US Army secretary meets with Army leadership in Laghman province, Afghanistan

From left, Maj. Gen. James C. McConville, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, Regional Command-East, 101st Airborne Division, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Brig. Gen. Ronald Lewis, deputy commander for support, 101st Airborne Divison, listen to Lt. Col. Monte Rone, foreground, the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, during a command brief June 20 at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Afghanistan.

Courtesy photo

LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — With just 18 months remaining before the end of coalition combat operations in Afghanistan, Secretary of the Army John McHugh met with U.S. and Afghan military leaders at Forward Operating Base Gamberi.

During the June 20 visit, McHugh met with the security force advise and assist team that works with the Afghan National Army’s 201st Corps commander and staff to assess how that mission is progressing.

“The SFAAT mission is the principal focus right now,” McHugh said. “Very young soldiers and young officers and NCOs are doing incredible work and doing it well as they train our Afghan partners.”

This SFAAT is made up of soldiers from the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, and the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, of Fort Campbell, Ky. Each member of the team has an Afghan counterpart. These U.S. and Afghan partners work together every day to help the Afghan staff officers identify and solve problems.

“The Afghans have the capabilities to lead this mission and are getting better every day,” McHugh said, “They are developing as a military organization and display the courage and willingness to take on the fight.”

McHugh met Afghan Maj. Gen. Muhammad Waziri, commander of the 201st Corps, as well.

McHugh listened intently as Wazeri chronicled several recent successful military operations that his corps has recently accomplished in the seven provinces north of Kabul without the aid of U.S. military combat forces, including opening all highways to traffic, pushing the enemy and insurgents from Koi-Safi, and re-nicknaming the valley “Death Valley” to “Peace Valley.”

In a particularly poignant moment in his conversation with McHugh, Wazeri spoke on a personal level.

“I’ve lost three brothers in the last four years (of the war), but I believe that the Taliban flag will never fly over Afghanistan again. I assure you,” Wazeri said.

McHugh left the sessions with the SFAAT and Wazeri with a better understanding of the effectiveness of the advise and assist mission and with respect for the ANA commander.

“We are grateful for your leadership and the sacrifices you’ve endured,” McHugh told Wazeri.

McHugh also met with the leadership of 4th Brigade to discuss other parts of their mission.

“The first challenge is to complete the mission. The fighting remains very dangerous and difficult. The other part of the mission is to physically remove ourselves,” McHugh said.

As the brigade returns to Fort Hood this month, it has begun the process of retrograding equipment so it can be reset for use elsewhere in the Army. With the terrain, weather, and the on-going fighting season, this mission is like no other challenge the Army has ever faced.

“We had a big, big job getting ourselves out of Iraq. This is bigger still,” McHugh said. “Afghanistan provides additional challenges based on geography, weather and occasional disruptions in land routes.”

After talking to the soldiers and leaders and visiting several retrograde yards, McHugh is confident the mission will be accomplished.

Before leaving Gamberi, McHugh thanked the soldiers for what they do every day. He emphasized the significance of their role, acknowledging the challenge of providing security, advising and assisting, while also retrograding equipment.

“You’re here because there’s no better way to meet this challenge.”

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