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STT-SFAT mentor ANA to employ an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem (Part 2 of 2)

October 2, 2012

By Sgt. Christopher McCullough

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - Working together with the security force assistance teams, of which there are many, is something called an STT - Stabilization and Transition Team. The STT is a team-led asset designed in part for use by the battle space owner - often times a brigade combat team - to help manage the numerous SFATs throughout their battle space, explained Sgt. Maj. Joseph Marra, the STT senior non-commissioned officer-in-charge/senior advisor for a 48-man STT largely made up of Iraq and Afghan war veterans from the New York Army National Guard. The NY STT's job is to work closely with and support the numerous SFATs throughout 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division's battle space in both Zabul and Kandahar provinces.

"What we are doing is working behind the scenes with the SFAT teams and the lieutenant colonels that are out there, trying to assist them in any way we can; whether that's setting up meetings or going to meetings that they attend with key leaders to support them and show that support. It's all about making this area stable by securing it, supporting the government and assisting the forces to transition into taking over the lead in the fight against the Taliban," explained Marra of Tannerville, Pa.

The NY STT does this by spreading their soldiers throughout Regional Command South. In turn, this has allowed the STT to assist the SFATs in many aspects; the most important being to act as a conduit between the brigade and the SFATs.

"They (NY STT) have the rank and the knowledge to assist the SFATs and ask the correct questions so they can make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do and ensure there is some connectivity between the brigade and the SFATs," said Marra.

In addition to providing support to the various SFATs, the New York STT also provides mentorship to the Afghan National Security Forces. Such mentorship involves evaluating their skills and ensuring they are meeting their mission requirements such as ample food, water, ammunition and other supplies. While they assess ANSF's abilities, Marra points out that their job is to advise and assist.

"As far as mentoring, if they need assistance with other assets, they ask for it (and) we see if we can do it and try to work in that manner (but) it's their ballgame," said Marra. "We're there just to try and help them gain the confidence and the professionalism that will be necessary for them to secure their own country."

In due course, it's up to Marra's team, and others like it throughout Afghanistan, to help ANSF step out on their own, which will in turn "show the people that the new government is working and that their lives are better than before," said Marra. Part of that involves showing the Afghan people that their new government works and is there to make them feel safe, which is why the STT-SFAT mission is so important.

"The people have to feel their government is protecting them or else they'll simply side with whoever has the most power in the area," Marra said.

U.S. President Barrack Obama and other International Security Assistance Force leaders, in coordination with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, have stated that they endeavor to return nearly all ISAF forces home by the end of 2014.

However, with matters in Afghanistan changing weekly - even daily - leaders from all parties are left not knowing what the remaining 30-plus months of the Afghan War will hold. The one thing that is for certain is that going forward security force assistance teams, or SFATs, are going to be the best bet to helping Afghan National Security Forces move ahead and provide the means to a secure and peaceful Afghanistan.

"We're looking for an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem," said Marra.

That is why, even though Marra's STT has only been in country for four months, already they are working hard to lay the groundwork for the next group. Marra explains they have been working diligently to ensure that the next group doesn't have to start over from scratch.

"As soon as they get in country, and they're settled in, they can start working with their (ANSF) counterparts," said Marra. "They (won't) have to get their equipment here because we are the first ones to start this type of an operation this large."

The shift of responsibility throughout Afghanistan will occur as Afghan National Army and Police show themselves ready to assume responsibility on their own with little to no International Security Assistance Forces support. That is why the SFATs are so important. They are pivotal to ensuring ANSFs everywhere are ready as the transference of security is handed off from ISAF to ANSF in 2013, as stated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier this year.

"The SFAT teams that are here now, come at an important time in this newly formed government's life," Marra went on to say. "We're here to offer the assistance that can really make the difference. Sometimes (when) you're a soldier you don't always see the opportunity to make a difference because you're one of many. These (SFAT) teams will have the opportunity to see the cause and effect of them being there and assisting these people because we have the measures and the products available to measure these things."

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