FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan -- An estimated 7 million Afghans were able to successfully and peacefully vote in the recent Afghan national elections due to the security provided solely by Afghan National Security Forces.
The Afghan National Army and other ANSF pillars stood strong, ensuring a peaceful voting process for their fellow Afghans after years of training and advising from their International Security Assistance Force partners. The ANA soldiers of 4th Brigade, 215th Corps have been trained and advised by a rotational team of Marines and sailors known as Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 4-215.
The SFAAT has been steadily advising and supporting the ANA in areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and casualty evacuation support, watching the soldiers grow in their confidence and ability to stand on their own. While living next to their counterparts for the past year, the SFAAT gave the ANA many fundamental courses, building strong relationships and understanding with one another as well as a sturdy foundation on which the 4th Brigade can continue to grow.
After The ANA successfully provided security for the April 5 elections, SFAAT 4-215 transferred Forward Operating Base Delaram II to the 4th Brigade. While advisors remain at the headquarters level in Helmand province in order to advise and assist as needed, the transfer signifies that 4th Brigade is ready to operate independently of coalition advisors.
The 4th Brigade is the only brigade of the 215th Corps in Nimroz province, and must be a rock-solid force in order to maintain the security of the entire area of operations. Though the 4th Brigade is the youngest of the four brigades in the youngest Corps in the ANA, the soldiers have come together under the advising of SFAAT 4-215, forming a strong, cohesive force ready to defend their country.
“The 4th Brigade was created from 2nd Brigade before they moved to Sangin; this brigade has only existed as a unit for about two years,” said Capt. Theodore Martin, the operations advisor with SFAAT 4-215, and a Portland, Ore. native. “The brigade is ready to be independent and it is time for us to leave, it does feel good to leave on a high note.”
As they prepared to leave, the Marines looked back on their time in Nimroz province, assured that their counterparts have grown considerably and will continue to do so.
“I'm extremely confident the ANA will continue to persevere,” said Lt.Col. Thomas Zeigler, the team leader of SFAAT 4-215. “They clearly overmatch the enemy, and are capable of providing effective security wherever they are. They plan and conduct security operations with other ANSF pillars, sustain themselves, and support (the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) by protecting the people.”
Martin explained that when the team first arrived, the brigade still needed help for explosive ordinance disposal support, medical evacuations, indirect fire support, and conducting staff planning, but that the 4th Brigade has come a long way.
“They are now fully independent in explosive ordinance disposal, finding more improvised explosive devices than they hit,” said Martin. “Indirect fire, they have shot in support of checkpoints and operations several times in the last month, they conduct ground medevacs and have even done two air medevacs with Mi-17s. They were able to come together as a staff to plan a clearing operation that integrated two infantry Kandaks, fires, route clearance, and logistical support. We didn't do any of this for them, but we helped them realize that they could.”
As the SFAAT leaves with confidence in the guidance they have given their Afghan counterparts to carry out their future missions on their own, they have also learned lessons from the ANA.
“Initially I was a little worried about their tools and equipment,” said Master Sgt. Richard Oldham, explosive ordnance disposal advisor, SFAAT 4-215, and a Cleveland native. “We are spoiled compared to them, it's taught me how to do more with less. Even with their lack of resources, they get the job done. Never underestimate them.”
The Marines and sailors of SFAAT 4-215 are set to soon redeploy to Camp Lejeune, N.C., and reunite with their families. They have no doubt their new brothers-in-arms will succeed in their goal for a more stable Afghanistan not only in the near future, but further on down the road as well.
“We've seen the entire ANA develop at an unbelievable rate, in spite of substantial challenges,” said Zeigler. “Undoubtedly, they will need to make adjustments to account for reduced coalition support, and will most likely not operate exactly as we've envisioned, but this is precisely the next critical step in their evolution. I believe they will emerge leaner, meaner, and more effective than they are now. I look forward to watching them succeed. They're ready.”