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Operation Duke Blitz turns up heat on Haqqanis

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Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces worked together in Khowst and Paktya Provinces Oct. 13-21 during Operation Duke Blitz, a mission to push Haqqani network insurgents out of the area.

The large-scale operation, part of an even larger operation, spread across two provinces. It was led by the ANSF and supported by several battalions from the Fort Knox, Ky.,-based 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke.

TF Spader performs the heavy lifting

The main effort of Duke Blitz, dubbed “Operation Nike IV,” was assigned to the 3rd BCT’s 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, TF Spader.

“This operation showed that Afghan forces can extend the reach of their government into the most remote, mountainous areas of Afghanistan to provide security for the populace," said U.S. Army Maj. Ed Hollis, a native of San Rafael, Calif., and the operations officer for the 1st Bn., 26th Inf. Regt.

“The ANA put a great foot forward in an area that has been controlled by insurgents,” said U.S. Army Capt. Joshua Wiles, commander of Company D, 1st Bn., 26th Inf. Regt. “The locals were very receptive to a permanent [Afghan Security Force] presence in the area,” he added.

Insurgent attempts to respond to the Afghan and coalition efforts met little success. One notable failure was an attempted complex attack in Gardez City, Paktya province, Oct 16.

A policeman noticed a suspicious vehicle and signaled for the driver to stop. A bomb inside the vehicle detonated and was followed by attempted suicide attacks. Police killed three suicide bombers before they could detonate their vests. No civilian injuries were reported from the car blast.

The failed Haqqani efforts to lash out at the Afghan and coalition forces didn’t surprise U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jesse Pearson, a Chicago native and commander of the 1st Bn., 26th Inf. Regt.

“This is a center of Haqqani support operations, and that’s why they’re fighting so hard to retain it,” said Pearson. He added that much was learned about the Haqqani network and how they operate in the area.

“[Operation Nike IV] was a very successful operation,” said Pearson. “We captured some very important weapons caches and detainees.”

TF Creek sweeps enemy from plains, mountains

Shamsheer, which translated from Dari means “Sword,” is the name of the mission that brought the soldiers of the 1st Bn., 279th Inf. Regt. to the forefront of the fight. This prong of Duke Blitz was aimed at disrupting insurgent freedom of movement and targeting locations associated with insurgent leadership in Zormat district, Paktya province.

Similar to its parent operation, Shamsheer was extremely successful in all respects, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chuck Booze, a Norman, Okla., resident and commander of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 1st Bn., 279th Inf., TF Creek. He added that the lingering benefits of moving unhindered into Haqqani network headquarters, while experiencing no harassment, may prove to be the most lasting impact.

“This operation demonstrates the continued development and capabilities of the ANSF in taking the fight to the insurgency,” Booze said.

ANA, Afghan Uniformed Police and several companies of TF Creek soldiers collaborated to remove weapons caches, IEDs and safe havens that had been used by insurgent forces. The efforts were directly responsible for the capture of a known Haqqani subcommander.

Booze echoed the sentiments of fellow Operation Duke Blitz officers, noting the greatest benefits of the related operations may have been the reception offered by local citizens to the Afghan troops and that reception’s effect upon the Haqqanis.

“We continue to see that when Afghan security forces move into an area, the population responds favorably, and the insurgency is powerless to stop them,” he said.

TF Raider sends tremors through Haqqanis

For Troop C of the 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, TF Raider, “Operation Raider Earthquake” began before the sun rose on Oct. 19. Air-lifted by helicopter to the Qalandar area, the troopers moved on to the village of Star Kot.

"In the village itself, we ended up finding some anti-tank mines, grenades, a lot of [machine gun] ammo, three AK-47s and numerous magazines,” said U.S. Army Capt. Mark Snowbarger, an infantryman from Mogadore, Ohio, and the commander of Troop C, 6th Sqdn. 4th Cav. Regt.

Snowbarger credits good intelligence for leading them to the house where the cache was discovered. “The intelligence was very good, and the source was very descriptive," said Snowbarger, who further explained that, according to villagers, the homeowner had left several days earlier, allegedly for Pakistan.

From there, Troop C moved on to the next objective.

Another cache was discovered in northern Nadir Shah Khot, consisting of eight mortar rounds, recoilless rifle and rocket-propelled grenade rounds and small-arms ammunition.

In addition to praising the performance of his troops, Snowbarger also felt the ANSF performance was noteworthy, not only by providing security, but in responding to the needs of the people.

"The ANA did a very good job with the outer cordon part of the objective areas,” he said. “[In Starkot] the AUP … conducted about a 45-minute key leader engagement at the end with village elders, ensuring they knew who to contact for security concerns.”

The cavalry was also there to support the main effort, with Troop A setting a blocking position to the west of TF Spader's objectives in Musa Khel, said U.S. Army Capt. Dean Carter, the commander of Troop A.

Carter, a native of Oviedo, Fla., said the blocking position prevented any insurgents from fleeing to the west.

"The ANA were in the lead on the blocking position, searching all vehicles and personnel moving through the position. We mentored them in the procedures up front and they took the mission from there,” said Carter.

Insurgents may also find it increasingly more difficult to fund next year's fighting season, said Carter, due to ANA destruction of almost 30 acres of hashish.

In all, the [overall] operation lasted more than a week, but U.S. Army Maj. Adam Rudy, operations officer for the 6th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt. and a native of Tomball, Texas, summed up its success in one simple sentence.

“We got our elements into areas we hadn't been before and engaged some of the population in these areas,” said Rudy.

*Maj. Travis Dettmer and 1st Lt. Paul Jackson contributed to this report.

Article by Staff Sgt. John Zumer, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division