PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The two tan-painted U.S. Army CH-47F Chinook helicopters broke away from each other at the last moment and headed for neighboring mountaintops in this rugged province bordering Pakistan. They flared as they landed and dropped their ramps. From each raced a platoon of heavily-armed paratroopers from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, plus a squad of Afghan National Army soldiers.
The combined U.S.-Afghan air assault on April 4 was an opening move for the NATO International Security Assistance Force’s spring counter-offensive, meant to blunt the seasonal surge of Taliban and other extremist forces from their winter bases in Pakistan.
The mission was also an early trial run for a brand-new ANA battalion that had completed basic training in Kabul only weeks before. The Afghan soldiers were “very green … a little scared,” according to Captain Chris Tanner, Fox Company commander. Tanner said he hoped the air assault mission would help Fox Company identify the “studs” among the new ANA troopers, so these more-capable soldiers could be given leadership duties.
ISAF border operations have actually intensified since U.S. President Barack Obama announced in 2009 he was sending 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan. But the long-term strategy remains a complete handover of Afghanistan security to Afghan forces. In Paktika, one of the country’s most violent provinces, that handover depends on some very inexperienced Afghan troops quickly gaining the competence and confidence necessary to fully replace units such as Fox Company.