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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hard work creates progress in border provinces

May 16, 2007
By Army Pfc. Daniel M. Rangel
22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

PARUNS, Afghanistan – Travel far enough into Afghanistan and you’ll find independent-minded people, confident in their attitudes and behaviors. Tribesmen here brandish Rocket Propelled Grenades and Kalashnikov rifles unlike the unarmed Afghans in the more urban areas.

The Korengal Outpost in the border Province of Kunar, has been a contentious region between these independent-minded people and Coalition forces and therefore serves as part of Afghanistan’s front lines against enemy insurgents.

The elder tribesmen from the Korengal Valley met for peace talks with Coalition leaders and Nuristan Gov. Tamim Nouristani at his compound in the Paruns Valley May 3.

“The Korengal Valley [elders, whose home] is enemy central for Kunar Province, where we’ve been doing most our fighting for the last 14 months now, have decided they want a third party outside of Kunar Province to talk their problems down,” said Army Capt. David W. Mayfield, Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment. “They trust Governor Nouristani to be that third-party element to help them solve that problem.”

Nouristani’s family is from Nuristan, but he was educated in the U.S. and owns a pizza restaurant chain there, Mayfield said.

“It’s going pretty good. Nuristan is pretty lucky having Governor Nouristani,” Mayfield said. “He came back to Afghanistan several years ago, was appointed as governor of Nuristan Province and he’s been working diligently ever since.”

Negotiations are going well in part because of the great amounts of hard work being done by Coalition troops on the ground that leaves the enemy with little alternative but to come to the negotiating table.

“We’ve been shot at 50 to 100 times. But our platoon has been really lucky,” said Army Spc. John K. Anderson, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1-32 Inf. Rgt, from Flat Rock, Ala. “We haven’t had any kind of casualties besides our platoon sergeant (Sfc. Lopez) who got some shrapnel from a bullet jacket, but he’s fine now.”

“I’ve been in the army for three years. This is my first time to Afghanistan, first time getting deployed. I’ve been here since [last] March,” Anderson said.

When not on the front lines standing guard at the Korengal Outpost or out on foot patrols all around Kunar Province, Anderson and his platoon are hiking the mountains of Afghanistan retrieving lost Humanitarian Assistance drop packages or pulling security for a medical engagement.

“There for a while, we pulled security for the engineers then we started doing missions out of it which was a lot of walking. When you look at it on a map it doesn’t look like that much, maybe a ‘click’ (kilometer) or two. But look at your range and it’s straight up and straight down,” Anderson said.

Forward Operating Base Fenty is Afghanistan’s eastern gate. From there, Soldiers and a handful of sailors and airmen travel to the provincial reconstruction teams and other FOBs. Travel to the PRTs and FOBs is done by armored convoy or helicopter.

Anderson and his unit worked side-by-side with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police to provide security for the peace summit at the governor’s compound.

“It’s been a long day of work,” said Navy Cmdr. Samuel Paparo, commander of the Nuristan PRT after returning from peace talks with Nouristani and the Korengal Valley elders.

“Suicide bombing is on the rise in Afghanistan, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things aren’t going well. Just because one bad thing is happening doesn’t mean things aren’t going well,” Paparo said.

“I think the reconstruction helps convince them that their needs are going to be met best by the legitimate Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” Paparo said.

The Coalition’s plan to reconcile with tribal elders in these remote provinces is making progress.

“The influence of the government through the coalition is spreading farther and further East and farther and further North for this [area of operations],” Paparo said. “This demonstrates progress.”

“The Korengali elders are here to speak with the governor and they’re here to see the dividends that peace provides. That’s progress. We’ve moved from Naray to Kamdesh and we have a permanent outpost in Kamdesh where they’re making an outreach and implementing reconstruction. That’s progress,” Paparo said. “We have gone from Asadabad to Camp Blessing in Nangalam. We haven’t been in Nangalam before. That is progress. We hope to have a PRT and a FOB right here in Paruns and that is progress. And there’s a PRT and a maneuver element in Kala Gush in western Nuristan where it hasn’t been before – and that’s progress.”

It is the intention of the TF Spartan commanders to move the Nuristan PRT to the Province’s capital in Paruns.

“I’m in constant preparation for it and I prefer that it happen sooner rather than later,” Paparo said. “I want to be here as soon as I can because I realize the sooner the PRT is here co-located with the seat of government the sooner it will be more effective and the more effective it will be in our very important work,” Paparo said.

Photo: The ANP and an American Soldier coordinate security in the governor’s compound before the peace talks May 3.

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