In September, I embedded with units from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, which ran Task Force Curahee in eastern Afghanistan. Its commander is Col. Pete Johnson, who spoke to the Pentagon press today by teleconference for the final time before the brigade comes home later this month.

A couple of points worth noting: the Afghan border force "does not have [the] capacity" to police the border, though the task force has been getting them better training and heavier weapons. Although they’ve established some border checkpoints, "quite frankly we’ve got to get the border police capable of conducting area security, offensive operations, to defeat an enemy in a largely porous border region that has very restrictive terrain," Johnson said.

Also, this past winter did in fact see an increase in insurgent operations:

With respect to what the situation is in terms of the enemy effort, as I said, I think over this past year there’s been about a — you know, roughly a 20 percent increase in overall enemy activity, and over the last two months I would say compared to 2008, roughly about 30 percent.   
 
So it has risen somewhat, partly, I believe, due to the really good weather that the enemy has had to be able to operate in the border regions. Normally the winters are much more severe. And quite frankly, this year has been relatively temperate. We have had snow in the upper elevations, but many of the passes that would normally be blocked just were not.   

Johnson went on to say that most of the attacks were ineffective, though.

There are also problems with getting a coordinated coalition message:

I think the largest weakness right now in our information engagement is sometimes we can’t quite get a cohesive, strong message from the local level all the way up to the national level. And we continue to work on that; we continue to improve our own communication with our Afghan partners. But that’s critical, I think, to get that message right from the village all the way up to the national level.

One bright(er?) spot is that the insurgency relies "almost absolute[ly]" on "foreign fighters from Pakistan and other countries" for their larger attacks, Johnson said. "To me, this reflects a lack of willingness within the population to actively support the enemy’s efforts and the importance of external support for them to achieve their goals."

In any event, thanks to Johnson and everyone who’s part of Curahee for hosting me in September. As much as I learned from you fine soldiers, I truly hope we don’t have to see each other again in Afghanistan.
 
Crossposted from The Streak.

 

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman