• July 25, 2014

Army’s future Afghanistan mission clearer

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Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 4:30 am

As 2014 gets into full gear, we are able to get a clearer picture of the Army’s future mission in Afghanistan.

A year ago, when a flurry of Fort Hood units were preparing to deploy to the war-torn country, we weren’t exactly sure when those units would get back. The onset of sequestration and a vague timeline of how the war in Afghanistan would wind down didn’t help.

There was a lot of talk at that time that these units could be the last units to deploy to Afghanistan, where a NATO deadline still looms that all foreign forces must be out of the country by the end of this year.

But that’s not how things played out. In fact, quite the opposite happened. Many of the Fort Hood units came home early.

The 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade, for example, started coming back in November, months earlier than expected. A few elements in the 3,000-soldier brigade still remain in Afghanistan, but the brigade’s commander, Col. Robert Whittle, arrived back to the Great Place last weekend.

“What we were most impressed with this deployment was the Afghan National Security Forces,” Whittle said during a pre-dawn homecoming ceremony Saturday. “It’s because of how well-equipped and trained they are that we’ve been able to bring home some of our people sooner.”

It’s a familiar tune we’ve heard lately from Army commanders: The Afghan army and other local security forces are increasingly handling their own business; going after would-be terrorists, responding to threats, policing their homeland.

I spoke with Robert Gates, the former U.S. secretary of defense, last week, and he backed up those sentiments on how things are going in Afghanistan.

“Based on the people in the military I still talk to, I think it’s better than is conveyed by some of the media,” Gates said. “I think the Afghan army is doing a better job in terms of getting into the fight. They are now responsible for a big part of the Afghan population’s security.”

In my short interview with Gates, he brought up another good point: The Afghans won’t be able to do the job as well as U.S. forces.

“They don’t do it as well as we do, but as I told Gen. (David) Petraeus once: Them being able to do it adequately for themselves is better than us doing it excellently for them,” Gates said.

I thought that was an excellent point, and one that American commanders should heed as they continue to hand over the duties to brave Afghan soldiers.

May they fight well.

Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at jbrooks@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468.

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