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Scouts adapt for a safer Afghanistan

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The mountains of Afghanistan are an unforgiving landscape. Shale blankets the ground, providing little traction and a painful or deadly fall if footing is lost.

Regardless the scouts of Troop B, 1st Squadron, 33rd Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), deftly scrambled up and down the ridgelines as they conducted a route reconnaissance with their Afghan National Army counterparts.

“We wanted to find an alternate route into the village and assess trafficability and patterns of life in the area,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Matthew Draheim, the platoon leader for Blue Platoon.

After picking up a team of ANA soldiers occupying Combat Outpost Sayyid Khel, elements of Troop B assembled at a patrol base and headed into an Afghan village in the Shamal district.

As the scouts hunted for unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices, small teams of U.S. Army soldiers and ANA ascended the foothills to provide over watch and search for weapons caches.

“This terrain can really restrict our movement, especially the spurs and draws perpendicular to the route,” said Draheim. “We send our guys up the mountains and along the road to cover as much ground as possible.”

Troop B faces a unique problem as a battle space owner in Khowst Province. Their mission here is two-fold: reconnaissance and ANA and Afghan Uniformed Police mentorship. The problem lies in the fact that they must perform as a traditional infantry company and train their Afghan counterparts, with fewer soldiers than a regular infantry unit.

“We have to apply our scout mission to a traditional battle-space owner mission,” Draheim added. “We do this by increasing the capabilities of the ANA and AUP and applying the principles of reconnaissance: observation and intelligence gathering.”

In order to be a cavalry scout, soldiers must go through specialized training.

“On top of regular infantry tactics, we train to call for fire and to perform reconnaissance in enemy territory,” said U.S. Army Sgt. David Moore, a section leader attached to Blue Platoon. “Our primary mission as scouts is reconnaissance, so we’ll take the battlefield and look at it three-dimensionally during an operation.”

Troop B received training on site exploitation. When they encounter a weapons cache or an IED, they swipe surfaces for fingerprints and collect any kind of DNA off the site.

“The enemy is getting harder to find, so being able to gather DNA allows us to charge those individuals responsible when they are caught,” said Draheim.

As the teams moved down the route, one of the ANA sergeants observed two Afghans drive a white car up a wadi, park it and disappear into the foothills. Elements of Blue Platoon bounded up the wadi and set up security on the car. The ANA sergeant then moved forward to check the vehicle for anything suspicious.

The sergeant’s actions were proof that Troop B was doing their job.

“Our primary mission here, besides reconnaissance, is getting the ANA and AUP to conduct searches and street level engagements on their own to collect intelligence,” said U.S. Army Capt. Gary Klein, Troop B’s commander. “We train them to disrupt the enemy and keep the enemy on its toes so that the ANA aren’t just reacting when they get attacked.”

Due to the ANA’s lack of sophisticated equipment, Troop B instead trains the Afghans on basic soldiering skills such as combat medicine, radio operations, calling for fire, and basic infantry tactics. However, Troop B still stresses the importance of developing a systematic approach to gathering intelligence.

“We remind the ANA and AUP constantly that if they find a cache or something of that nature, to use gloves and keep an organized list of items found all while having a standard operating procedure to deal with these kinds of situations,” said Draheim.

The main problem Troop B has encountered is a lack of cooperation between the ANA and AUP.

“The ANA and AUP don’t like to work with each other, so we’re trying to break down those barriers,” Klein said. “The more we bring them together on joint missions, the more comfortable they get with each other. We can’t be liaisons forever, but we can at least put a foot in the door and start building those bridges.”

As Blue Platoon waited by the car, the two Afghans were spotted climbing down the mountain and a team was sent to intercept them. The Afghans were questioned briefly, their biometric data was gathered and, after finding nothing suspicious, Blue Platoon released them.

After hours of hiking up and down mountains and through wadis, Troop B mounts up and heads back to base for a warm meal and much deserved rest.

“We definitely accomplished our mission today,” said Draheim. “We were able to locate a helicopter landing zone as well as multiple locations to set up vehicle patrol bases for future operations.”

Blue Troop has risen to the occasion to provide their leadership with intelligence gathering capabilities as well as proving themselves a capable infantry unit.

“Our soldiers have sacrificed a lot and given up time with their families to do a very dangerous job,” Draheim said. “A lot is expected of your average private these days. They not only have to react to contact but relax enough afterwards to gather intelligence. It’s a challenge, but these guys rise to it.”

Article by Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment