KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The mission of Security Force Assistance Advisory Team 15 is to advise Afghan National Army soldiers on field artillery, reconnaissance, engineering and other operations at Forward Operating Base Naghlu High.
U.S. Army soldiers assigned to Team 15 advise Afghan soldiers of the 4th Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps, during their missions as they conduct independent operations and prepare to assume responsibility for the security of their country.
“Working together every day, it’s really rewarding to see them progress, and conduct independent operations,” said Capt. Zhuoyi Gu, Team 15 reconnaissance company adviser deployed with 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
He and the rest of his team replaced French army reconnaissance advisers about six months ago.
In his opinion, the Afghan army’s main challenges are dealing with maintenance and logistics issues. Gu said there is a logistics adviser assigned to Team 15 and works with his Afghan counterpart to deal with those issues.
“But as far as going out and being able to conduct independent operations, providing security in an area and being able to engage insurgent elements, they are very successful with that,” Gu said.
“We interact with our (Afghan) counterparts frequently,” he said. “In Afghanistan, your word means a lot. Being able to build that close personal relationship and establish trust is really important.”
When Team 15 arrived at Naghlu High, Gu said the French had a more direct role in training and supporting the Afghan army.
“Our strategy was more hands-off, and see where they are at,” Gu said. “We advised them when necessary, allowing them to operate.”
Gu said Team 15 interjects to make improvements, if and when the Afghans make mistakes.
“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the (Afghan army) can do what they need to do independently of advisers, and they do it all the time,” Gu said.
In his opinion, the Afghan noncommissioned officers are no different than American NCOs. He has seen them take the initiative to train soldiers on primary weapons instruction and later that week, go to the firing range to familiarize the Afghan soldiers on their weapon systems.
Team 15 senior adviser, Maj. Demetrius Perry, is on his first deployment to Afghanistan with the same squadron. He has experience serving as an adviser with the special police transition team during one of his two deployments to Iraq.
Perry said the Afghans have their own way of conducting business. If U.S. forces come to Afghanistan and try to teach our way of thinking, the Afghan forces will not listen.
“If you don’t have good rapport with them, they will keep all their knowledge a secret,” Perry said. “They will listen to you offering advice and let you give classes, and when you are done they will tell you, ‘Hey, I ran the Russians out of Afghanistan, you aren’t teaching me anything new.’”
Perry said the best part of his advisory mission is the informal interactions he has with the kandak commander, Col. Gul Aqa Shirzard. He said whenever they meet, they talk business, but then they talk about other things. For example, over a cup of tea at the Afghan base at Naghlu Riverside, he gets to know the colonel by asking casual questions like what it was like growing up in Afghanistan.
The two leaders have developed such a close bond, Shirzard told the soldiers in his kandak, whenever he is out of town on business, Perry is in charge.
“I’ve learned a lot just from talking to the (Afghan) leadership in a relaxed way,” Perry said. “I’ve found out more by having those informal conversations than you will find in a class or in any book. It is those interactions that I will carry with me forever.”