Operation Steel Rain disrupts Haqqanis in Khowst
Afghan and U.S. troops worked together in Operation Steel Rain to disrupt Haqqani network cells operating in the Tirzaye district of Khowst province Sept. 29.
The Haqqani network is a criminal organization with links to the Taliban and al-Qaida and believed to be based across the nearby Afghan-Pakistan border.
Units involved in the operation included the Sabari District-based 3rd Kandak, 1st BDE, 203rd Corps, Afghan National Army; 3rd Koy, 2nd Afghan Border Police Corps out of Tirzaye and companies from 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke.
During the mission, joint forces had to cover a vast area in a short amount of time, said U.S. Army Capt. Daniel Leard, Able Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment company commander and Pittsburgh native. The cooperation between the three different forces - U.S., ANA and ABP, allowed the joint force to synchronize their efforts to make the most effective use of their time.
"Any given day, between two companies, four to eight objectives had to be cleared," he explained.
The operation involved several moving parts as coalition forces moved through the area to eliminate insurgents from villages, materials involved in the making of improvised explosive devices and illegal weapons, said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Oscar Lorenzano, platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Able Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regt.
"We went out and let the bad guys know we were here," the Los Angeles native said. "A lot of people were very inviting and told us to come back."
In addition to finding any munitions in the area, another aspect of the mission was to deny insurgents the use of border routes into Afghanistan, and to clear cache sites, said Leard.
"There's a great deal of cross-border activity out in Tirzaye," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jesse Pearson, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment commander and Chicago native. "A lot of people come across the border, not just insurgents."
In order to reduce the risk of civilian casualties, Pearson emphasized the importance of working closely with the local population.
"It's important for us to get out there and spend time with the local village leaders and elders and make sure we understand the dynamics inside the villages and find out where the insurgents are finding refuge in the area," Pearson added.
Because of the remote and mountainous terrain, several of the villages visited had not seen a U.S. or Afghan National Security Forces presence in quite some time, Lorenzano said. To ease the introduction of the military to the local population, ANSF forces led several shuras, or community meetings, designed to meet the villagers and let them know their government was there for them and wanted to help.
In addition to the ANSF-led shuras, the Tirzaye district subgovernor Amir Badshah led shuras for the people of Landar and Kadam villages, providing him the opportunity to hear their concerns and issues.
It was a unique opportunity to connect the government to the people to foster a better working relationship, Pearson said.
The relationship between the people and the government wasn't the only one that saw progress, however.
One benefit of Operation Steel Rain was Afghan forces being incorporated into the fight and being allowed to take the lead, Lorenzano said. ANSF forces were eager to take charge during the clearance and searching of homes, with U.S. forces acting as security and giving guidance when necessary.
"The mission gave them confidence in their abilities and the Afghan people got to see that ANSF was in charge," Lorenzano said.
"We saw an outstanding performance by the ANA and ABP," Leard said. "They really did most of the work."
U.S. Army Pfc. Wade James, a rifleman for 2nd Platoon, Able Company, and a native of Hampstead, N.C., said he noticed a marked change in the current abilities of the ANSF forces, compared to when the two units initially partnered up 10 months ago.
When his company first started partnering with the Afghan soldiers, James said the ANA Soldiers weren't very thorough when it came to clearing a house. During Steel Rain, however, the ANSF soldiers demonstrated a capability and thoroughness that showed significant improvement.
"They did very well," James said. "I was just there to point out things to be cautious of."
Based upon the cooperation between Afghan and coalition forces that he saw during the operation, Pearson was pleased with the huge strides made in recent months. With the paramount goal of a more stable Afghan government, and one more connected to the needs of its people, the operation provided an important lesson for the future.
"Our close partnership with the ANSF forces reinforced that ideal and ethic among them that we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them, fighting the enemy, reinforcing them, and giving them the assets and resources they need to be successful," Pearson said.
Article by Spc. Tobey White, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division