Afghanistan mentoring mission ends with departure of Nebraska soldiers

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July 18, 2011 - 7:00pm

U.S. Army vehicles roll into Tarakhel, a village outside Kabul, Afghanistan's capital city. Inside the vehicles are soldiers from the Nebraska Army National Guard's 1-134th Cavalry. The village had been a Taliban stronghold, but is now considered neutral. The mission on this day is talking to villagers and searching for signs of insurgent activity. Working with the Nebraska soldiers are Afghan security forces, police and army. Men and women the Nebraska soldiers have been mentoring during their time in Afghanistan. But with the departure of the 1-134th Cavalry comes the end of U.S. soldiers mentoring Kabul-area security forces, a result of the U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan.

"The police and the army that are doing the security missions here in Kabul will truly be on their own after we leave," said Lt. Col. Tom Rynders of Bellevue, commander of the 1-134th Cavalry.


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Nebraska Army National Guard

Click here for a video of Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers working with Afghan security forces.




SLIDESHOW: 1-134th Cavalry soldiers in the Musahi Valley


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SLIDESHOW: 1-134th Cavalry soldiers in Afghanistan

Rynders, though, said he believes the Afghan security forces are ready to operate without mentors.

"We're at a point now where we have to let them take control, and show the rest of the world that they are capable to do their jobs and they don't need to rely on coalition or U.S. mentors to look over their shoulder to be sure they're doing things right," he said. "They're not going to be perfect, or they're not going to be as efficient and effective as a U.S. police force or another maybe first-world-country security force.

"But yes, I think they're ready here in Kabul."

Local reaction

Rynders said when the end of the mentoring mission was announced, he visited many of the districts to gauge reaction from local police chiefs.

"It was kind of a wide range," he said. "From, 'Thank you for all you've done, and we're going to be sorry to see you go,' all the way to, 'Please don't leave, because things are going to become more dangerous here and the insurgents will know that you're leaving and will plan more attacks.' And even some that were in disbelief. Some of them are still, I think, expecting us to show up any day with new mentors."

The end of the mentoring mission has also left some feelings of unfinished business among the Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers who have worked closely with Afghan police officers and soldiers for several months.

"I think a lot of the mentor teams would have probably felt better if we did have another unit come behind us to ensure that those are seen through to completion," Rynders said. "But again, you get back to the point, how do you end this? And at what point do you end it? And there probably could never be a clean break of everything and saying, 100 percent mission accomplished. Absolutely nothing more to do here.'"

And he added that there were plenty of accomplishments during the deployment. Four thousand Afghan police officers and soldiers mentored by soldiers from the 1-134th Cavalry. More than 70 building projects managed, things like new schools and medical clinics. Hundreds of tons of food, clothing and other supplies delivered to Afghan villages.

What they'll leave behind

Rynders listed two specific success stories. One is progress he soldiers made in a rural area called the Musahi Valley. He said the area had been an insurgent staging area with ineffective police.

"When we first got here, we recognized that this is really the Achilles heel, and we focused our mission there," Rynders said. "The first thing we did was plan to conduct as many humanitarian assistance deliveries as we could over the winter months to show the people that we are on their side, and we do care about them. And so, I think over the course of December, January and February, we did multiple deliveries of blankets, heating oil, rice, clothing.

"What also helped is that the Afghan National Army occupied a base very close to this district," he continued, "and our mentors were able to get the police and the army to work together to conduct joint security missions, continued patrols and increase the number of checkpoints, and by the March/April timeframe, it was clear that we had thrown the insurgents off balance there, and they no longer had the freedom of movement they did previously."

Rynders said they also convinced a local police chief to put female officers out on checkpoints.

"A lot of the police districts in Kabul have female police, but they don't use them for security," Rynders said. "They use them for other things around the police headquarters or compound. But these females were out on checkpoints with weapons stopping vehicles and doing the job that up until now had only been done by male police officers. Which we think was a quantum leap forward and it was interesting to see the Afghans just walking through the checkpoints or driving through being stopped and realize they were being stopped by a female police officer, because it was I'm sure it was a culture shock to them."

He called the Afghanistan mission "hugely challenging" for the Nebraska soldiers, who had to learn to be teachers and coaches, but still combat-minded soldiers in a place where roadside bombs and rocket attacks are common. They leave mostly unscathed. The only Nebraska combat casualty was a soldier who suffered non-life-threatening injuries during an attack on the front gate of a base.

And returning home safe and sound might be the most important part of mission accomplished for the soldiers of the 1-134th Cavalry.

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