CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan — Col. Lee Durham made a career in the Army’s Special Operations Forces, then another in the civilian world as a prosecutor in Kansas. Now he is the commander of the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Brigade. He spoke to The Telegraph on Monday about the morale of his troops and the missions they are undertaking.
@BR BodyRR Bold Lede:QUESTION: What is the state of the unit right now? You’re 10 months into a 12-month deployment, for many of them it is their second deployment in four years. How are your soldiers holding up?
ANSWER: You can find anecdotal evidence from guys on one end of the spectrum to the other, guys who are just having a blast to guys who are suffering. We’ve had a few issues of guys suffering from behavioral problems and stuff like that. But I will tell you, if you compare it to the other units in the past, we’ve had very few incidents of that. For the most part, soldiers’ morale is very high.
QUESTION: In training the Afghan National Police, how do you keep the bad guys out?
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ANSWER: I always tell everybody, it’s not the soldiers at Fort Benning who keep Columbus, Ga., safe. It’s not the soldiers at Fort Bragg who keep Fayetteville (N.C.) safe. It’s the local police who keep Fayetteville safe. ... Same thing here. What we’re trying to do is establish an environment where the army can protect the nation, the police protect the communities.
Do we have people who have infiltrated the police? Yeah, we have a soldier who was shot by a guy who infiltrated the police (referring to a non-commissioned officer who was wounded but survived the attack). But you know what, that unit the next day went right back out to that ANP unit and re-established contact and went and started training them again.
Didn’t we just have a guy in the U.S. who killed 13 soldiers (at Fort Hood, Texas)? How do we stop infiltrators in our Army? The way we do that is you build long-term trust and relationships.
@BR BodyRR Bold Lede:QUESTION: What is the right ethnic makeup of the Afghan National Army?
ANSWER: We’re recruiting as many people as we can get into the army of all ethnic makeups. Sometimes I think we confuse and we think that Afghanistan is like Iraq. ... Afghans aren’t like Iraq. Pashtuns from this valley don’t like Pashtuns from that valley.
I haven’t seen, from my experience, as much of this homogeneous, one tribe versus another tribe (interethnic combat). I think sometimes we make more of that than really exists.
I think tribe is only one of the many factors that need to be used (in assembling the Afghan army). History between towns, history between mullahs, history between families — history between tribes is important, but you got to understand the whole big picture.
@BR BodyRR Bold Lede:QUESTION: Along the Afghan-Pakistan border, if the Pakistani government is as effective in rooting out the Pakistani Taliban elements who have operated on their side of the border, will we have enough troops to meet them so they won’t simply move to the Afghan side?
ANSWER: No. ... There are historical routes that have been used for thousands of years. People walk from one side of the mountain to the other side of the mountain to get something.
Could we block the whole border? No, I don’t think we ever could, just because of the sheer length of it ... and the sheer willingness and ingenuity of the people crossing the border.
The only way you could stop that is to build a wall. ... If Pakistan is successful, is that going to push some bad guys into Afghanistan? Well, yeah. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Depends on how we use it.
@BR BodyRR Bold Lede:QUESTION: Have you noticed an increase of insurgent activity in the northern provinces, where you have a unit assisting a German command in training the Afghan National Army?
ANSWER: In our area of operations, the north is probably the quietist. ... When we arrived in April, they had 300 some soldiers up there. We went up to over 600. As you double the size of forces up there, you increase the numbers, you also increase what? The opportunities to have engagements with the bad guys.
Telegraph reporter Thomas L. Day is currently in Afghanistan reporting on the war and Georgia National Guard’s 48th Brigade.