Reportage Afghanistan: focus on Herat

(To Giusy Federici)

Herat is the most peaceful part of Afghanistan. To the west of the country, on the border with Iran, here is the bulk of the Italian contingent, connected with the command of Kabul and within the NATO mission Resolute Support.

How has the mission changed during 17 years? And what are the results obtained on the ground? We were told by some of our soldiers on site, to have a clearer view of the TAAC West area, now under the guidance of the brigade Pinerolo. Small focus, perhaps a little technical, but important to understand, also, the relationship of trust between our soldiers and the Afghan institutions.

Task Force Arena:

"In Herat Italy is present in the multinational command called Train Advise and Assist Command West, also called TAAC West, of which we currently have the leadership at brigade Pinerolo and in which we are active on the security front, on that of governance support , on that of advising, assissing and training with the Military and Police Advisory Teams (MAT - PAT), through which we carry out training and assistance for the Afghan Army and Police"Explains Colonel Fabrizio De Pasquale, Commander Task Force Arena".

“From November 2010 to October 2014, we contributed to the training of the Afghan air force through a group of advisors from the Air Force, based in Shindand. The base is now run by the Afghans. Currently, personnel of the Italian Air Force, here in Herat, are in charge of the Joint Air Task. The task is to manage Herat airport and provide technical advice on activities related to air operations to the commander of the Train Advise and Assit Command West, a multinational command on the Pinerolo brigade base of the NATO Resolute Support (RS) mission. The activity of JATF, in addition to the management of the airport, is also divided into the supervision of essential services and the training of the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) staff conducted by the companies contracted by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA).

In the past, we have had remotely piloted aircraft such as the Predator A and B of the 32nd Wing of Amendola (Fg), which have done many missions, 1576 sorties for a total of almost 20 thousand flight hours and in support of all 37 international task forces. . The Predators, which we used with intelligence and reconnaissance functions, we no longer have, we currently use the Shadow 200, which is an asset of the Army Aviation, inserted within the Fenice task group, an Army task force that has opened him and it is the same that manages the helicopters used as force protection assets of the base ".

In Herat there is a field hospital, “Joint forces, because Army, Navy and Air Force personnel work there. In addition to being important for health care for base personnel and local people, TAAC West health personnel organize and conduct training courses for Afghan Security Forces personnel. Surely the Italian military and the TAAC West command as a whole are highly appreciated and not only in the western region but throughout Afghanistan, as also highlighted by General Nicholson (recently former commander of Resolute Support, ed) when the Pinerolo brigade took office over three months ago, declaring that the results obtained in Herat in the various sectors of competence are the best in the whole country. Just think of women's integration, socio-economic development or the fact that we are able to move with a certain freedom in the area, albeit with all the appropriate precautions. This allowed us to also become a reference point for all other NATO partners. We are therefore talking about tangible results that have been recognized to us since we arrived in 2002 until today and I am sure they will continue as long as we stay here ".


One of the sectors that the Italians deal with in Herat and with what seems to be excellent results is CIMIC's civil / military cooperation.

"In the initial phase, given the country's conditions, the effort was essentially made on the reconstruction of infrastructures in the region, with a considerable number of projects on large sectors of civil society, such as roads, wells, schools, hospitals. After the first phase of reconstruction, the 2014 aims more at maintaining the capacity of local institutions to self-government, through the donation of equipment and equipment ", says Lt. Col. Antonio D'Angella, CIMIC cell leader of the Train Advise and Assist Command West (TAAC W).

"Once the conditions have changed, with the help of the international civil community that has strengthened its institutions, despite the hitches in a reconstruction country like Afghanistan it is normal that there are, the Afghan authorities are proceeding, with our help, to support the various projects, which are smaller than in the past but still important. For example, areas essential to civil support, humanitarian support and various sub-sectors such as health care, very important in a country with a very high infant mortality rate due to a lack of medical facilities in the area. The other important sector is agriculture: in Afghanistan - which is not only mountainous as it is believed - the economy is mainly based on agriculture and we try to support it with irrigation systems, seeds, equipment that through local institutions we give to the population. And then there is the donation of food parcels. This is very important, because in Afghanistan there are two geoclimatic scourges: floods between winter and spring and drought after spring, in May the water basins are already dry and this has an economic impact even in the production of hydroelectric energy, it is forced to import it from Iran or Turkmenistan.

For humanitarian support, there is a particular focus on the most vulnerable groups in society: the orphans and children in general and women, monitoring what are the appropriate structures, from orphanages to women's associations like those who try to support unmarried women or having problems with their families. As you know, there is still a lot of difficulty in the process of female emancipation in Afghan society, but something is slowly moving. Another vulnerable group we try to support are the disabled, civilians or war ".

The training, advising and assistance activities, typical of the TAAC West and of all the Taacs, are not only aimed at improving and making the armed forces and police forces self-sustainable, but one of the important tasks that is usually carried out by the Italian commander and by the commanders of the various Taacs and Kabul, is to help the local institutions above all to dialogue with each other and to use the right procedures so that the requests arrive at their destination and receive an answer. Therefore, the advice and assistance activity is not only linked to the police forces and the armed forces, but in the "engagements" that you have daily with the local authorities there are also these kinds of tasks. "The feedback is positive, because having found over the years a relationship of mutual trust and esteem towards us on the part of local institutions, we compare ourselves and try to fill the gaps found".

Training and Omnia Operation

"As is well known, our mission is training, advice and assistance to the Afghan armed forces in order to make them self-sufficient. After a study of the mission and a special training on the activities to be carried out, we arrived in Afghanistan with an idea that we have transformed into a project, I'm talking about the Omnia Operation, an activity that wants to give the capabilities of the forces Afghan armies "explains Lieutenant Colonel Giovanni Grisanti, Head Training Cell of the Train Advise and Assist Command West (TAAC W).

The Omnia Operation is a brigade project by Pinerolo.

“It is a training activity for all the Afghan security forces, therefore for both the police and the army, where we train both collectively on a platoon or company level, and on an individual level. Omnia Operation is aimed above all at instructors, who are constantly increasing, which is why we are working on the future of the Afghan armed forces. Instructors are trained, and they are taught to teach and how to do it, because you may know a subject very well but not have the sufficient capacity to be able to convey certain contents and values.

Our second commitment to Omnia Operation is fundamentally aimed at leadership, so the training offer is towards cadres, from the platoon to the company. They are taught to emerge, to set an example first, to be the driving force for their soldiers who, in general, do not have the same cultural level, not everyone can read or write. In training managers, training is also aimed at the entire sector and each individual unit. Finally, we also train the staff, essential because they are the arm of the commander. The staff is essential so that the soldier and the units can conduct training and operational activities with efficiency and effectiveness: therefore, it does nothing but guarantee the self-sufficiency and capacity of the Afghan forces. Precisely for this reason we tend to push on these concepts ".

Omnia, therefore, is nothing more than an integration of what is already done in the Regional Training Center, is not replaced but helps the RTC to train the so-called T3, Train the Trainers, train the trainers. Because having qualified trainers, trained and motivated, with a strong leadership behind them, it is possible to overcome organizational problems that over time, by repeating that type of training, are resolved.

"All of Omnia's training activities take place in Camp Arena, because we want to separate them from normal routine by recreating an" aseptic "environment, that is, without logistical or personal problems, in order to train them in the best possible way and teach them to work together, many different units who can collaborate in one direction and on the territory Finally, we are giving a specific and significant imprint to health courses, on two levels of training offer: the first concerns the operational part, the combat unit, then the first aid courses, basic to be able to intervene on a wounded person in the field. of battle, explained in a simple but important way to save their life. The second is aimed at medical and paramedical personnel, trained and assisted by our Role 2 doctors who come from the Celio Military Polyclinic in Rome ".

Operation Coordination Center Regional Advisor Team

“As an advisor we collaborate with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces-ANDSF, the Army and the new Afghan Air Force, which has about one hundred fixed and rotary wing aircraft, ANP, ABF, ANCOF. Essentially, our work as an advisor ensures that there is a different conception of training, assistance and consultancy. In a nutshell, we moved from the Security Force Assistance (SFA) concept of ISAF, Unit Based, to the new Functionally Based SFA, focused on relations between units / commands / entities. So, when you realize that in their operations there are knowledge gaps or some problem that could then occur later, here is the role of the advisor is to advise the captains in every aspect of planning, to propose solutions aimed at bridging the identified capacitive gaps ". Lieutenant Colonel Nicola Germinario, senior advisor to the Operation Coordination Center Regional Advisor Team, explains how the way of working with the Afghan forces has changed.

"As for my branch, the Operation Coordination Center Regional, OCCR, it will be interested in the next parliamentary elections on October 20 and its task will be to assist Afghan colleagues in providing an operational situation that will allow their commanders , at various levels, to make the appropriate decisions to address issues that may arise on that day. We have been working for some time so that everything can go smoothly and that the commanders know what their forces are in the field and can make an immediate decision in case of problems. 

Obviously, the Afghan security forces are autonomous, we are at their side to assist them in making adequate and timely decisions in the event of a threat.

Consider that the level of success of the Afghan forces is significant, just think of the last major operation that took place in Farah, where the Italian military sided at about 200 kilometers from the base of Herat in an Expeditionary Advisory Package, EAP, (a 'package' of forces able to guarantee intervention at 'domicile', for a period of time exceeding twenty-four hours) and where the Afghan security forces have received express request from local authorities for the fight against anti-government forces in the area. Therefore, we work shoulder to shoulder with our Afghan partners to reach the goal together. And I can assure you that the objectives have been met and recognized by both General Nicholson and all the coalition staff ".

Perception of security and Police Advisor Team of the Carabinieri ...

"Wanting to make a quick excursus on what is the perception of security in our region of competence, certainly up to now Italy has carried out its task according to what is established in the international context and, obviously, always in synergy with the local authorities. The insurgency in Afghanistan is present, it cannot be defeated in the short term. Also because, as we all know, a transformation is underway that goes far beyond the simple aspects of safety. ". The captain of the Carabinieri Arma Christian Tonetti, of the Police Advisor Team, explains to us the situation of the perception of security in Afghanistan, between the progress undoubtedly achieved and the long way to go. 

"The progress made by Afghanistan must be evaluated in relation to what was the socio-political situation in the 2002, but where we must remember that the Taliban were in power An example we can deduce from the last elections that were held, independently and without big problems from the point of view of public safety. So, we can say that Afghanistan is not yet pacified, it remains an unstable theater and conflict in which, however, the actors are still all local even if, as we all know, alongside the Taliban there are extremist members from other countries. We must not even forget the looming threat of Daesh.

For what has been said so far, on the basis of a careful assessment of the situation made together with our NATO partners, it was decided to continue with the training and assistance of the Afghan security forces to improve their operational capabilities. As regards the Afghan National Police, of which we are the direct advisors, we can say that this was possible thanks to the Carabinieri who, in this theater, according to everyone, are considered among the best police advisors, for high profiles of professionalism and a previous experience in other theaters before coming here (in Iraq, for example, for me…). In addition to the purely military commitments of the Carabinieri, military police in support of the other armed forces, there are also those of observing respect for human rights, training, supervision and consultancy for the reconstruction of the police forces. And we must also highlight the fact that the level of security in the western region, thanks to the work of the Italian contingent, is higher than the other regions, just think that from a territorial check, over 84% of the population is under control of government institutions. It is, as you can imagine, the tangible result of the commitment of the Italian soldiers who have alternated in Afghanistan from 2002 to today ".

(photo: US Air Force / NATO / ISAF / Resolute Support)