MEHTER LAM, Afghanistan — Something remarkable was happening on Forward Operating Base Mehter Lam as attack helicopters circled overhead and D30 artillery cannons fired and rounds impacted on the side of a mountain outside the capital of Laghman Province. Afghan National Army soldiers were on radios controlling it all.
The 1st brigade of the 201st ANA Corps conducted the daylong live exercise that featured firing artillery, calling in close combat air support, responding to an improvised explosive device, and treating multiple casualties on the forward operating base.
Not only was the event a training exercise, it demonstrated what is quickly becoming a strength of the ANA: The ability to use artillery effectively, which is critical to defeating the insurgency and securing the country.
The provincial governor, chief of police, other local dignitaries and several members of the media watched as the Afghan soldiers conducted their tasks. Fazlullah Mujadidi, the governor of Laghman Province, made note of the increased capacity of the brigade.
“This exercise conducted by the ANA was really spectacular. It really showed the ANAs hidden capabilities,” Mujadidi said.
Though the ANA executed all the calls for fire and fired the guns, soldiers from 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division, have conducted the training over the last four months. The Long Knife Brigade assumed the role of Security Force Assistance Brigade in November and have advised the ANA and other elements of the Afghan National Security Forces since.
The brigade’s mission is not to lead combat operations, but to coach and advise Afghan counterparts as they work together to find Afghan-sustainable solutions to security challenges and combat operations.
“Training for the exercise began more than a month ago and consisted of numerous joint planning sessions and rehearsals between (advise and assist teams from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry) and our ANSF partners,” said Lt. Col. Monte Rone, commander of 2nd Squadron, 12th Cavalry.
The assistance brigade is a much smaller formation than a traditional Army brigade — about one-third the size of a standard heavy brigade combat team. This reduced size serves as a forcing function to keep the U.S. soldiers from reaching beyond their mission of advising. This forces the Afghans to lead. And it is working.
Members of the ANA now realize they have the equipment necessary to secure their country.
While challenges remain for the Afghan National Army and the rest of the Afghan National Security Forces, the combined live fire exercise at Mehter Lam proves that the Afghan’s are capable of securing their country and every day their confidence grows. This fact is not lost on Mujadidi, as he reflected on the exercise and demonstration that ANA put on in his capitol city.
“This event showed that Afghan security forces are strong enough and able to take over the security responsibilities of the entire country.”