KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Maj. Loren Adams of New Liberty, Iowa, veterinary officer for the 734th ADT, teaches Kunar Women's Shura member Sohila how to tie (click for more)
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – TF White Eagle doctors wash an Afghan woman`s burned leg to prepare her for further treatment. (click for more)
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Two Afghan girls peek out of a schoolhouse window in the town of Kachur Jan. 15. (click for more)
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - A town barber trims the beard of a village elder in the town of Kotalay Jan. 10. (click for more)
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Sgt. Heather Eberle of Altoona, Iowa, combat medic with the 734th ADT, makes friends with Afghan children inside their home compound in (click for more)
PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William R. Haley (left), fills out paperwork while U.S. Army Spc. Joshua A. Knaack looks on. Both are Sioux City, (click for more)
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Pfc. Ryan B. Stuart of Brooklyn Park, Minn., assigned to Task Force Storm, provides security for Afghan National Security Forces in Kharwar (click for more)
PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Members of the 1st Coy, 1st Kandak ANA prepare to disrupt and prevent insurgents from planting an IED on a road near Tatanak Village in Zormat (click for more)
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Mohammed Anwar, the cousin of a shop owner in Mata Khan District, sews a scarf here Jan. 10. (click for more)
*Note: This is the first of a series of stories detailing the events that transpire in one small village in Afghanistan – the village of Kotalay. The village, or at least the area immediately surrounding it, has been a hotbed of enemy activity for 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, part of the 34th Infantry “Red Bulls” Division. This series will look at the interaction between the platoon and the village each month, just one village of many in Co. A’s area of operations.
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - North and to the immediate south of the village there have been improvised explosive device attacks. East of the village, U.S. Army and Afghan National Army troops have reacted to a small-arms gunfire attack. The same is true to the west of the village.
In fact, all around the village of Kotalay, in eastern Afghanistan, the Soldiers have encountered enemy activity.
“It’s really a village that’s caught in the middle,” said U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Rob Labios, the platoon leader for 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment. “It’s a village sandwiched by the Taliban. I believe the villagers when they say, ‘We don’t have insurgents here,’ but the insurgents are coming from the east and from the west. To the west of Kotalay is the Sygal Valley, where many of the insurgents are.”
Labios and his men from 3rd Plt. made a return trip to Kotalay Jan. 10, a village they visited three times before. They faced contact twice.
Their first trip to the village Dec. 12 went as planned. The unit conducted a key-leader engagement. Since it was the first one, U.S. Army Sgt. Toby Hall, a civil affairs team leader with Co. A, 413th Civil Affairs Bn., said the unit introduced itself to the people of the village.
“It was a basic relationship-building meeting,” said Hall, a native of Amarillo, Texas, who has been to Kotalay on three of the platoon’s missions to the town. “We asked them how long it had been since the coalition had been there, and they said no one had been in there in forever; they just saw trucks rolling by.”
The next two visits were not so friendly. On Dec. 20, 3rd Plt. was headed toward the village from north. Since their home base, Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, is south of Kotalay on a road called Route Nebraska, on the first visit, the unit approached from the south. This time, the platoon was headed to Kotalay from Combat Outpost Najil, to the north. The unit was planning to conduct a KLE in the village when they heard shots from the mountainside around Nurem to the west.
“We were able to chase them down,” Labios said. “I remember talking to the police chief about Nurem being a place where high value targets and Taliban were conducting meetings, and we know they were watching us.”
The next trip to Kotalay the platoon again faced contact and quickly deterred it, potentially saving the lives of coalition forces or innocent civilians, Labios said.
“The third time to Kotalay, we found an IED, found the wires, and were shot at in so doing,” Labios said. “We fired back at the enemy and chased them off of the huge mountain they were hiding on to the east of the village.”
In addition to the attacks on 3rd Plt., a provincial reconstruction team was hit by an IED about 100 meters south of the town Dec. 2.
And on Jan. 10, as they walked down the edges of irrigated fields, Labios returned into historically hostile territory. This time, however, he said some progress was made.
Labios admitted the meeting was at times frustrating, but said progress in the town is a long, step-by-step process, and during this KLE, there were numerous small victories. For example, it was the first time Labios said he had a substantial meeting with the town’s malik, Gulam Hazrat.
Hazrat said he was responsible for the actions of the people of Kotalay, and that they were not attacking the coalition, it was the insurgents around the village. He invited the coalition to search the homes in the village, and said he only cared about the people in his village.
After listening to the malik speak, Labios implored the leader for more action.
“You can’t have the attitude of just protecting your village,” Labios told him. “This is your country. If you look out for the villages around you, they will protect you too. You need to make every effort to give the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Uniformed Police and us any information you can on IEDs or planned attacks in the area. These are all your people. You need to be proactive and do whatever it takes.”
After listening to the young lieutenant, Hazrat agreed he could do more.
Hazrat asked for help for his village with projects such as a retaining wall around the village mosque to keep floodwaters out.
As a possible solution, Labios suggested the village sign up for the “Go Green” program.
In the Go Green program, village elders and residents must sign a contract stating they will report insurgent activity in or around their village immediately to their local police at the district center or to the coalition.
Once this paperwork is submitted, the village is placed on a 90-day probationary period. If no insurgent activity occurs within that time, the village moves into “amber” status and is eligible for assistance on projects, such as the retaining wall Hazrat mentioned. However, once a significant act against the coalition occurs, Hall said the village loses its ability for assistance.
“I’ll be watching closely to see if they actually submit that paperwork,” Labios said.
At just over 5 feet tall, Labios immediately endeared himself to the youngsters of the village. The 24-year-old, who volunteered for this deployment from his hometown of Davis, Calif., was all business in his talk with the elders, but had a quick smile and jokes for the children. Within minutes, it seemed like every child from the 300 families in the village was surrounding him to share a playful exchange with the platoon’s leader.
The kids have proven very useful to the platoon in the past. During their one visit to the Sygal Valley, the enemy’s proverbial doorstep, a child helped the coalition win the battle against the enemy, said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kurt Behrens, 3rd Plt. platoon sergeant from Norwalk, Iowa.
“We were doing stops at buildings near a hill and asking people in the buildings, ‘Is the Taliban down there?’ and they were saying ‘Yes,’” Behrens recalled. “Some kid got released from school in the area we were going to, because they knew we were going to be attacked. So the kid walked up to us and told us they closed school because you’re going to get attacked.”
Solving the problems in Kotalay will definitely not be an easy task, Labios acknowledged. He said he has information the enemy may be visiting the village at night and harassing the people, checking to see if they have called the coalition and taking their phones and breaking them as well as beating the people up. The cell towers throughout northeastern Afghanistan are shut off at night, and it is widely known this is because the Taliban have threatened the lives of the operators.
Meanwhile, Labios said the coalition faces the challenge of dealing with the village ethically while the enemy continues to employ terroristic tactics.
Whatever happens in Kotalay, one thing is certain, Labios and his Soldiers will not stop trying to make it a better place for visitors and city residents.
“If we don’t take action against the Taliban together,” Labios told Hazrat, “it’s your people and your children who will end up getting hurt by their actions. It comes down to the warrior ethos. We’ve got to keep working and we’ll defeat the enemy.”
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