The nature of the mission in Afghanistan has changed, it doesn’t mean though that the coalition forces can stop being prepared for threats. The soldiers of the 10th Panzer Cavalry Brigade do know that, and they will soon send their 13th PMC rotation in Operation Resolute Support.
With the beginning of Operation Resolute Support, the coalition forces ceased to participate in combat tasks. The focus was put on training and advisory undertakings to prepare the Afghan army for independent internal security and border protection. The change in the mission nature doesn’t mean however that the situation in Afghanistan has significantly improved. Despite ongoing peace talks in many provinces the Taliban are still militarily active. Apart from that, at the beginning of 2015, in southern part of the country, there appeared groups, active until this day, related to the so-called Islamic State.
Ready for Surprises
These are very demanding conditions, even for advisory missions, therefore Polish soldiers going on the 13th rotation to Afghanistan are prepared, not only in terms of local culture, but also combat activities. Although the Poles serve in a relatively calm part of the country, going on every patrol is potentially dangerous. “There are various kinds of threats, so the preparation process and the capability estimation are to confirm that in such situations every soldiers knows what to do,” explains BrigGen Rafał Kowalik, Commander of the 10th Panzer Cavalry Brigade and the supervisor of the certification exercises for the Kabul 13th rotation.
The soldiers of the 10th Brigade are part of the Polish Military Contingent (PMC), which will most probably in January 2021 start another rotation in Afghanistan. After a series of trainings on the level of teams and platoons, in the middle of October they went through the most important test – national certification on the training field in Wędrzyn. “Next to training Afghan soldiers, our tasks will involve protection of bases and patrolling outside territory. One of the platoons will be tasked with that in the base located outside Bagram,” says Col Paweł Pytko, Commander of the 13th PMC RSM (Resolute Support Mission). The officer emphasizes that the changing geopolitical situation can affect the nature of the operation and, what comes with that, the kind of help our allies might ask. For that reason, during the certification, particular attention is put on those tasks which are most risky in terms of the contact with enemy.
One of the most important and at the same time the most frequent threats during the mission in Afghanistan is indirect fire (IDF), which means shelling the base by rebels. Whether soldiers are on duty or have their time off, they must be always ready to immediately run to the shelter and to confirm they are safe. “During certification, we also focus on episodes on protection of advisors going outside the base for meetings. We also check how the platoons operate while establishing temporary checkpoints (TCPs), where suspicious vehicles are controlled,” says Cpt Mariusz Antkowiak, the head of the enemy team and the simulation commander. He participated in the mission twice, during the 8th PMC in Afghanistan as a chief of reconnaissance team in Alfa Combat Group, and as a planning officer in the 1st rotation in Chad. In training, the Captain turns to his own experience, but emphasizes that all scenarios are based on current data reported from Afghanistan.
“We’re adjusting episodes to the changing tactics of the rebels. In asymmetrical conflict, the enemy doesn’t go by any conventions, and often only at the moment of open fire we can tell whether or not they’re civilians. Simulating such conditions during certification is quite demanding,” emphasizes Cpt Antkowiak. As one of the examples, he gives the “green-on-blue” incidents, when the rebels would disguise for the allied soldiers and attack most unexpectedly. The certification teams wanted the soldiers of the 10th Brigade to remain watchful. “In order to achieve that, it’s not sufficient to learn about the commander’s intention and the plan of exercise for working out incidents. We also create information noise, out of which one need to fish out, and then analyze, the most important data,” indicates Cpt Antkowiak. All episodes must form a coherent scenario. Only in such an environment soldiers will be fully aware of why they are performing specific tasks.
While preparing, equally important is experience shared by the veterans of former rotations with their colleagues. One of the veterans is Pvt 1st Class Piotr Staszewski, for whom the 13th PMC RSM will be his second mission in Afghanistan. “My first mission was the 14th PMC ISAF. As a gunner, I care about the safety of people outside the vehicle. I know what kind of threats you can encounter during the mission, so I am very serious about the preparations. We’re trying to exercise as if we were not in Poland, but out there,” explains Pvt 1st Class Staszewski. Soldiers try to assist one another, not only by giving each other practical tips. “Before forming the PMC RSM, we talked about what our departure means. It’s not only about risk, but also sacrifices made in our private lives. About being away from home, from your family and children. The first-timers have already a picture of how this all will be like for them,” says Pvt 1st Class Staszewski.
Despite all the risk, Resolute Support remains an advisory mission, which is remembered during certification. Almost all episode contained cultural elements, which tested the knowledge of behavior rules in the relations with Afghanistan’s locals. “The cultural issues were prepared in cooperation with the Military Training Center for Foreign Operations in Kielce. Soldiers, who participated in the missions many times before, know well these places and ongoing changes there,” explains BrigGen Rafał Kowalik. From the NATO’s perspective, it is highly important for coalition soldiers to well understand the social rules and customs in the region of the mission. It is only then they can find common language with the representatives of the Afghan army, local authorities, or the common Afghans.
“It’s one of the most important elements we test. At the same time, in order to confirm the level our soldiers are trained for cooperation with allies, all episodes are in English. This relates not only to conversations, but procedures, documentation, and data transmission within the structures functioning in Afghanistan,” adds the General.
Certification on the Wędrzyn training field covered not only protection platoons, but also the headquarters and logistic support established in the base of the 10th Opole Logistic Brigade. Most of all, reaction time and fluidity to scenario events was tested. “A good example is a visit of a VIP. As to logistics, we must prepare all diplomatic documentation, means of transportation, accommodation and permissions for meetings or commuting to other bases. We’re also to provide our guests with the individual protection means,” enumerates LtCol Jarosław Staszczak, National Support Element (NSE) Commander of the 13th PMC RSM. The primary task for logistic teams remains to ensure the transportation on the mission works well at all times, materials are secured, as well as other technical, medical or financial aspects. Logistic support is managed both, at the national level, and in cooperation with the United States. “Foreign missions are the greatest challenge for logistics. When managing our resources in the region of war activity, we must prioritize. We determine those who at the moment most need given equipment, weapon or ammunition. First, we supply combat teams which perform in a risk zone,” explains LtCol Jarosław Staszczak.
The logistic unit must also manage unusual situations, such as Christmas celebrations. Such events must be planned well ahead, taking into account the number of participants or the expiration dates of food shipped from Poland. Every time is also assumed to be the last rotation of PMC Afghanistan. This probability in the form of a plan is always prepared for by the logistic teams long before the departure, and the plan is then updated on a regular basis.
Before They Go
As assessed by the commander of the 13th PMC RSM Afghanistan, the certification leaves no doubt as to the professionalism of the 10th Panzer Cavalry Brigade’s soldiers. “The 13th rotation is very well prepared for service in the theatre of war. Many a time our commanders additionally made our tasks even harder, but they always were conducted as planned,” says Col Paweł Pytko. His opinion is shared by the exercise supervisor, BrigGen Rafał Kowalik. “Based on the trained episodes, we can confirm that all soldiers properly respond to risks. It’s crucial that our contingent in a certification process used the equipment which it will take to Afghanistan. Soldiers had an opportunity to check that all works well,” says the General.
Following positive certification, the contingent started further preparations for the mission. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, soldiers are obliged to get an influenza vaccine. They will also go through a two-week quarantine before their departure. They will also participate in trainings to practice all gained skills. “We’ll be using every minute to master our skills until the moment we go to the mission and start doing our mandate tasks. We’re not forgetting, though, that our soldiers must take a breath before they leave, and after intensive training spend some time with their close ones. We plan some days off for them to prepare for the rotation and enter the quarantine in good spirits just before departure,” summarizes Col Paweł Pytko, Commander 13th PMC RSM Afghanistan.
autor zdjęć: Michał Zieliński