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U.S. troops prep for new role in Afghanistan

Feb. 13, 2013 - 12:54PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 13, 2013 - 12:54PM  |  
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As the U.S. military continues to shift to an advisory role in Afghanistan, residual forces in the region after 2014 will be faced with vastly different missions than those for which they have been trained.

The U.S. Institute of Peace recognized this problem in December, when they trained a unit of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. Eighty-five soldiers from the division's 4th Brigade Combat Team participated in a week-long training program to prepare for their future supporting roles.

Post-conflict development in fragile states takes a long time to develop, said Army Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Irizarry, deputy commander of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Irizarry joined USIP officials to discuss the special skills required to address the needs of these states at a news conference Tuesday, held before President Obama announced in his State of the Union speech a withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this time next year.

The plan to draw the U.S. combat mission to a close by the end of 2014 means Afghan forces will be primarily responsible for the security of their own people.

One of the main challenges at that point will be establishing "expert generalists" in the U.S. Army, according to Irizarry. When it comes to infrastructure, he said, the Army has individuals who know how to manage problems in agriculture and transportation, but there is no one who can effectively weave these systematic problems together and address them accordingly.

Lauren Van Metre, dean of students at USIP, emphasized the importance of understanding where security, governance and rule of law intersect in fragile states. Illicit power structures, specifically drug networks, help terrorists thrive in regions where the government is weak, she said.

USIP has been approached by other active-duty units to pursue training options for post-war Afghanistan, Van Metre said. The 101st was the first, after previously deploying in Afghanistan primarily for counterinsurgency combat operations.

The troops currently in USIP training will return to Afghanistan and serve as part of the Army's Security Force Assistance Teams. Officials initially approached USIP to target ways to effectively communicate and negotiate with Afghans.

Paul Hughes, chief of staff at USIP, said his organization provided necessary training not offered by the Army.

Afghanistan is not the only country for which this shift in training may be necessary. In a speech to the Association of the United States Army in October, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno spoke of a widespread shift in Army modernization to combine forces with combatant commands and to organize units "for specific mission sets and regional conditions."

The conflict in Mali is providing valuable lessons about approaching this special regionalized training in the future, Van Metre said.

What it could come down to is money, Hughes said. It will be difficult to decide how to allocate financial resources to education like the program provided by USIP, as money is still spent on "hardware," Hughes said.

Irizarry agreed that specialized skills like sniping are often an easier sell than education.

"How many bad guys does a master's [degree] in philosophy take out?" he said.

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