In September of 2002, former U.S. Army Staff Sgt., Special Forces Medic, Thomas
Doherty remembers when the Afghan security forces had little to no military experience
“They didn’t know how to zero their weapons, provide basic medical care, plan a mission, or create and target an objective; they didn’t know the most basic of combat skills,” Doherty recalls of his first years in Afghanistan. “We had to teach them everything, and give them everything.”
Twelve years later, and after multiple deployments, Doherty, now an Army Captain, Operation Detachment Alpha, detachment commander, says the Afghan’s aren’t just planning their own missions; they are, in fact training other Afghans how to train, operate and command their own units.
“The Afghans have come a long way,” said Doherty who was a mentor to the Afghans at the Commando School of Excellence in 2014. “Today there is not a single primary American instructor [at the school of excellence]. Afghans are teaching other Afghans what Americans used to teach them.”
Doherty, along with his 11-man team, is tasked to train Afghans serving in the 2nd Special Operations Kandak (the equivalent of a U.S. Army battalion), Afghan National Army Special Operations Command located at Camp McGill, Gardez.
After years of training Afghan security forces, Doherty is seeing the fruits of his labors realized.
On June 4, the 2nd SOK headed out on a mission in Zurmat District targeting a bazaar where the Taliban have been housing weapons. With the ODA listening in the background, the2nd SOK commander, Lt. Col. Popal Abdullah, leads the mission brief.
The orders Abdullah gives are clear:
• Clear all the weapons from the bazaar,
• neutralize the enemy,
• watch for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and
• support GIROA (Government of Islamic Republic Afghanistan)
Giving orders, preparing briefs, gathering intelligence and fighting in the front lines is a far cry from not knowing the basics of first-aid, but was a necessary transition in order for the Afghans to take control of their country’s security forces.
Taking the lead in defending and supporting their country is something the Afghans transitioned to under the Resolute Support Mission which started January 1. Under RS, the U.S. is tasked to train, advise and assist the Afghans in the fight to defend their country against insurgents.
“With your support, you’ve trained us, you’ve mentored us and with the will of God, the enemy cannot get us,” said Col. Safullah Najrabi, deputy commander of Afghanistan's 1st Special Operations Brigade.
Though the Afghan security forces have come a long way, there is still more for them to learn in order to be fully successful in their mission to defend their country on their own.
Doherty is working on what he calls, “second-order advising.” That is, teaching the Afghans how to think ahead in their planning efforts.
“Being able to plan for future operations and prepare for future equipment needs in an Afghan sustainable way,” he said. “Plan training, account for current supplies, move logistics, allocate resources and develop intellectual capital, that’s the biggest hurdle that we’re working on right now.”
Though Doherty says the Afghans aren’t yet fully sustainable and still rely on the U.S.
for equipment and air support, he believes the Afghan special security forces are worth the investment and remains vigilant in giving the Afghan National Security Forces the proper training and guidance to move the country forward in a positive way.
“The lesson learned for Afghanistan isn’t Afghanistan, it’s Iraq,” he said. “We should use that as a predicative model for what Afghanistan can become without the proper support."