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Busy Buffaloes: 1-17 Infantry Across Afghanistan

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As February comes to a close on the battlefields of Southern Afghanistan, the men of Task Force Buffalo reminisce about seven months of tough patrolling and look toward the future when they can return to their families.  The Buffaloes made their mark in Afghanistan by engaging in some of the most intense combat since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.  Almost to the man, the Buffaloes met the enemy head on in the Arghandab River Valley.  In December 2009, the Task Force was given a new mission to secure the roads and ensure that Afghans and NATO troops alike could travel throughout the country without fear of IEDs.  A critical part of that mission was to provide support to the ongoing mission to secure the town of Marjah, in Helmand Province.  The Marjah offensive is a central focus of President Obama and GEN McChrystal's strategy for Afghanistan, and the 5/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) fought the enemy to allow vital supplies and equipment to safely reach the battle in Marjah.  The Buffaloes were intimately involved in this mission.

In January, the men of A/1-17 received news that they would be moving to help secure the main road to Marjah.  The entire company packed up all their gear and moved to join the Legionnaires of Task Force Legion at FOB Ramrod.  A/1-17 and Task Force Legion were given the mission to secure HWY 1, which leads from NATO headquarters at Kandahar Airfield west until it intersects with a smaller highway leading to Marjah.  A/1-17 was fighting the enemy on a daily basis as NATO ramped up for the Marjah offensive and moved troops into position.  As the day of the attack on Marjah neared, A/1-17 once again received a change of mission... now they would be participating in the attack.  A/1-17 was one of two companies from 5/2 SBCT given the task to secure strategic canal systems surrounding Marjah and root out the insurgents attempting to flee.  Since early February, A/1-17 has been on the outskirts of Marjah defending the canal and its bridge crossings, searching for insurgents and IEDs, and engaging with the local population.

Joining A/1-17 in their mission was an additional company from 4/23 IN, the Tomahawks.  The company from 4-23 had to leave the area they had been operating in, and it too fell to the Buffaloes.  In early February 2010, B/1-17 received the order that they would help to cover that gap.  Two platoons and the company headquarters from B/1-17 left and travelled to Helmand, where they began conducting missions in their third new area of operations in two months.  Both A/1-17 and B/1-17 have performed admirably, working in new areas for new commanders in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.  The Buffaloes of A/1-17 and B/1-17 repeatedly appeared in newspapers and news reports  fighting the Taliban and helping civilians, playing a major role in the US Military's main effort in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, back at FOB Frontenac the remainder of Task Force Buffalo continued work in the Shah Wali Kot and Northern Arghandab Districts.  Two platoons from B/1-17 joined the Mortar PLT with HHC to become Team Hatchet and began conducting operations in B/1-17's old area.  C/1-17 pushed north and began building a new COP at the Shah Wali Kot District Center, where they began building a relationship with the District Governor and the Chief of Police.  C/1-17 has made great strides in gaining the trust of these local leaders, working hand in hand with them to bring positive changes to the Afghan people.  C/1-17 has been patrolling the main road that connects Kandahar Province to Tarin Kowt, the capital of neighboring Uruzgon Province, and has helped the Afghan National Police(ANP) begin to take responsibility for the road and for the towns in their district.  Huge strides in the capabilities of the police have been made as a result of the partnership between C/1-17 and the ANP, and we have seen the ANP take the lead recently in finding IEDs and hunting down the insurgents responsible for emplacing them. 

Two weeks ago, the rainy season in Afghanistan kicked off, and flash floods caused severe damage to roads, farms, and houses throughout the Buffaloes' area of operation.  The Buffaloes were out in force.  C/1-17 pulled out vehicles that had become stuck in the mud or flooding creeks and guarded areas of the road that were too dangerous to cross safely.  In the wake of the floods, C/1-17 received numerous requests for aid from local Afghans who lost homes due to the rapidly rising waters.  The next day, the company partnered with the District Governor to hand out food and blankets to those who needed it.  The Buffaloes of C/1-17 also discovered many villages had sustained significant damage, but the locals were afraid to come ask for help  due to fear of reprisal from the Taliban.  The company then loaded up with tents and supplies and helped the ANP carry the provisions to wherever they were needed.

South of the FOB, Team Hatchet also met with local leaders to assess the damage from the floods.  The locals in this area had escaped damage to their homes for the most part, but their fields, farm equipment, and newly planted seed had been almost entirely wiped out.  Team Hatchet and the Governor again came to the aid of the local Afghans, distributing wheat seed to replant their crops and  water pumps and hoses to irrigate the fields until the local canals could be fixed.  Through their coordination  with the local ANP, Team Hatchet discovered that the villages in their area had historically been excluded from the local shuras.  The Buffaloes encouraged them to attend and begin taking an active part in the governance of their district.  Since then, almost twenty-five villages have been sending representatives to the weekly shuras and are actively participating.  As a result, the need for a school closer to their villages was discovered, the other schools in the district being too far for their children to walk to.  Team Hatchet is helping build a school for the children.

The Buffaloes at FOB Frontenac were not content to "just" help the locals while their brothers in A/1-17 and B/1-17 were fighting near Marjah.  Task Force Buffalo's artillery battery, the Cobras of C/3-17, continued to help take the fight to the enemy by establishing a firebase on the northern edge of the AO.  This firebase is located along the main road the Task Force has been tasked to protect.  It is also near enemy safe havens and denies the enemy the ability to use them to stage attacks.  By placing "the Big Guns" there, C/3-17 is able to provide artillery support for more of C/1-17's area, as well as support the local ANP who patrol along the road, and another Afghan security force to the North.  It sets the Task Force up for success upon the return of A/1-17 and B/1-17, and allows the Buffaloes to maintain pressure on the enemy, keeping them separated from the population.

As all of these operations were going on, and Buffaloes were working hard across Afghanistan, another mission was being conducted; the mission to get all Soldiers home for R&R leave.  At any given time, 1-17 IN has almost 100 Soldiers on leave.  All of the difficult and challenging operations being undertaken are often led by junior leaders who are stepping up into positions of greater responsibility, and doing an excellent job.  From private to battalion commander, each and every Buffalo has taken on additional responsibilities so that everyone gets a chance to go home for two weeks.  Soon, everyone will have completed their R&R.  Soon, A/1-17 and B/1-17 will rejoin their Buffalo brethren, attack the enemy, and continue to bring peace and improvement to their part of Afghanistan.  Soon, the Buffaloes will come home for good.  Until then the Buffaloes are ready for whatever mission is required of them.

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