on blues, why are we still doing joint patrols (with Afghan troops)?” one soldier asked.
“I would assume we are still doing it because that’s what command tells you,” Chandler said. “What should we do?”
“Not patrol with the Afghanis (sic),” the soldier said.
Chandler told the soldiers the Army was adapting to the insider attacks. He asked them to focus on improving the performance of Afghan security forces with an eye on the drawdown of most Western combat forces by 2014.
“Overall there is a sense of a lack of trust, but you’ve got to rebuild that relationship and I have a lot of confidence in these guys,” Chandler said.