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LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan woman works outside in the village of Tili Jan. 20. During the three-day mission, the female engagement team interviewed several female members of the village, marking the first time a U.S. presence had been in the village in more than a year. (Photo by U.S. Army Capt. Jodi Marti, Task Force Red Bulls)LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - When U.S. Army Capt. Jodi Marti got a call Jan. 18 from the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment operations section requesting her female engagement team go to Najil, she knew she was dealing with a big mission. At the time, she just didn’t know how big.

Marti, from Knoxville, Iowa, is the commander of Company E, 1st Bn., 133rd Inf., part of the Iowa National Guard’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls.

“I was called in the middle of the night,” Marti recalled. “They requested a FET, and with Soldiers on leave and so forth, I only had so many to pick from. The mission was to air assault in northeast of the village of Tili and push through the Mayl Valley.”

Twenty-four hours later, the team was in the air.

During the mission, dubbed “Operation Rock Star”, the seven female Soldiers and infantry Soldiers from Co. A, 1st Bn., 133rd Inf., as well as other U.S. and Afghan assets, swept through the Mayl Valley.

“In the Islamic culture, men cannot search women, and a lot of times men cannot engage in conversation with the women,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Shannon Osterholm, a truck driver with Co. E, 1st Bn., 133rd Inf., and FET member from Mason City, Iowa. “So the overall goal of the FET is to get information out of the female population because they know a lot about what is going on, sometimes more than what the men will give up.”

There are numerous cultural considerations the FET members had to consider and adhere to during the mission, according to U.S. Army Sgt. Samantha Kauffman, a signal support systems specialist with Co. E and FET member from West Union, Iowa. She said no man, other than a woman’s husband, is supposed to see the woman’s face or hair. If a piece of clothing such as a scarf needed to be removed during a search, the FET would have to take the woman into a room or concealed area to do so, with security being in place around the room.

The females completed FET training at their mobilization station prior to deploying, including cultural awareness issues taught by Afghan women.

“We didn’t just search the Afghan females, we let them know we were not there to harm them,” said U.S. Army Spc. Kimberly Lindsey, an administration specialist with Co. E and FET member from Eldora, Iowa.

“Some females didn’t even want you patting them down in the presence of a male, so that got a little challenging,” Kauffman said. “Then you’d be attempting to find a discreet place to search them, away from everybody, but you’re in the middle of the mountains, so you didn’t have a lot of places to go.”

The team proved even with cultural sensitivities, Afghan women could be searched and valuable information found. The enemy has been known to conceal information and items with their women.

On one woman, who the team members said was visibly nervous at the time of the search, the team found a cell phone with numbers of a man making improvised explosive devices in the area, as well as the information of several of his insurgent colleagues. The man, who was hiding in a closet in his shop, was located during the mission, along with a large amount of homemade explosives.

“They did a controlled detonation in a cave on the mountain of some of the explosives we found in a pressure-cooker,” Osterholm said. “All of a sudden, you heard this massive boom and could see and feel the shockwaves move down from the mountainside through the valley.”

It was a good find, and one the team members said they know may have saved U.S. and Afghan lives.

With the knowledge that the explosives were destroyed and couldn’t be used to harm coalition forces, Osterholm said the mission was a satisfying experience, especially from a truck driver’s perspective.

“For me, it felt like I had helped to do something to keep the convoys I’m on a little bit safer,” she said. “It was just unreal.”

“When our guys would find weapons and stuff, we knew it was a good thing,” Marti said. “We thought, maybe because of this, some Soldiers and civilians won’t get harmed.”

During the mission, Marti said her team of seven Soldiers separated into three small groups.

The first group included of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jennifer Voegtlin, a combat medic from Altoona, Iowa, with Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 1st Bn., 133rd Inf., U.S. Army Pvt. Olivia McBride, a production control specialist with Co. E from West Union, Iowa, and U.S. Army Pfc. Shannyanne Adame, a truck driver with Co. E from Bettendorf, Iowa.

Their task during the operation was to search females at a traffic control point just northeast of Combat Outpost Najil.

The second and third teams moved with the mission’s maneuvering elements through the mountainous Mayl Valley. Osterholm and Kauffman paired together and moved through the south end of valley. Marti and Lindsey moved through the northern part of the valley.

“We searched females throughout the valley and helped talk to them,” Osterholm recalled. “There were a few situations where the matriarchs of the village were quite helpful in giving us information on where the Taliban had been.”

The mission was also a very physically demanding one, especially for the teams moving through the valley. They arrived in enemy territory in the middle of the night in an area unfamiliar to them or anyone in the operation.

“We immediately scaled the face of this cliff to go down into Tili,” Marti recalled. “The females we came across were a little different from those the other team encountered; they didn’t want anything to do with us. Tili was the hardest village.”

The team hiked up and down the steep cliffs with full rucksacks numerous times during the course of the mission.

Osterholm and Kauffman’s team was at the foot of a mountain which was a known enemy hideout just outside Tili. The enemy was identified and engaged by coalition aircraft.

At the end of the day, several Taliban members were confirmed killed during the battle damage assessment and numerous weapons caches were collected.

“The light show we watched was very close, very loud and bright!” Osterholm said. “It was much closer than we anticipated. This mountain we were beside just got lit up.”

The FET members worked their way from one village to another throughout the valley, interviewing women after coalition forces cleared the towns. They also catalogued and photographed evidence found in the searches.

In the village of Kanday, the Soldiers searched the house of a known high value target where several pieces of enemy information/propaganda were seized.

“It was chaotic,” said Marti. “No matter what village we went into, it seemed like there was something going on.”

“We didn’t know what to expect, no one knew,” Lindsey said. “We knew what our overall mission was, but no one had really done this before.”

But, after three challenging days, coalition forces had killed more than 10 insurgents, seized hundreds of pounds of explosives, weapons, money and other information from the insurgency, and the FET showed they could go into uncharted waters, and contribute to a highly successful mission.
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan women stand obscured in the village of Tili Jan. 20 during a three-day mission to the area. It was the first time for a U.S. presence in the village in more than a year. Female engagement team members participated in the mission dubbed “Operation Rockstar” in which coalition forces eliminated several insurgency members, as well as seized hundreds of pounds of homemade explosives, weapons and other pieces of the enemy operating in Northeastern Afghanistan. (Photo by U.S. Army Capt. Jodi Marti, Task Force Red Bulls)

 

    

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Coalition forces engage insurgents in Kapisa

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Coalition forces killed seven insurgents in defensive operations in the Alah Say District, Kapisa Province, eastern Afghanistan, March 29.

Coalition forces and aircraft responded to an insurgent attack. Four insurgents were killed by air strike and three were killed by direct fire from coalition forces.

All rounds were reported safe and on target. There were no reports of injuries or damages to civilians in the area.

 
ANSF, ISAF begin major operation in Laghman valley

LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The Afghan National Security Forces, partnered with U.S. Task Forces Red Bulls and Phoenix and French Task Force La Fayette, began operations in Galuch Valley, Laghman Province, March 25.

Soldiers of the Afghan National Army’s 201st Corps, Afghan National Police’s 202nd Shamshod and the U.S. Army’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, TF Red Bulls, supported by the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, TF Phoenix, conducted an air assault into the valley to remove enemy forces. Battle Group Richelieu, TF La Fayette, provided artillery support from Kapisa Province.

While conducting operations, the forces found multiple weapons caches including assorted rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, Russian rockets, materials to make homemade explosives, various other ordnances and communication equipment.  

While moving through the valley, unit leadership met with village elders to discuss the security situation and to allow them to give up insurgents still in the area.

The operation will assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in establishing the valley as a new district giving the Afghan people in the area freedom from the insurgency.   

President Hamid Karzai approved the creation of the additional district and hopes the new district will help improve the security of the area and support the reconstruction effort.

Mohammad Iqbal Azizi, Laghman Province governor, held a press conference March 7 announcing the establishment of a new district located in the valley.

 
ANSF, TF Bastogne continue operations in Kunar

 

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Security Forces and coalition troops from Task Force Bastogne continued operations in the Shigal District March 18 after clearing the village of Lawsin and the surrounding area.

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Afghan leaders, coalition forces look forward

PAKTYA, Afghanistan – Leaders from across eastern Afghanistan attended a security conference March 9 at Forward Operating Base Thunder, the home of the Afghan Army’s 203rd Thunder Corps.

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