Two battle-tested brigades from the Army’s most-deployed division since 9/11 are headed back to Afghanistan to conduct a new kind of war.
The slimmed-down 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams from the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, N.Y., will take up positions in familiar territory in eastern Afghanistan but with entirely different missions.
Both brigades have been designated as Security Force Assistance Teams and will work closely in small units with Afghan troops and police as the U.S. pushes to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014.
When the two brigades arrive early next year, it will mark the 25th time that a unit from the 10th Mountain has deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. David Konop, a division spokesman.
Soldiers from the division were among the first to arrive in Afghanistan after 9/11. Tenth Mountain BCTs have since gone to Iraq 11 times and to Afghanistan 12 times. The division’s headquarters has also deployed five times -- four times in Afghanistan and once in Iraq, Konop said. At least 293 10th Mountain troops have been killed in action through all the deployments.
The new deployment as an SFAT for the 2nd Brigade was announced last August and the Defense Department designated the 1st Brigade last week. Both brigades will have about 1,400 troops each for the SFAT mission as opposed to the 3,000-3,500 in a full BCT, Konop said.
“They’re well trained, well led, and they’re ready to go,” said Maj. Gen. Mark A. Miley, commander of the 10th Mountain who has been selected for promotion to lieutenant general to take over Fort Hood, Texas, and the Army’s III Corps.
Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, now director of the Pakistan and Afghanistan Coordination Cell Joint Staff in Washington, D.C., who has spent a total of about four years on the ground in Afghanistan, will succeed Miley and take command.
The two BCTS from the 10th Mountain will be among the last to employ the counter insurgency strategy before U.S. forces finish their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Under the new national defense strategy ordered up by the White House, COIN has been de-emphasized as the U.S. seeks to avoid long-term ground wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan while turning more attention to the Pacific region.
The SFAT mission calls for a concentration of officers and non-commissioned officers who will organize in 12-16 troop teams to live and work in close concert with the Afghan national police, national army, and national civil order police. The small teams are similar to the embedded military transition teams that were used to train Iraqi army and police units.
To prepare for the mission, the two 10th Mountain Brigades trained at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., with Afghans role playing missions in a mock village. The ANSF role players were a mix of American soldiers and Afghan civilians.
The training stressed cultural awareness and language skills, and incorporated lessons learned from case studies of previous efforts at embedding with the Afghans -- all under the guidance of the Commander’s Handbook for Security Force Assistance developed by the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
The handbook emphasizes the difference between the combat role to which the 10th Mountain had become accustomed and SFAT operations.
“Unlike other types of military operations, personal and professional rapport between coalition and HN (Host Nation) counterparts defines positive or negative relationships that set the stage for success or failure of SFA operations,” the handbook said.
“While temperament is a facet of individual personality, certain training in negotiating, methods of influence, cultural understanding, and rapport building skills can help coalition leaders/advisers” assigned to the SFAT teams, the handbook said.
In announcing the deployment orders for the 1st Brigade of the 10th Mountain, the Defense Department designated the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) out of Fort Campbell, Ky., to go to Afghanistan early next year as a full BCT with about 2,800 troops.
The division headquarters of the 101st “Screaming Eagles” will also deploy to Afghanistan, but there was an outside chance that the deployments could be subject to change.
The U.S. currently has about 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the White House and the Pentagon have yet to decide on the troop withdrawal schedule to meet President Obama’s guideline of having all combat troops out by the end of 2014.
Recommendations from Marine Gen. John Allen, the coalition commander in Afghanistan, on the withdrawal schedule were to have been received by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in November but Pentagon officials said last week that Allen’s blueprint would be forwarded “in the coming weeks.”
Allen has been selected as the new head of U.S. European Command, but the appointment has been delayed while the Pentagon’s Inspector General investigates the voluminous correspondence he had with Florida socialite Jill Kelley, whose complaint to the FBI led to disclosure of the affair that forced the resignation of David Petraeus as CIA Director.