Task Force Commander: More Confident Afghan Forces Taking the Fight to the Taliban
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps advise-and-assist unit saw a demoralized and inactive Afghan security force when it arrived in volatile Helmand Province last year, but “over the course of time we enabled our partners to steal the initiative from the Taliban,” the commander of the task force said.
The key factor in the turnaround was the Afghans’ restored confidence in their ability to conduct offensive operations, said Brig. Gen. Roger B. Turner, the recently returned commanding general of Task Force Southwest.
“It wasn’t necessarily their capability, but their confidence,” he said.
When Turner’s unit of about 300 Marines and Sailors arrived in Helmand last April “our Afghan partners were completely demoralized. They had suffered defeat after defeat,” and were bottled up in a few compounds around the larger cities, he told a Brookings Institution forum March 30.
With help from the Marine advisers and some U.S. air and artillery support, the Afghan forces went on the offensive and after some successes regained their confidence and willingness to attack, he said.
“They realized if they controlled the tempo, they could take the initiative from the Taliban,” he said.
Shortly before Turner’s task force arrived, the Taliban had boldly announced their plan to take control of all of Helmand and make Laskar Gah, the province’s largest city, the capital of their caliphate.
“But they are losing terrain, which was a great blow to them,” he said.
Among the key lessons Turner said he took away from his tour in Helmand was that “Afghan national security forces [ANSF], property enabled, can and will defeat the Taliban at the point of attack.” The ANSF includes the national and local police, as well as the Army, he noted.
He also learned that “advising is a non-kinetic effect used to enhance the task force’s warfighting capability by, with and through the partner force.”
The Marines trained and advised the Afghan forces, helped with intelligence and planning, but did not accompany them on offensive actions, Turner said.
“Accompanying ANSF on missions can reverse their momentum and create dependency on U.S. forces,” he said. “The Afghans didn’t want us with them” and took great pride in successfully conducting their operations.
Turner noted that with the battlefield successes, the ANSF shed many of the weakness that hobbled them in the past. The Helmand forces reduced their casualties by 40 percent from the previous year and cut the high rate of desertions, he said.
The general also praised the new Southwest Asia strategy announced last year by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, which reversed the previous “time-based” policy on U.S. force presence with a conditions-based approach.
“It’s very important that our partners know we’re going to be with them,” and the Taliban saw “they were not going to be able to achieve the results they had announced,” he said.
Asked his view of the Army’s decision to create specialized advise-and-assist brigades, while his advisers were experienced officers and noncommissioned officers with some training in how to help partner forces, Turner said: “I think we put far too much emphasis on that” specialization.
It was more import that the advisers be good at their trade, he said.
Asked about the U.S. complaints that Pakistan harbors Taliban leaders and fighters, Turner said “the Taliban in Helmand couldn’t exist without external support. They get that from a number of elements,” he said, without naming Pakistan.