Austere FOB Baylough lies 7,500 feet above sea level in a valley below the Hindu Kush mountains. Because of rocky terrain, most patrols to the remote, local villages in the Deh Chopan district, Zabul province, are dismounted, or foot patrols.
Although they conduct offensive operations based on specific intelligence reports, the Soldiers accomplish most of their counterinsurgency through daily, key leader engagement patrols. The Soldiers rotate, so each squad patrols every three days.
“We’re trying to build trust with [local leaders],” said Sergeant 1st Class Stephen Carney, a 1-4 Inf. Regt. platoon sergeant from Norwood, Mass. “Give us information where the bad guys are, and we’ll go fix them for you, so they won’t be a problem.”
During a KLE patrol, the patrol leader speaks with village elders, seeking information about insurgents hiding in surrounding mountains or recent insurgent activity. With Afghanistan’s presidential election scheduled for August, Soldiers commonly ask villagers if they plan on voting or if they are registered to vote.
“The Taliban is as much as a danger to them as they are to us,” said Pfc. Wesley R. Gatewood, a 1-4 Inf. Regt. infantryman from Oak Hills, Calif.
Soldiers often provide medical care on KLE patrols. A medic accompanies each patrol and evaluates and treats locals who are ill or injured.
Troops also update their biometric database by collecting fingerprint and retinal scans from locals, using the Hand-held Interagency Identity Detection Equipment.
“We look for something that doesn’t look right” said Sgt. Christian Cisenero, a 1-4 Inf. Regt. team leader from San Diego, Calif. “If they are nervous, trying to walk away from us, or trying not to make eye contact, usually that is a big clue.”
Soldiers on a KLE patrol, July 26, also collected fragments from a suspected insurgent-fired rocket. The 1-4 Inf. Regt. sends evidence they find on patrols to a counter-improvised explosive device team at Kandahar Airfield for analysis.
Foreign, insurgent fighters from China, Chechnya and Uzbek use horses to travel the Hindu Kush mountains, said Staff Sgt. Azhar M. Sher, a 1-4 Inf. Regt. squad leader from Baltimore, Md. The FOB Baylough Soldiers investigate horses and riders they encounter while on patrol. They also examine motorcycles, which are also commonly used by insurgents for travel.
“”Nine out of 10 times our gut feeling is right,”said Sher. “We’ve been to these towns so many times, we are able to tell when someone or something isn’t right.”
As part of establishing trust and communication with the Afghan populace, Afghan National Army soldiers and Afghan National Police officers often patrol with 1-4 Inf. Regt. Soldiers. Although ANA soldiers are relatively new to the area, ANP officers have been present for five years and are very knowledgeable about the area and operations, said Carney.
“[ANA soldiers and ANP officers] will do any mission we ask them to do,” said Carney. “And we will do it side by side.”
There are many dangers on patrols, such as injuries due to the terrain or illness from the heat.
Soldiers also face enemy attacks from ambushes, snipers and IEDs. Medics are trained to assess and assist casualties, and call for a medical evacuation back to FOB Lagman or KAF if needed.
Patrols can extend as far as seven kilometers, and each Soldier carries about 60 pounds of equipment through orchards, fields, mountainous terrain and waterways. Soldiers pack enough gear and supplies to last 48 hours, in case they are delayed by enemy contact. If Soldiers discover an IED while on patrol, they must wait at that location until an explosive ordnance disposal team, a military bomb squad, arrives to safely destroy or disable the device. As a result, patrols may take as long as three hours to two days, said Gatewood.
The 1-4 Inf. Regt. has assisted the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan since 2004 and has worked and trained with the Romanian Royal Army at FOBs Baylough, Mizan and Lane since 2006. When Bravo Company Soldiers finish their six month rotation and return to their home station in Hohenfels, Germany, they will train coalition forces in counterinsurgency operations. that we try to bring” said Gatewood.