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Scaparrotti, Troxell and Soika discuss success of COIN in Afghanistan

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I watched as PV2 Jonathan Prouse took measured steps on a road that led into Mutashim.

Careful footfalls meant not triggering an improvised explosive device, or IED.

A small village on the west side of the Argandab River in the Zharay District of Kandahar Province, its elders had asked for 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, to come and talk to them about their mosque.

"They've asked that we come and discuss with them how to move or save their mosque from the river," 1Lt. Ben Westman, the platoon's leader, explained.

Joining the Americans were about 15 Afghani soldiers. 

In other words, an opportunity had been offered for 1st Platoon to directly employ the doctrine of counter insurgency, or COIN.

The central strategy of the longest war in America history, COIN emphasizes the priorities of pursuing and defeating the insurgents, accelerating the development of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), partnering with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GiRoA) to improve public administration, highlighting visible and tangible progress, and working to maintain the coalition of forces working in Afghanistan.

In carrying this tasking out, Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers are in the lead.

I asked Lt. Col. Steven Soika, commander, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, if the COIN strategy worked.

"Yes," he clearly stated.  "I have my lane here in Zharay District, and we are winning.  It works."

I wondered aloud if the Taliban remained just out of reach of our potent military force; that they were simply waiting for our departure in order to simply step in and take over the country.

This tactic has been used successfully.

The North Vietnamese used it as America withdrew from the second longest war in our history.  Shortly after we left, South Vietnam fell to the communists.

"No, that tactic does not work here," CSM John Troxell, I Corps' Command Sergeant Major, told me as we sat in his office at the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, headquarters in Kabul.

Intense, focused and clearly in the know, Troxell travels five to six days a week throughout Afghanistan to talk with, work with and inspire Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers.

"The longer the Taliban stay out of our way; the longer we hurt him; the more opportunity we have to work with the populace and train the ANA, or Afghan National Army."

In other words, history should not repeat itself in Afghanistan.

"The expertise, dedication and professionalism of our soldiers is unparalleled," Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, deputy commander of US Forces, Afghanistan and commanding general of I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord," said as we sat in his office.

Quiet, intense and a consummate gentleman, Scaparrotti clearly is focused on the preparing the ANSF for its role in taking over after the majority of American troops depart.

"Over 300,000 Afghans are in uniform," he continued.  "Freedom of movement has increased, insurgent support bases have been reduced, and the people are gaining a respect for their Afghan security forces."

According to Troxell, 65 percent of Afghanistan is under Afghani control and will soon approach 80 percent.

While Scaparrotti, Soika and Troxell acknowledged challenges still remain, all three expressed optimism about their efforts, the effectiveness of COIN and their pride in JBLM.

"I Corps is the link between the strategic and the tactical," Scaparrotti said.  "We provide the trained leadership that provides theater level guidance - from privates to general officers."

Meanwhile back in Mutashim, Westman and his soldiers talked with the village elders and hammered out tentative agreements on how the mosque could be saved.

"It's COIN at its best," Soika said as he prepared to head out.  "And on this point, we are winning."

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