By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 25, 2011) -- Continuing to build partnerships with Afghan security forces will be a key priority in May for the new leadership of Regional Command East in Afghanistan.
"The priority focus that we have going forward is to continue the strong partnership that is underway ... to ensure that they have the capability required to truly be in the lead for security in Afghanistan in 2014," said Maj. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, 1st Cavalry Division.
By mid-May, the 1st Cavalry Division will assume responsibility for Regional Command East from the 101st Airborne Division. The RCE area of responsibility includes 14 provinces in East Afghanistan, and shares about 450 miles of border with neighboring Pakistan.
The proximity to Pakistan also means it's a priority to work with that nation's security forces. Allyn said when the 1st Cav. takes the lead in RCE, they'll leverage efforts underway now by the 101st to "strengthen the partnership at the tactical level with our Pakistan military counterparts.
It's "absolutely critical we continue to build on the complimentary operations that have been planned and conducted recently with RCE forces and the Pakistan military forces -- we are going to continue to strengthen that relationship," Allyn said.
The general also said the RCE would continue to work with both the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan security forces to "bring about the security conditions that will continue to enable both governance and economic development and a stable Afghanistan."
The 1st Cav. last deployed to Iraq and returned in January 2009. They'll have had about 17 months to rest up and prepare for Afghanistan when they deploy in Mid-May. Allyn said they've been prepping for that day now for about 10 months.
"We've had a series of command post exercises that replicate both the missions and the commands involved; we've had a number of both off-site and on-site training and leader-development forums," Allyn said. "And we've been up in the D.C. area engaging with the various Pakistan and Afghanistan task forces."
The general also said the 1st Cav. has had a "rigorous mission-rehearsal exercise that was headed by the Joint Forces Command and supported by our coalition partners that will be working with us in RCE." Among those partners, he said, are Polish and French task forces, as well as the five U.S. brigades that will be operating under 1st Cav. command and control.
"We've had a very thorough preparation and very good support across the board in getting us ready to go," Allyn said. This is the 1st Cav's first time in Afghanistan, Allyn said, though many of its leaders already have experience in the country.
"We have about 40 percent of our key leaders (who) are Afghanistan experienced and we obviously carefully selected those new teammates," he said.
"The continued infiltration of, particularly Haqqani as the principal threat in RCE -- is a continuing area of focus," Allyn said.
The U.S. has recently pulled American forces out of the Pech Valley -- and those forces can be used elsewhere, Allyn said, to stave off infiltration of Haqqani, for instance, into Kabul.
"The forces that are reduced in areas like the Pech Valley will enable a better application of force against key terrain district areas and will enable us to continue to disrupt and interdict the forces trying to come in through places like Khost, and Paktia and Paktika."
Allyn said primarily, the enemy, the Taliban and Haqqani, for instance, want to "create effects" in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
"The focus of our main effort initially is expanding the Kabul security zone, south along Highway 1, and to the east along Highway 7 toward Jalalabad and the Torkham gate," Allyn said. "In order to prevent the enemy from achieving any of those effects in Kabul, we will engage him with a layered defense approach from the border, through the battle space, and ensure he doesn't achieve any effects in Kabul."
The RCE region completely surrounds Kabul -- and Allyn said it's important to disrupt any efforts by the enemy to get there.
"Ultimately we want to disrupt and interdict the enemy's attempts to infiltrate through RCE toward Kabul," Allyn said. "The principle way we want to do that is through effective Afghan Security Forces -- and ultimately, the objective in 2014 is Afghan Security Forces in the lead across Afghanistan."
Allyn said major gains must be made in Afghan Security Forces capacity and capability over the next year. But he also said examples of success can be found among the Afghan Police, for instance.
"The Afghan police are securing Bamian Province as we speak," Allyn said. "That's what right looks like."
Allyn said it's been a "doctoral level study" to get ready for a regional command responsibility but "the team is excited about the opportunity to serve" and there's "more volunteers than slots" to deploy. For the 1st Cav's time in Afghanistan, Allyn said, he's got some clear expectations of what he hopes can be achieved there.
"I think No. 1, we want to have a more capable Afghan Security Force, with Afghans in the lead and larger presence in numbers than is currently the case in RCE," he said. "We want to continue the great progress that's been made by our predecessors, both the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st, and continue to build effective district governance that the people of Afghanistan can recognize as legitimate and supporting their needs. And we want for as many of the provinces in RCE to be a stable and secure environment as possible."