NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – It was dark in a small village in the Sherzad District in eastern Afghanistan on the night of Dec. 23.
But not dark enough for a Soldier in Troop A, 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, attached to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, to see two heads silhouetted in a house eyeing the joint patrol.
“The gunner spotted a couple of people looking over what looked to be a wall at us,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Eric D. Vantyle, a cavalry scout team leader assigned to Troop A, 1st Sqdn., 61st Cav. Regt., Task Force Panther. “All he could see was there were two heads and they were peeking over the wall. He hit them with a spotlight and they ducked out of sight.”
The joint patrol spotted the two people after coming across a possible improvised explosive device on a small, dusty village road during a recent operation to clear western Nangarhar Province.
Quickly, Afghan National Army soldiers from 2nd Company, 3rd Kandak, 2nd Infantry Brigade, 201st Corps, and Vantyle’s troops went to find out who the two heads were.
“We knocked on a couple of doors and it turned out to be couple of little girls,” Vantyle said. “I think it should make the villagers feel a little safer and have a little security in their life. That’s how I’d feel if I were in their shoes. I’m sure that’s how my kids would feel.”
Vantyle, a father of two from Walton, N.Y., said they were in the area because it has traditionally been a Taliban stronghold, but the Taliban are no longer safe there.
“I think it’s definitely telling them that we’re coming for them, but the Taliban already knows that,” Vantyle continued. “I’d like to think that it’s also telling them that we’re not leaving ‘til the job’s done. We’re going to get their army trained up and have them doing missions so we don’t have to.”
The joint operation was just another example of the ANA soldiers stepping up to help their own country, Vantyle added.
“If the villagers can see us down here working together, then they can think that they also can help rebuild this country together with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” explained ANA Capt. Amid Mohammed, commander of 2nd Co., 3rd Kandak, 2nd Bde., 201st Corps.
He further explained that many of the villagers have weapons to protect themselves. Mohammed said he believes that’s no longer necessary because the ANA is here to provide that protection now.
Since the beginning of the operation, there has been no sign of the Taliban. Mohammed said that’s because they were scared to fight so many soldiers during such a show of force.
“We are here together to do this mission and it shows that we are strong, so the Taliban doesn’t want to fight us,” said Mohammed. “The important thing is that we are working together and learning from each other to get better every day.”
U.S. Army Capt. Jordan G. Bradford, a TF Panther plans officer from Little Rock, Ark., shared the same view as Mohammed.
“Right now the resistance we have received in Sherzad has been significantly less than we initially thought,” he said. “We’ve gone out there in such force that the Taliban has run away from the area… We tell the people, ‘We’re here to help you out and these Taliban guys have run away.’”
Bradford said the Soldiers are trained and ready to fight whatever comes their way, but that isn’t necessarily what they’re looking for.
“We don’t want to fight people,” Bradford explained. “We don’t want to shoot people. We don’t want to blow things up. It’s counterproductive to what we want to do with the Afghan people and the Afghan government. You know, a good patrol is a patrol that goes out, trains the ANA, finds out what the local population needs and wants, as well as develop the local government. That’s a successful patrol.”
Right now, Bradford said what people want is safety and roads clear of IEDs.
“If there’s an IED in the area, the women and kids didn’t put that IED there,” said Bradford. “Someone who wanted to do someone some harm put that IED there. The best thing that we can do is to go in there with our assets and safely clean up and dispose of the IED. Then make sure we tell the local population that these Taliban guys put this IED in the road to hurt somebody. We took it out so you can drive safely and you don’t have to worry about an IED going off while you’re travelling down the road.”
That’s exactly what the ANA and Vantyle do: make it safe for Afghans.
“We’re working with the ANA and putting our faces out there together,” Vantyle said. “We checked out an IED that ended up not being one; all in all, mission accomplished.”
After more than 24 hours driving the dusty, rocky and oftentimes dangerous roads of Afghanistan, Vantyle and the other troops returned to Forward Operating Base Connolly for a rest.
As soon as they parked their vehicles, they were already loading it up with new supplies to depart on another joint patrol in just a few short hours. With the Taliban on the run in Sherzad District, the ANA and Soldiers of Troop A aren’t giving them any time to get very far.
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