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S.C. soldiers say mentoring key

December 1, 2009

S.C. soldiers say mentoring key

By CHUCK CRUMBO
The State
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

 

To South Carolina soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan, President Obama's reported plans to send more U.S. troops to the war-torn country make sense.

In a nationally televised speech tonight, Obama is expected to announce an increase of up to 35,000 more U.S. troops to put down the Taliban-led insurgency and help stabilize the Afghan government.

The escalation means American forces would total about 100,000 by the end of 2010, more than three times the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan when the S.C. Army National Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team was deployed there from April 2007 to May 2008.

The S.C. troops, though, say the additional American forces should be poured into mentoring and training Afghan security forces --the police and army. "We should send more," said Capt. Allan Stiffler, who is preparing to leave in January for a second tour in Afghanistan. "The Afghan security forces are making progress, but I think they've kind of reached a plateau without more mentorship and training."

Having enough troops, particularly those assigned to train Afghan forces, has been a challenge since the United States invaded Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, toppling the country's Taliban-led government.

When the 218th headed the U.S. training effort in Afghanistan, it had about half the number of troops necessary for the job, according to commanders.

"We've kind of been just scraping by," said Stiffler, of West Columbia, who trained Afghan army artillery and mortar units during his tour.

Lt. Col. Bill Connor, who mentored the local police in volatile Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, agreed. "We do need more numbers, but the thrust needs to be toward the advisory mission," said Connor, an Army reservist from Orangeburg.

"The key thing is that the Afghan army and Afghan police be able to take over the security mission, said Connor, a candidate in the Republican race for lieutenant governor.

Working with the Afghan police benefits the U.S. effort because people see American troops out and working in their villages, said Capt. James Smith, who commanded a mentoring team in Zabul province, which borders Pakistan.

A Democratic state representative from Columbia, Smith added that the Afghan police are willing to learn their jobs as a security force. "They do not fear and are not reticent in taking charge of that role," Smith said. "If given the resources, they can and will do the job, and have a great sense of pride in doing so."

Although Obama has been criticized by some U.S. leaders for taking too much time in reaching a decision, some troops appreciate the difficult choices the president must make.

"I want my commander in chief to fully explore all options before he sends me or any other troop to put his life on the line," said Capt. David Brooks, of Cheraw, who was a civil affairs officer with the 218th.

It's also important the United States remains committed to Afghanistan, said retired Col. Butch Jacobs of West Columbia, who headed the brigade's counterinsurgency school in Kabul. "Now that we've gotten involved, we need to finish," Jacobs said. "If we don't resolve it now, 20 years from now my grandson will have to go over there."

On TV

A number of TV networks are announcing plans for live coverage of President Barack Obama's speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Broadcast networks planning to broadcast the speech on Tuesday include ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS.

Cable networks planning to broadcast the address include CNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

Coverage is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Associated Press

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