WASHINGTON: Throughout 2010 and 2011, more than 20,000 Soldiers from Fort Campbell’s 101st Airborne Division will deploy to Afghanistan, the first time an entire Army division has deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom within one year.
During a press conference Monday, Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of the 101st, told reporters his division is well-suited to make a presence in the Afghan theater because of previous experience in the country — the 101st’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team was the first regular Army unit deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“We’re working on campaign continuity … we’ve built relationships with our Afghan counterparts, and we’ve trained for Afghanistan, we know the culture … for training purposes, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Campbell said on why the entire division will be deploying.
The 101st will be largely responsible for training and assisting Afghan army forces, but instead of living separately from their counterparts, the division will be exercising a new training method called “combined action.”
Combined action, a concept begun by the 82nd Airborne Division, is an integrated-troops approach, where battalions of U.S. Soldiers train, live and eat with their Afghan equivalents around the clock.
“That’s going to make a huge difference in their credibility with the [Afghan] people … it’s the way of the future,” Campbell said of combined action.
Campbell said the division’s training to prepare for the upcoming deployment has been more deliberate and pointed than in the past, because they know what their mission will be overseas. Some of that training has included a strong emphasis on culture immersion and Dari and Pashtu language instruction, he said.
“We’ve been totally focused on Afghanistan,” said Campbell. “I really think I can see a difference. From a training standpoint, it’s been pretty unique for us, and I think it will pay us great dividends as we go into Afghanistan.”
Campbell also said that he’s been on two “leader reconnaissance” trips to Afghanistan with his primary staff, in order to get a better feel for the upcoming mission, and he’s in constant contact with the commander he’ll be replacing.
Additionally, he said the 101st has already trained with the French, Polish and Afghan leaders they’ll be working alongside in Afghanistan during an exercise at Fort Campbell.
Part of President Barack Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, Campbell said that with the head start he’s had, he believes his division can affect change within six months of arriving. However, he said, insurgent forces will not take the influx in U.S. troops lightly, and that corruption is also a big operational concern.
“I think just like Iraq, [insurgents] know we’re going to bring in additional forces,” Campbell said. “They are not going to let us bring in additional forces without a fight.”
But Campbell is hopeful of the result the 101st can bring.
“I think the next six months are going to be crucial. We’re going to have the most forces we’ve ever had in Afghanistan, and I think we’ll see a big difference,” Campbell said.