Fort Drum's 2nd Brigade Combat Team is preparing for a January deployment to eastern Afghanistan. The deployment marks a shift for troops from combat to advising and assisting the Afghan security forces.
More upper-level soldiers will deploy, and their roles are changing, from infantry operations to teaching and mentoring the Afghan army and police. And there will be fewer soldiers going than usual – only 1,500 to 2,000.
This week, soldiers were competing in a variety of training exercises to prepare for Afghanistan. Colonel Dennis Sullivan commands the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Speaking from a warming tent on Fort Drum, he said what the new mission really requires is a change in mindset.
"And that was probably the toughest thing to do, to be able to say no longer is your success determined by, you know, your results against the enemy, but your success is based upon how competent the Afghan army is, so that they can succeed in their execution of the war against the insurgents in Afghanistan," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said his soldiers will be split up into 10- to 12-man teams to help train and advise Afghan army and police forces. The hope is that police can better control villages, so the army can focus on rural areas. He said some of his soldiers have been learning about community policing with Syracuse police.
As the war effort in Afghanistan has shifted to training Afghan security forces, coalition forces have been plagued by insider attacks by members of their Afghan partner units. Sullivan says those attacks are often a result of cultural misunderstandings rather than terrorist motivations. He's teaching his troops not to let such attacks drive a wedge between them and their Afghan counterparts.
"And it isn't, okay, step back now and look at them differently, but really, it's to stay close and get to know them," Sullivan said. "So it's like in your own family, if someone's not, if something's bothering them, you know it, because you see them every day, you interact with them, as opposed to, why don't we take a step back and thinking that separation is going to make you safer."
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team's deployment begins in January. Fort Drum's 1st Brigade Combat Team also has orders to deploy this winter, in a similar role.