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By living on Afghan base, Army advisors aim to better enable partners

By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service October 4, 2018

CAMP MAIWAND, Afghanistan -- As dust swirled endlessly in the hot air and stuck to every piece of gear, a small group of U.S. Army advisors began to resettle into a no-frills compound at the heart of an Afghan National Army base.

Within feet from the Afghan's tactical operations center, the Soldiers from 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade's 3rd Squadron had chosen the Spartan living conditions to be closer to their counterparts.

"The best way I see that we can affect anything up here is with more contact," said Capt. Tone Biggs, a field artillery advisor. "More contact with them equals more progress."

From the location, Biggs and other advisors can quickly engage with leaders of the Afghan army's 4th Brigade, 203rd Corps, and their liaison officers, who often request support for the battalions in surrounding outposts.

The recent move was part of the Army's renewed train, advise and assist effort to better enable Afghan partners while they lead operations on their own.

To carry out the mission, the Army last year created the 1st SFAB, followed by months of specialized training. With about 1,000 Soldiers, the new brigade is currently on its first deployment and has spread out its units across Afghanistan.

The tiny compound -- dubbed Crusher and Stallion Area, or CASA, after the mascots of the squadron and their 3rd Infantry Division security forces element -- serves as one of the brigade's tactics to help strengthen Afghan forces.

Similar security assistance teams previously used the compound until a few years ago when the U.S. military drew down many of its troops from the country. During that time, Camp Maiwand, formerly Forward Operating Base Shank, was handed over to the Afghan army.

The squadron decided to move back into the compound this summer. Its central setting on the camp has given the advisors more opportunities to interact with their counterparts, instead of relying on specific missions that roll out of other bases.

"If I need to walk over there, I can walk out, grab a linguist and a few security personnel and we can go," Biggs, 31, of Pickerington, Ohio, said. "At any point, I can have direct, face-to-face contact in their TOC."

Inside the walled compound, there are a few tents for living quarters and to plan operations. Showers, dining facility and shops are all at nearby Camp Dahlke, where they rotate in and out every few days.

While bare-bones, the compound serves as a reminder to the Afghans of the advisors' dedication to their partnership.

"You can't replicate human interaction," said Lt. Col. Ian Palmer, the squadron commander. "And that's part of what is really important for the advising mission.

"Additionally, when you go to their headquarters, when you go to their turf, it shows a level of commitment that you don't necessarily get with other types of advising."

The sometimes austere conditions have another benefit -- it lets advisors concentrate more on the mission.

"There's definitely less distractions here," Biggs said.

Two weeks ago, Soldiers began to move back into the compound after a long pause in their mission there due to a recent insider attack.

On Sept. 3, an Afghan policeman fatally shot Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Bolyard, the squadron's senior enlisted leader, as he and others visited the camp. The rogue police officer was eventually arrested.

Leaders from both the American and Afghan armies later agreed that Bolyard's sacrifice should endure in the mission he believed in.

"We're right back at it," said Sgt. 1st Class Rodrigo Perez, an explosive ordnance disposal advisor. "That's what sergeant major would have wanted. He always told us that this is what we're all about."

Before the incident, the mission out of the compound was going well, he said.

"Once we came out here, it really made us proud of what we were doing," Perez, 32, of Whittier, California, said. "We saw the results immediately with being in contact with them all the time."

Those results included requests to send coalition air assets to Afghan troops battling insurgents.

When Taliban forces attacked the Azra district center in August, the advisors helped coordinate air support, including an airstrike from an F-16 fighter jet.

Around that time, another call for assistance occurred when the Afghans asked advisors to help one of their units being fired upon at a checkpoint. Coalition air assets identified the Taliban fighters and followed them to a cave complex, where they had been storing their weapons.

"They were able to conduct a strike on that and destroy a presumed fairly large weapons cache," said Maj. Joseph Loar, the squadron's operations advisor.

Loar, who frequently lives at the compound, said being next door helped make those time-sensitive requests happen faster.

"We were truly partners, side-by-side with them," he said. "That's how they felt and that's how we felt afterward. It was exciting to actually be able to help them out in that fight."

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