To lead a multinational force of 2,700 troops in southern Afghanistan, 1st Cavalry Division sent a multinational general.
Brig. Gen. Viet Luong, the division’s deputy commander of maneuver, has been deployed to Afghanistan with about 60 other 1st Cavalry troopers since January. He’s in charge of the multinational force known as Train, Advise, Assist Command–South, based at Kandahar Airfield.
It’s not Luong’s first deployment to Afghanistan, and certainly not his first time in a hostile environment. A native of Vietnam, he was born as the Vietnam War was beginning. At age 10, during the fall of Saigon in 1975, Luong’s father, a Vietnamese marine, got the family out of the country and on board a Navy ship bound for the United States. In August, he became the Army’s first Vietnamese-American to become a general officer.
His focus now, however, is on 1st Cavalry’s mission in Afghanistan.
About a thousand of the troops in his command are from the 101st Airborne Division. Coalition personnel, from countries including Australia, Bulgaria, Romania and elsewhere also make up the command.
The 60 1st Cavalry soldiers are mainly in “key leadership” positions, he said.
Luong’s mission is to assist and train Afghan forces, and provide security when needed.
Luong took command of the southern region days after the official combat mission for U.S. and allied forces ended Dec. 31.
He said the area has had a multinational force presence for years, and the transition has gone well.
“Everybody really is on the same sheet of music,” he said.
With fewer Army soldiers — the Kandahar Province used to have 30,000 coalition troops — the airfield does look different.
The Army is also trying to figure out how to transition facilities or equipment to the Afghans.
“We want to be able to do it responsibly,” Luong said.
Adding to the local economy, such as properly handing over a water-bottling facility to the Afghans, are among his goals.
Last week, an insider attack claimed the life of Army Spc. John M. Dawson, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
While the attack did not happen in his area of responsibility, Luong said soldiers deployed to Afghanistan are taught to not “get complacent.”
He said while more than 99 percent of the time, attacks like that don’t happen. There is still a chance.
“That .01 percent chance — you’ve got to be ready,” said Luong, adding he and his team work constantly to “keep our guys focused. We’re not in combat, but we’re still in a combat environment,” Luong said.
While U.S. troop levels have decreased to about 10,000, the Army still maintains a “robust intelligence process” in Afghanistan to thwart threats before they happen, Luong said.
Working closely with Afghan allies, Luong said his troops have been able to stop some potential insider attacks before they were carried out.
“We take all precautions necessary,” he said.
During his current deployment, Luong said he has seen marked improvement with the Afghan army’s capabilities since his last deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, when he was a brigade commander with the 101st Airborne.
Case in point: Many of the Afghan soldiers Luong and his soldiers help train — the Afghan army’s 205th Corps — helped reinforce the Afghan 215th Corps in recent weeks during fighting in the Helmand Province.
Using combined arms of artillery, tanks and aircraft, the Afghan forces did well, Luong said. “The transformation has been incredible.”
He said the Afghan police force “is not there yet.”
Luong said he wants to “help write the final chapter” of America’s ongoing mission in Afghanistan.
The 1st Cavalry troops are expected back sometime this summer, when they will be replaced by staff from the 7th Infantry Division.