Our colleague Christian Lowe is embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and sends us this dispatch from FOB Salerno near the city of Khost in eastern Afghanistan.
American troops fighting along the Pakistan border have shifted their emphasis from interdicting insurgent forces flowing through the porous border to hunting down enemy elements as they lay up and refit in towns nearby. The job of patrolling the border is increasingly being put at the feet of the Afghan Border Police who man remote outposts perched on the hills overlooking the approaches from Taliban hotbeds like Miramshah.
But increasingly, American units recognize that the border police are in some cases outgunned, patrolling around in unarmored pickups with nothing more than AK-47s and pistols to fend off aggressive assaults by well armed insurgents.
One official at a briefing DT sat in on today at the command post for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team at FOB Salerno in Khost, Afghanistan, said some of the border policemen are reluctant to go to work because of it. So units here are pushing higher command to either pair Afghan army units with the border police at some outposts, or start outfitting those vulnerable outposts with heavier weapons and protection.
What commanders here want is to equip some of these outposts with 81mm mortars, Russian made DShKa heavy machine guns and up-armored Humvees outfitted with Mk-19 grenade launchers so they can at least have a chance to counter any assault from insurgents trying to overrun that speed bump as they transit to the fight in Afghanistan. Call it evening the odds.
Of course there’s reluctance at the top (both in the US command and the Afghan government) to outfit anyone other than the ANA with that kind of firepower. So commanders here are arguing that you don’t have to give that kind of firepower to every border police unit, just those in hot areas. Arming yet another force to the teeth in a country as unstable as Afghanistan clearly has its risks, but hanging lightly armed border police out to dry is fast becoming a non-starter as well.