Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Want to win in Afghanistan? Then put your soldiers alongside Afghan ones

One of the most important lessons of Iraq is that nothing improves the quality of local forces like actually having U.S. soldiers work, eat and sleep in the same place as them. Not coincidentally, it also improves the Americans’ understanding of the situation. This was brought home to me by a series of "Company Command" ...

John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

One of the most important lessons of Iraq is that nothing improves the quality of local forces like actually having U.S. soldiers work, eat and sleep in the same place as them. Not coincidentally, it also improves the Americans' understanding of the situation.

This was brought home to me by a series of "Company Command" comments that Army magazine carried in its August issue from members of the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade. Here, for example, is Josh Sherer, who as he notes was skeptical of the move:

We established a joint TOC [tactical operations center] with the ANA [Afghan National Army]. Suddenly, we were both watching the same RAID [Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection] camera feed, hearing each other's intel reports over the radio. Wow, what a difference that made....

One of the most important lessons of Iraq is that nothing improves the quality of local forces like actually having U.S. soldiers work, eat and sleep in the same place as them. Not coincidentally, it also improves the Americans’ understanding of the situation.

This was brought home to me by a series of "Company Command" comments that Army magazine carried in its August issue from members of the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade. Here, for example, is Josh Sherer, who as he notes was skeptical of the move:

We established a joint TOC [tactical operations center] with the ANA [Afghan National Army]. Suddenly, we were both watching the same RAID [Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection] camera feed, hearing each other’s intel reports over the radio. Wow, what a difference that made….

I’m not going to lie; I resisted this idea of a joint TOC initially. I had serious concerns about the Afghans seeing all of our capabilities and SIPR [Secure Internet Protocol Router] computers. The complete trust just wasn’t there. But now, joint TOCs partnered with ANA — what a difference that made. I could just go up to the Afghan S-3 and say, "What do you want to plan this week? I’m doing these things with my platoon leaders. What do you want to plan for your patrols?…."

That’s definitely the way forward. They get so much better tactically — just basic soldier skills — by having our guys right next to theirs. Putting their mortar beside our mortar: They’re learning from our mortar men, taking care of barrels and personal weapons, drinking chai together. The gains we could not make during our first eight months of random partnering once a month we made in two or three weeks because we were living together. Although I wasn’t a fan at first, now I preach it.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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