A month into their deployment in Afghanistan, troops from the Anchorage-based airborne brigade have faced roadside bombs, rocket fire and bullets but their injuries to date have not required anything more than stitches and a few days of rest, their commander said Tuesday.
In the first call-in news conference with Anchorage reporters, Col. Morris Goins and the brigade's top noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Terry Gardner, also said that the Pentagon had some good news for the soldiers and their families -- their deployment would last a little more than 10 months, not 12 months as initially planned. Unless circumstances change, Goins said, they should all be back by next Thanksgiving.
The 3,500 soldiers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, are now working in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Afghanistan, the Pakistan border provinces of Khost and Paktiya.
Goins and Gardner spoke from Forward Operating Base Salerno, their headquarters near the provincial capital of Khost.
Their region has been dominated by the infamous Haqqani Network, a band of insurgents and criminals allied with the Taliban and tribes across the border in Pakistan. U.S. officials have recently accused elements of Pakistan's intelligence services of secretly supporting the Haqqani Network against American interests.
The last time the 4-25th deployed, from February 2009 to March 2010, it was assigned the same two provinces plus neighboring Paktika. The brigade suffered 13 killed in combat and left one man behind -- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured just outside a base by suspected Haqqani militants.
"Our creed is never leave a fallen comrade," Goins said during the teleconference. "All the assets we have available are hunting him down and those who have him. Rest assured that we are looking for him and we are looking for him extremely hard -- every day."
While the Haqqani Network continues to be viable, operations against it, particularly by the previous brigade in Khost and Paktiya, from Fort Knox, Ky., had taken out some of its leadership, Goins said.
"The Haqqani Network is almost like organized crime and we are almost in their hometown," Goins said. "We have several operations (planned) in the next couple months to get in there and get after some of these folks."
About 30 percent of the brigade carried over from the last deployment and their experience in the region is a major asset, Goins said.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER
Anchorage Daily News